Saturday, September 18, 2021

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

“In the end, we’ll all become stories.”- Margaret Artwood

The United Nations defines Human Trafficking as –

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. The traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.”

Throughout the history of mankind and in almost all cultures the world has witnessed human trafficking flaunted in the form of slavery and sexual slavery, child marriages and forced marriages, child labour and other involuntary exploitation of an individual. In 2013, the UN General Assembly designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, and this year it has decided on “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way” as the theme. The testimony of the victims will hopefully bring about a new and positive light on the ever increasing terror that preys upon the mighty human race.

Human Trafficking is not news anymore. The society has conditioned the people to believe it to be quite a normal phenomenon and thus, no matter how brutal and inhuman it is, to be accepted and live with it. But the victim count in the world runs in millions. Coming to the north-eastern states of our country, the picture isn’t quite as it seems. The scattered voices here and there are just the tip of an iceberg and all the stories are muffled by friends, family, tradition, male chauvinism and yes, the society and its celebrated system. Women and children in north-eastern states are marginalized countless of times. It has been ingrained in their minds to accept the fate and live in fear and subjugation.

We hear stories of people in faraway places and remember incidents that happened in past times, people who were dragged from their homes and people who never came back after leaving their house for errands. Kidnapped, these stolen victims are forced into service, into manual labour or the sex trade. When such stories are whispered in secret and without much volume, it often feels very distant, some pretend to not have heard of it. Yet, the terrifying truth is that it is very real, present and is performed in broad daylight.

In a lot of cases, the perpetrators are mostly people the survivors already knew as friends, family and neighbors. This was the case with an 18 year old girl from Dimapur, she was taken to Patna and was sold to a brothel for Rs. 5 lakh by a neighbour who promised to marry her. The brothel was raided, and she was rescued by the police and brought back to Nagaland by the Nagaland Police and her relatives. She was given shelter and psycho-social support by  the Sakhi-One Stop Centre (OSC) Dimapur throughout the case proceedings and with the assistance of Women Police Dimapur, she was reunited with her family.

There is another horrific story about a girl from Dimapur. After she fled to Assam she found a job as a domestic help in the house of a certain Mr. Ghosh. She was treated well by the family, but was consistently taken away by Mr. Ghosh to a place where she had to engage in sexual activities, and along with other girls, had to entertain customers. She would often find ways to get away and succeed sometimes. Even when she made several attempts to get away from Mr. Ghosh, he wouldn’t stop. She then decided to go to the police; she informed them about the hotel and the activities that take place there. The hotel was raided and all girls were rescued. With the assistance of Women Police Dimapur, the girl was brought back to Dimapur and was safely handed over to her family. Sakhi One Stop Centre (OSC) provided their service throughout the court proceedings.

Data received from the Nagaland Police reveals that, for the last five and a half years from 2015- 2021 six cases have been registered under its Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), where 28 persons were rescued, out of which 26 were females and 2 were males, with Dimapur being the highest in the number of cases (22), followed by Wokha (6), and Nil from other districts; while the total number of persons arrested is 19, with Dimapur being the highest at 10, Wokha (8) and Phek (1).

Of the millions of victims, hundreds of thousands try and tell their stories, of which a few are believed. It is found that abusers tell their victims nobody would believe them even if they tried and will only be proving themselves as mad women. In a lot of cases, victims are coerced into lying or to withdraw their complaints. One must remember that a retracted report doesn’t mean it did not happen. Sadly, but usually, survivors retract their statements and tragically decide that living with the truth is harder than living with a lie. This happens solely because they do not want any pain anymore and want nothing to do with their perpetrators. But we must not forget that there are people who will believe, protect and defend the survivors and their stories. The one thing survivors need to remember is to not give up and to allow themselves to ask for help.

When an individual builds up the courage and takes a stand and decides to fight for herself, she has already won. And if her story enables others to come forward and share their own, the world would definitely see better days. July 30th is dedicated to raise awareness about human trafficking. This year’s theme is significant, and if it is encouraged and more victims are able to tell their stories with as much people believing in them, it would without a doubt bring about a positive change on this inhumane crime against women, children and anyone vulnerable to these atrocious incidents.

Fortunately, victims are slowly making noises amidst their pain and fears. So many are coming forward and narrating their stories ‘unfiltered’ and one day, soon enough, the world will have to sit and listen to each one of them. There is hope, and together, we can stop the traffickers. We are not powerless; there will definitely be positive change with education and awareness, research and strength and finding the right people to trust.

There are various laws under the Indian Constitution that address and penalize human traffickers. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 penalises trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Child Labour Act, 1986 and Juvenile Justice Act, 2016 prohibits bonded or forced labour. Indian Penal Code (IPC) prohibits kidnapping and selling minors into prostitution respectively, and punishment for such offences are a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 protects children from sexual abuse and exploitations

There are multiple schemes under the Ministry of Women & Child Development, GoI that aims to provide services to women in distress, few of which are mentioned below:

  • Ujjawala Scheme is a comprehensive scheme for prevention of trafficking and rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of trafficked women and children.
  • Swadhar Greh Scheme also seeks to address the needs of females in difficult circumstances, including victims of sex trafficking.
  • Women Helpline-181 provides 24 hour toll free telecom service to women affected by violence and seeking support and information. It facilitates crisis and non-crisis intervention through referral to the appropriate agencies.
  • Sakhi- One Stop Centre (OSCs) provides integrated support and assistance for women affected by violence under one roof with services like medical assistance, police assistance, psycho social support, legal aid, shelter, video conferencing. OSCs are set up in 11 districts.

If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave – activities like commercial sex, household work, farm or construction work, retail factory, manual labour or any other activity, contact the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) which are set up in all the districts by the Police under the Home Department. Women and girls in distress can dial the Women Helpline (181 or 9485239098) for help in any crisis situation or visit Sakhi-One Stop Centres (OSCs) in your respective districts. Your prompt action will help someone in distress. Act now, break the chains and set them free.

To commemorate this day, State Resource Center for Women, Nagaland (SRCW) and 181- Women Helpline (WHL) under the Department of Social Welfare, in collaboration with Sakhi- One Stop Centre (OSC) have come up with IEC (Information, Education and Communication) materials translated into 19 local dialects with the aim to further strengthen our grassroots awareness program on this pertinent issue and to prevent cases of trafficking.

You are urged to utilize the services available in your effort to prevent trafficking and protect victims.  Follow official pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channel of the SRCW Nagaland and 181 Women Helpline Nagaland for more information.

Issued in public interest by the State Resource Centre for Women-Nagaland