Over the past few months, people vulnerable to trafficking and survivors of the organised crime in parts of West Bengal have to grapple with the twin challenges of lockdown due to the pandemic and the devastation caused by cyclone Amphan .
The districts of South 24 and North 24 Parganas, which have taken the battering of the cyclone, are hotspots of trafficking. Anticipating an increase in child marriages and trafficking in the aftermath of cyclone Amphan, the Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) had come up with a dedicated helpline and a desk to deal with the issue as early as June.
“We have received at least 10 incidents of children missing in the South 24 Parganas. Most of the girls are minors,” Subhasree Raptan, a representative of the Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra (GGBK), an organisation working in the district. Ms. Raptan said some girls, reported to have travelled to other States, have actually been trafficked to other areas of the same district.
There are also reports of an increase in child marriages. A representative of the Child Line that operates a helpline in the district said that between April to July, at least 30 complaints were reported.
Sambhu Nanda, who works for the Partners for Anti-Trafficking (PAT), a collective of eight community-based organisations, said a similar number of complaints of child marriages has come to fore in the North 24 Parganas district also. “In some cases, the volunteers were able to prevent the marriages but in other cases, they could not.”
Another challenge is the paucity of legal aid to victims who have been rescued during the past few months from different parts of the country. The girls have little access to legal protection because of the pandemic. “In some cases the accused are getting bail and in several other processes like compensation for the survivors is getting stalled because of the pandemic,” Ms. Raptan said.