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Combating Human Trafficking

Video-talks about trafficking are encouraging communities to be more vigilant.

Munni*, a 15-year-old girl from the tea gardens of West Bengal was convinced by an agent to travel with him to Bangalore. He promised her a job in a city which was on the other side of the country. For Munni, the daughter of tea-garden workers, the opportunity to earn a living in the big city must have been a welcome one. She probably had not realised the potential threat, that she might fall into a human trafficking racket. Luckily some people from Munni’s village spotted her with the agent near the village, and they intervened.

8132 cases of human trafficking were reported to police departments across India in 2016 according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India. West Bengal reported 3579 cases -- the highest among all states in India. The second highest number of cases came from Rajasthan with 1422 cases reported, while Jharkhand came ninth with 109 cases reported. Those working on the ground, especially in Jharkhand, know that these numbers are just a drop in the ocean.

The locals who intervened in Munni’s case had attended a talk on ways to combat-trafficking just a few weeks ago. The talk was organised by Sunil*, one of Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondents. They had Sunil’s number and called him immediately. Sunil reported the case to Childline, who runs a helpline for children in distress, following which representatives from the organisation brought Munni home. Though Sunil doesn’t know if Childline representatives counseled the family according to protocol he found out that some people from the community, along with the village council, spoke to Munni’s parents about the perils their daughter might have faced had she left for Bangalore.

The talks being held across West Bengal and Jharkhand are an integral part of Video Volunteers’ campaign to combat human trafficking. The campaign uses a human-rights centred, preventive approach. The core objectives are to encourage communities to take charge of preventing incidents of trafficking by helping them understand the problem, and reporting cases to the authorities as they occur.

Naming the Problem

“So many people in these parts get trafficked. Everyone has a sister, brother, or father who has faced this. The agents come and show money, and people go. But when a case like this happens, people will say  ‘Oh they got caught in a web’. No one uses the word ‘trafficking’ because they don’t really know what it is,” explains Soriya who is conducting combat-trafficking talks in Malda District, West Bengal, an area from which many young girls get trafficked for sex work.

In June 2018 VV trained twelve Community Correspondents, who have previously worked on trafficking cases or live in areas with high incidents, to conduct these special talks. The talk uses three videos made by Correspondents to engage the audiences. This includes testimonies of those who have been rescued, and family members of those trafficked, and examples of cases where Correspondents themselves have been involved in rescue operations. The Correspondent also walks them through how they can stay vigilant against trafficking while searching for employment outside their village or state.

Correspondents also share information that could be used by communities, local level officials and CSOs on how to prevent and deal with cases of trafficking. Twenty such talks were conducted between July and September 2018.

Many of those attending the talks – the local community, survivors of trafficking, teachers, village heads, and block level officials among others – share that no one has ever come and given them information about trafficking in this way. Many didn’t realise that both men and women could equally be the victims of trafficking and the perpetrators of the crime. Sunil explains another factor, “Those who do return don’t tell their families and communities what they’ve been through. Maybe it’s a sense of shame or to just maintain the version of the story where they’ve come back from the city after earning a lot of money.”

The Reluctance to Report

Realising the wide variety of ways in which trafficking can unfold has made many people in the audience share experiences of family members and others in the community. We hear cases of people who have been missing since they left their villages to find work, or stories of young girls who come home pregnant after being abused and abandoned. Paulina, who attended a talk in Gumla District, vowed to get in touch with her husband, who works in Gujarat, to make sure that his working conditions aren’t exploitative. The Correspondents gather more information about such cases to see how they can report them to officials and find the missing people. So far the talks have helped them gather information about X  cases, many of which the Correspondents will begin reporting on after further fact-checking.

Why aren’t more people reporting family members going missing? Warles says that people fear that the agents might put the whole family in danger. He lays out the challenges that must be overcome to report such cases. “People usually approach the village council when a trafficking incident occurs. But the case is often hushed up at that level. Some cases make it to the police station, but here the victims are blamed, and the matter ends there.”

Agents who run trafficking rackets have friends in higher places. Soon after Munni was rescued, Sunil was shocked to learn who the lynchpin of that racket was. “This person has many holdings in the tea estates and is visibly connected to cops and politicians. All complaints made to the Childline are kept anonymous, but the day after the incident I got a call from the local police station asking why I went to Childline instead of calling the police.”

Communities Plan to Prevent Trafficking

After Basanti Hunni Purti’s talk with women of the local self help group was met with enthusiasm, she was invited to hold a second talk with the Gram Sabha (Village council) of the village in Khunti District, Jharkhand. With no running electricity, a colleague brought a fully charged laptop from the capital, Ranchi. Basanti expected 15-30 people but 150 showed up for the second talk.

The talk tells the audience about the functions of the police, the juvenile justice system and Anti-Human Trafficking Units. Further, it tells people what the protocol is for filing reports, and their rights. These systems should ideally be functional in every district of a state. A 2015 report by Shakti Vahini in Jharkhand found that only eight such AHTUs were functional in Jharkhand. However, the state was better equipped for the protection of children with an adequate number of Child Welfare Committees, and District Child Protection Units being set up.

The whole talk is designed to be action-oriented. So at the end of each, Correspondents encourage communities to make action-plans. At a talk held by Shanti Baraik, the deputy village head was inspired on hearing about the Correspondent’s journey to Goa in 2014 to rescue her fellow villagers from bonded slavery. He has promised that going forward the council will maintain a record of all the people who travel outside the village for work, along with the details of who is taking them. In other communities, non-officials have also decided to maintain such lists. This is one of the concrete steps that that VV’s trafficking talk advises, and is being actively taken up at every village where the talk was conducted.

Correspondent, Shikha Paharin, who has reported on four cases of trafficking in her community and helped bring survivors home in two cases, feels that these talks will boost her efforts. “People told me that they didn’t know that there were organisation who could help victims of trafficking. Showing statistics  has helped me explain the problem of trafficking better. People will remember the leaflets we pass around after the talks and spread the information further too.”

“If the agents have organised themselves into a coalition, we need to organise ourselves to combat the problem too,” says Rejan from Jharkhand. In the coming few months the Correspondents will help communities form Anti-trafficking action teams. These will comprise of survivors of trafficking, village level officials, friends or family members of those who’ve been trafficked, among others. VV also plans to engage more with anti-trafficking units and civil society organisations working in these areas to come up with joint strategies of prevention.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Article by Kayonaz Kalyanwala

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