On 31 December 2013, Barack Obama declared January 2014 the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States, and reaffirmed his government’s commitment to combating this problem effectively. In India, on the other hand, human trafficking still remains the biggest unacknowledged menace.
India is a source, transit and destination country, and millions of women and children are trafficked here every year. Females are the worst victims, trafficked for purposes of prostitution, forced marriage and domestic survivable servitude.
Human trafficking and prostitution are closely connected. It is estimated that almost 80% of trafficked women and girls are sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. The trafficking industry in India is estimated to generate $4 billion a year and has at its core, investors, unscrupulous recruiters and corrupt public officials as principal participants. In 2007, the Ministry of Women & Child Development reported the presence of over three million female sex workers in the country, with 35.47% of them entering the trade before the age of 18 years.
The magnitude of the problem of sex trafficking and prostitution is increasing, and its nature worsening. The number of girls and women being pulled into prostitution is on the rise, while their age at entry is decreasing.
In the light of this data, it is clear human trafficking in India deserves immediate attention at policy as well as implementation levels. With the Companies Act, 2013 mandating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for big corporate houses, a lot can be achieved in this field. However, while issues like education, public health, AIDS, etc., have been covered by CSR, there has been no mention of human trafficking.
The absence of this issue in policy discourses is the biggest hurdle in combating it. People who are being trafficked are so grossly marginalised they are neither visible nor listed anywhere. In 1990, economist Amartya Sen created ripples in the world by talking about 100 million missing women, and made a plea for ensuring women’s survival in Asia and Africa. Almost 25 years later, women are still going missing, though they are alive, and there is no documentation to prove their existence.
Like any other industry, trafficking is governed by the dynamics of demand and supply. Women and men get trafficked, even if they are not sexually exploited, to work in subhuman conditions. With an ever growing demand for domestic workers and factory hands, trafficking is rampant in the economically marginalised regions of the country. Contrary to what a section of society believes, no woman chooses prostitution, but is forced into it due to the lack of choices available to her. The government has been unable to provide economic security to people and this has been the prime cause of trafficking. The states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are amongst the high trafficking zones.
As has been brought to light by NGOs like Apne Aap, no effective measures were taken by the government to address this issue until the threat of AIDS emerged. Prevention of AIDS initiatives like NACO began to focus on red light areas, making them “visible” to authorities. However, such initiatives were very largely concerned with the clients not getting infected rather than the health of the sex workers. It is ironic that AIDS prevention initiatives often tend to take a moralistic view of the women in the sex trade. A similar moralistic attitude is reserved for the parents who drag their children into prostitution. In a vicious circle like this, the parents are also the victims.
It may be safely assumed that human trafficking is closely linked to the displacement of population due to land acquisition for industrialization and infrastructure development. Therefore, it is high time India Inc took note of the situation and committed itself to rout this menace. The easiest and the most direct manner in which corporate bodies can make themselves relevant is by funding NGOs actively engaged in the prevention of human trafficking and rehabilitation of victims. With the CSR mandate in place, fund allocation for such initiatives can translate into the much needed efficiency and momentum in combating the problem.
At a deeper level, however, it should be ensured that supply chains are free from forced labour and human trafficking. With creation of legitimate jobs and a proper rehabilitation policy for the displaced, corporate bodies can help break the chain of trafficking. CSR initiatives in this field can also provide these corporates with unique branding opportunities. While the corporate world is yet to warm up to the CSR mandate, there is enough anecdotal evidence to show that companies involved in community building initiatives in a region have smoother operations than the ones that don’t. Since the sheer magnitude of the problem demands a multi-pronged attack with NGOs, corporates and the government working in tandem, a well-defined roadmap for action with clearly spelled roles for all the parties is necessary.
Nishtha Gautam is an Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, where she focuses on gender issues. She also teaches English Literature in a Delhi University college. A committed equal rights activist, she expresses her concerns through articles, stories and poetry on her blog compulsivescribbles.blogspot.in. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @tedhilakeer.