Every Eight Minutes, a Girl Disappears in India
A girl is reported missing every eight minutes in India. Approximately 16 million girl children are believed to have been trafficked into the sex trade.
Internationally, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in a 2014 report says that the world earns $150.2 billion annually just from human trafficking.
This number equates with the combined annual revenues of Google, Ebay and Amazon. In fact, profits from human trafficking have more than tripled over the past 10 years.
The sheer magnitude of these alarming numbers raises some questions – are we really civilised? Could there be a more potent form of savagery?
While the idea of the sale of human beings in the ‘modern’ 21st century is analogous to barbarism, most of us are probably oblivious to the fact that human trafficking is a global issue.
On a dispassionate, pragmatic level, the lure of becoming a trafficker is the potential of colossal earnings in a context of impunity.
In India, the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956 outlaws human trafficking. Changes in 1986 saw the Act being renamed the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act.
The amended Act pertains to trafficking in relation to prostitution, excluding trafficking for other purposes including child labour, organ harvesting and domestic slavery.
But the steady rise in the trafficking of girls bears evidence that this Act has been more cursory than effectual. This lends an urgency to community-based projects to highlight the issue.
‘Missing’, a pan-India campaign, is mobilising awareness on this issue in community spaces. Paint Our World (POW), a project founded by me, which empowers underserved children who are survivors of severe trauma like child sexual abuse or are orphaned, has collaborated with Missing.
Together, with the adolescent girls of POW, we install public art installations that draw attention to the plight of such girls. Kolkata-based artist Leena Kejriwal has designed woman-shaped stencils as metonyms of the millions of girls that are missing, and continue to go missing into the black holes of the bestial underbelly of the society.
The POW girls came together on a pleasant December afternoon to attend a presentation I was giving on human trafficking. The questions they asked were piercing. They wanted to know what was being done to trace these women, and to stop children being trafficked.
They were impatient with a country and a government that was letting people down. They were also, perhaps, somewhat impatient with themselves. They did not want to just create awareness, but wanted to act to help bring the missing girls back.
With the woman-shaped stencil in tow, we stepped out onto the streets of Central Kolkata.
We walked on the main roads, in lanes and by-lanes. Passers-by looked at us inquisitively, some with loathing (as though we were aimless, or somehow a nuisance), fewer admirably. And some were simply puzzled by a march of some motivated young women in inner city areas.
Some expressions were vacuous, insouciant, and in the by-lanes, it seemed our walk was the entertainment of the day.
Holding the stencils against public walls, the girls spray painted. Some pedestrians asked what it was about, and sounded peeved that why would missing women and children be their business at all.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, 3 million missing people seemed no issue at all. Inconsequential. It angered the girls and me. This is what needs to change we said.
This apathy. This putrid apathy. And then, as we walked ahead looking for another walk to paint on, semi-clad children often crossed our path.
Women, with their emaciated children running around, slept oblivious to the indescribable congestion around them, on rusted cart wheels.
Men stood vacantly – spitting, chatting, staring. These vacuous men are often fecund trafficker material.
They are sufficiently disenfranchised from society to oscillate between indifference and cruelty. Additionally, they have easy access to women vulnerable to being trafficked.
Sixty percent of girls sold in India are from the underprivileged and marginalised segments. They are trafficked mostly on the pretext of a job, or marriage proposal. In some cases they are knowingly sold off by their parents as a result of desperate poverty.
Awareness of trafficking, together with addressing its primary causative factors – domestic violence, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, unsafe migration and child marriage – is crucial to stymie the increasing rate of the sale and purchase of human beings.
Campaigns like Missing must expand into rural areas, which are often the origin of human trafficking in India. This is about lives, and with each life that becomes mangled, affected and pulverised, we, as a society and civilisation, fail.
(The writer is a political and economic analyst.)