Nearly 48 per cent of women sold for commercial sex exploitation in Tamil Nadu were ensnared when they were children, a recent study conducted among over 1,500 victims of trafficking, has showed. While 3.6 per cent of them were sold when they were less than five years, 12.9 per cent of them were between 6 and 10 years. Further 25.6 per cent of the respondents reported being sold to brothels between 11 and 18 years. The majority of them said they were inducted into it by their own family, spouse, lovers and friends.
The study was conducted over 10 months in 2009, by a team led by R. Thilagaraj, head of the department of Criminology, Madras University, and funded by the UNDP through the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society. Sharing with The Hindu the results of the first such comprehensive study on trafficking done in the State, Prof. Thilagaraj said the sample included 12 per cent of victims who were children at the time of the interview.
“These women and girls come from the lower socio-economic group where poverty and unemployment are rampant. It is this vulnerability that the traffickers exploit. In most of the instances, they were sold by their parents to middlemen who promised to find them jobs as domestic help in cities or roles in Tamil films,” he said.
Malini, an orphan and 15 years of age, was sold as a commercial sex worker in Madurai. She was gang raped and was found with cigarette burns all over the body.
“This is typical in many of the cases. Fifty per cent of our respondents confessed that they were subjected to sexual abuse during childhood,” Prof. Thilagaraj said. In many instances, they are addicted to alcohol and drugs and the habit continues to make them vulnerable to further exploitation, he added. About 20 per cent of the victims had tested positive for HIV. The study also included responses of 149 traffickers, most of who had themselves been trafficked earlier or had stints as commercial sex workers.
The study used GIS mapping systems to plot the areas from where the women and children were trafficked and the places (within the state and outside of it) to which they were taken.
Chennai turned out to be a supply and transit zone, from where girls are sent to Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Goa.