The United Nations (UN) has designated July 30 as World Day against Trafficking in Persons. It is a good day to remind ourselves of the plight of an estimated 2.5 million people and 1.2 million children who are victims of trafficking every year all over the world.
It is also a good day to confront the burgeoning issue of modern-day slavery. We live in times when teenage girls are sold in slave markets for as little as a pack of cigarettes. These are times when young boys are forced to become soldiers and are handed guns and swords instead of toys and books. The examples of trafficking and modern-day slavery are increasing steadily, and require concerted and cohesive action so that future generations are protected.
Despite technology, which has put information and knowledge at our fingertips, civilisation has woken up to the scourge of slavery only in the last few decades. Human trafficking results in and fuels all forms of slavery such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, other forms of labour exploitation, forced marriages, and the abuse of children in armed conflicts. Curbing human trafficking becomes imperative in tackling slavery.
The world over, human trafficking is labelled as the third most lucrative illicit trade, after drugs and arms. But it is, in fact, the single largest illicit trade in the world. Slavery, prevalent in almost all countries of the world, amounts to U.S.$32 billion according to official sources and a definitive U.S.$150 billion according to non-governmental sources.
Take the example of a girl trafficked illegally in a red-light area. A solicitor pays approximately Rs. 500 on an average.If the girl performs sexual acts for 10 people a day and there are 100 such girls in the area, then that area alone generates Rs. 5 lakh in black money in a single day. This, when expanded to the thousands of such areas in almost a hundred countries, amounts to huge amounts of black money. This money is used, in turn, to support all other illicit trades, thus setting off a booming economy based on trafficking.
It is this nexus of black money exchange that needs to be dismantled. The lucrative illicit economy that has been built up around trafficking in persons must be attacked from every angle.
Despite its frightening repercussions, there are major legal lacunae in the definition, tracking and punishment of trafficking. A global concerted effort has come up only in the last few decades, after the passing of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) in 2000.
In the Indian context, on the other hand, traffic in human beings has been prohibited as a fundamental right granted in the Constitution. Untouchability and trafficking are two crimes that are prescribed as punishable in the Constitution itself.
Despite this, a comprehensive law was laid down only in 2013, which made trafficking a criminal offence. India ratified the Palermo Protocol after a case was filed by my organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA). The Justice Verma committee report has dedicated two entire chapters to the issue on the basis of suggestions and recommendations from BBA.
The delayed action by government agencies against trafficking has resulted in its widespread incidence across the country, which spans from trafficking into forced labour in hazardous work and factories to the seemingly innocuous trafficking into domestic labour. As per official estimates, 15 children go missing every hour in India and 8 are never found. The real number of trafficked children is never known. The international nexus of trafficking has manifestations right inside our homes. Under the garb of supplying cheap domestic help, placement agencies traffic people, making this a large organised crime, especially in metropolitan cities. The problem hence needs not just organisational solutions but societal involvement too.
In this backdrop, other disturbing forms of trafficking are also emerging. Children in armed conflicts, illegal adoptions, the sale of organs, and trafficking for marriage are some of the other ugly heads of trafficking that have emerged in the past few years.
I have always maintained that India is a land of a hundred problems and the mother of a billion solutions. Filling policy gaps to counter trafficking, especially in the area of rehabilitation, is the foremost need. Next in line is an efficient legal response to all reported cases of trafficking. The enforcement of law and the subsequent enforcement of justice must be immediate and become a deterrent.
Trafficking is an organised crime that needs concerted inter-state and inter-agency efforts. Arresting a guilty placement agent, or shutting down a factory that employs trafficked persons is not enough. The entire money trail needs to be tracked and everyone involved tried as per law.
The victims of trafficking, especially children, need safe social and economic rehabilitation. Higher budgetary allocations are needed for their immediate help and counselling, besides making arrangements for their vocational training, housing and repatriation. The reintroduction to education is also a must. Also, changes in the education system to include rights-based information, if given to each child, can lay the foundations of an aware and secure generation. Schools and parents must make children aware of the dangers of trafficking and prepare them to recognise and tackle it.
All these efforts will only see results through dedicated public participation. Our social conscience has to treat trafficking for what it is, a crime and an evil. We can, all of us, help combat trafficking. Stay vigilant and inform the authorities whenever you see a case of exploitation, do not frequent restaurants or shops that employ child labour, report homes that employ children, be sensitive towards victims of sexual abuse, and participate actively in dialogue against trafficking and slavery. Businesses and corporate houses must self-monitor and map their supply chain to ensure there is no trafficking or forced labour.
I believe that together we can eliminate human trafficking across the world. Freedom is a non-negotiable right and each one of us, irrespective of our economic and social status, deserves to have it. The shackles of slavery can never be stronger than the quest for freedom.
(Kailash Satyarthi is Nobel Peace Laureate, 2014.)