While the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into India over the last several decades has become a security and economic concern among Indians, the employment of women and children from Nepal and Bangladesh in brothels across the country has met with a largely muted response. Nearly 300,000 Bangladeshi children are estimated to be working in the brothels of India. The implementation of international laws and conventions—which the governments concerned have ratified—-has been very poor. Many of these women and children are trafficked to the Middle East and Europe with legal passports. This showcases the failure of government agencies to prevent such gross violations of human rights.
Various NGOs working to prevent human trafficking in India and Bangladesh pride themselves not only in rescuing women and children from brothels but also in rescuing them from police stations. Women are forcibly returned to their home country without their consultation. The concept of reparation is foreign.This leads to women being trapped by the traffickers again and pushed into a few more years of prostitution.
The Bangla equivalent of the word trafficking is pachar. In spite of India having a long history in tackling prostitution and a trove of literature about its socio-economic aspects, the government’s effort to ensure that the victims live a dignified life has always been abysmal. Because prostitution is illegal, the industry is driven underground, where it often becomes connected to organised crime syndicates, making the problem of trafficking that much more difficult to address. Victims of trafficking should receive accommodation, material assistance and medical treatment.They should also have access to compensation schemes.
First and foremost, there is a need for better information about the trafficking of women and children to India, without which it is difficult to systematically monitor trends and developments. Vague estimations that NGOs currently make do not adequately serve the purpose. The proposed Human Trafficking (Prevention and Protection) Act 2011 is the same old, tired story of tightening the law. Under the Act, trafficking and related crimes will be non-bailable and non-compoundable and will be tried in speedy trial tribunals in all districts and metropolitan cities.
Continuous sharing of information between the police forces in the states of West Bengal and Assam with their Bangladeshi counterparts is essential in order to identify traffickers across the border. This is no mean task, not least due to the tensions between India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). Seizing the recent positive momentum in bilateral relations, the home ministries must set up a channel for the exchange of information. Although there has been some improvement in the recent past, the lack of co-ordination between BSF and BDR has had a detrimental effect on controlling illegal immigration into India. Kirity Roy, secretary of Banglar Manabhadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), an NGO, accuses the BSF and BDR of sexually abusing women in return of letting them cross the border.
In 2007, the then minister for women and child welfare imposed a ban on the emigration of all low-skilled women below 30 years if they were seeking employment as domestic workers or house maids in a bid to stop the increasing cases of sexual exploitation of women. Boldness needs to be matched with greater policy sophistication. The Union government had claimed that it would introduce an emigration bill in the parliament to abolish sponsorship for visit visas, aimed at protecting the interests of Indians working in the Middle East. The bill was not tabled as there were disruptions on every working day of the current session. India has been actively engaged with the countries of the Middle East by signing labour pacts to combat the illegal recruitment of Indian workers. The intent, whilst commendable, will have to be backed by skillful diplomacy.
India has also become a destination for human trafficking not only from the neighbouring countries but also from European countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. They are mostly upscale sex-workers catering to the demand in urban markets like Delhi and Bombay. These women mostly come for a period of six months with a tourist visa and then move on to places like UAE and Bahrain. A thorough background check needs to be performed by Indian embassies before issuing tourist visas.
Anti-trafficking watchdog committees have to be established with the co-operation of NGOs and law enforcement agencies. Many NGOs have an exemplary record in rescuing the women and children. Their networks should be strengthened across India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ultimately, though, to the extent that social attitudes towards prostitution remain hypocritical—where the sex industry is omnipresent but criminalised—the policy measures that can be put in place will have limited effectiveness. India’s people and governments must realise that this hypocrisy comes at a terrible price.