New Delhi: Meena discovered she had been sold by her boss while riding in an auto-rickshaw headed to New Delhi’s red-light district.
The 12-year-old was working as a domestic servant in Calcutta when the homeowner told her about a good-paying job at his sister’s house in India’s capital. But instead, she was sold to a brothel owner and forced into prostitution for little more than a place to sleep and the occasional meal.
Her ordeal lasted four years and Meena, now 21, says it left her “a very angry person. The anger comes suddenly,” says Meena, who asked that her full name not be used because of the stigma associated with her past.
Oldest profession in the trade
Beneath the surface of India’s rapid economic development lies a problem rooted in the persistent poverty of millions of Indians. Rights activists say thousands of poor women and girls are forced into prostitution every year after being lured from villages to cities on false promises of jobs or marriages.
Bulk attention on human trafficking focuses on estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people: 80% of whom are women or girls who are trafficked across international borders every year, and, in many cases, forced to work as prostitutes or virtual slaves who perform menial tasks.
Secrecy of the underground business makes it difficult to track, and estimates for numbers of India’s victims each year vary widely. Government estimates 3 million sex workers in India, of which 40% are minors. Thousands are believed to have been unwittingly lured into the work by traffickers, rights activists say.
Most of the girls come from India’s poorer states. A family member or friend approaches the girl’s parents informing them about a well-paying job in the city or the chance for marriage with little or no need to pay a dowry. In some cases parents willingly send their girls. A village in Rajasthan even “grooms” girls for the profession.
Mumbai has the highest concentration of sex workers, but inadequate legal frameworks allows most to get away scotfree. Only 13 traffickers were arrested in 2005, and none were convicted, according to officials.
Increase convictions of trafficking. While women are being rounded up for soliciting in a public place, there are very few arrests of men who are running the whole trade, namely buyers, pimps and transporters.”
Deepa Jain Singh, secretary for India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, said the government is “trying to do more” about the problem of sex trafficking, but declined to specify what steps were being taken.
HIV infections among sex workers are widespread in a country with an estimated 5.7 million people infected with the disease. According to surveys carried out by NACO, nearly 50% of Mumbai’s sex workers in Kamathipura were found to be HIV positive.
NGOs working in Kamathipura in Mumbai, Sonagachi in Kolkatta have through a long period earned the faith of the community, enough at least to get them to visit the local health centre and test themselves for STI and STD.
Awareness on safe sex, small micro credit schemes for sustainable projecdts, protecting their right to a life of dignity and providing education to their children are being taken through various funding projects. But clearly the issues are much larger than the remedial interventions and even though the general reproductive health of the women is better, it is a long road that has to be traversed still.
Additional inputs by Taru Bahl / livemint.com