Bengaluru, a hub for human trafficking

July 30, 2019 12:00 am | Updated 03:45 am IST - Bengaluru

It thrives in all forms in the city: from bonded labourers to trafficking girls into prostitution

Some time at the end of this June, the Ramanagaram police and NGO officials raided a house in Bidadi, on the outskirts of the city, on a suspicion that it was being used in a prostitution racket. In a locked cupboard, 10 girls were found.

“They are all of a Bengali origin, perhaps from Bangladesh. They had been trafficked here with the promise of good jobs and eventually pushed into prostitution,” says Anita Kanaiya from The Freedom Project, an NGO that participated in the raid.

The incident is yet another reminder that trafficking continues unabated in a city, where the demand is only rising.

“Many sex-trafficking rings have shifted to the suburbs where there is lesser scrutiny. There are raids, but these are few and far between. Moreover, there is no proper mechanism for their rehabilitation, particularly when those rescued are from out of the State. These women end up being forced back to prostitution,” said Ms. Kanaiya.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, which last released the 2016 crime statistics, there were 1,100 cases of trafficking involving 2,712 victims and 3,921 persons were arrested between 2014 and 2016.

Nearly a quarter of the victims were children, while an overwhelming 80% of victims were women, suggesting the existence of a well-entrenched inter-State prostitution racket.

Even in the absence of data, anecdotal evidence is piling up. In just 1.5 years since the launch of ‘Operation Nanhe Farishte’, a dedicated campaign to halt child trafficking through railway stations, over 2,500 children have been rescued, says Debashmita Chattopadhyay Banerjee, Railway Protection force (RPF) Bengaluru Divisional Security Commissioner, South Western Railways.

“Bengaluru is a receiver station for child trafficking rings, while the feeder sources are States such as Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. Most children are being brought in as child labourers and even for prostitution,” she said.

The drive, which is expected to be bolstered by the installation of face-recognition systems in two months, is expected to curb the inflow of trafficked children to the city.

“Currently, our staff members have been trained in behavioural analysis to find child traffickers and victims. Soon, we’ll feed images of traffickers so that cameras can immediately alert staff of their presence in railway stations,” said Ms. Banerjee.

Bonded labour

Among the most prevelant forms of trafficking is bonded labour. Since the inception of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1976, over 66,281 persons have been rescued in Karnataka, show Ministry of Labour figures. The State continues to top the list in terms of bonded labour rescues. International Justice Mission (IJM), an NGO which assists the police in some rescues, notes that 1,091 out of 1,580 bonded labourers rescued between 2013 and 2019 had been victims of trafficking.

In many cases, a well-oiled ring deploys touts to rope in the poor with promises of steady payment and employment in bigger cities. Once in the state, they are confined, often with the use of force, and paid negligble amounts for work.

The NGO’s analysis of the trafficked victims show that 57.65% of all victims were from Odisha, followed by Tamil Nadu (8.2%) where victims are primarily Irulas and other Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste communities.

Anti-trafficking unit

The State uses multiple means on paper to fight trafficking: anti-human trafficking units (AHTU) as well as the formation of a High Power Committee against Human Trafficking, which comprises heads of various departments and NGO members and meets once in six months.

M.A. Saleem, Additional Director General of Police, Crime and technical services, said the AHTUs, which had been set up in every district, have been galvanised through July to crack down on trafficking of children.

“We’ll be getting reports by August first week. But, anecdotally, rescues have been increasing over the years. While 70% of the trafficking victims are from within the country, 30% of them are from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Central Asian countries who are brought here as domestic help or for prostitution. We have conducted various programmes for sensitise policemen about trafficking,” he added.

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