Monday November 19, 2018

Growing Runner Beans to counter Child Marriage and Trafficking in West Bengal

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FILE - Young girls pose as they tend to vegetables they are growing as part of the Girls’ Project that teaches land literacy and helps prevent trafficking and early marriage in Charmahatpur village in West Bengal state, India, Feb. 13, 2017. VOA
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For a teenager, Sarjana Biswas has rather modest ambitions: finish school, go to college and become a government healthcare worker in her village.

But for young girls like Biswas in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, even these would have been impossible dreams just a few years ago in a district plagued by a high rate of school dropouts, early marriage and human trafficking.

Thanks to a state program to keep young girls in school with cash incentives, coupled with efforts by land rights advocacy group Landesa to teach land literacy, girls like Biswas are daring to dream and plan for better futures.

“My sister got married when she was 15 years old. I didn’t want to get married that young,” said Biswas, 17, as she examined runner beans in the small vegetable garden that she helps tend to at the village community center.

“I have learned that girls should not get married so young, that we can also own land and cultivate what they want, earn and not be dependent on anyone,” she said.

Cultivate crops

Nearly 70 girls like Biswas, aged 11 to 18, are enrolled in Landesa’s Girls’ Project that teaches them how to cultivate a small vegetable garden in their family plot.

Alongside, they learn about the importance of education, the problems of early marriage, the benefits of nutritional food, financial literacy, and their rights – including land ownership.

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Partnering with the state, the program has reached more than 48,000 girls in over 1,000 villages in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, helping reduce child marriage and school dropout rates, and preparing the girls to stake their claim to their own piece of land some day.

Bordering Bangladesh, the area is largely populated by poor farmers and migrant workers, and is a hotbed of trafficking. Young women and men are tricked into traveling elsewhere in India and to the Gulf region to be commercial sex workers.

West Bengal accounted for more than a third of India’s trafficking victims in 2016, official data showed.

Girls who have been through the project, which was launched in 2011, are more likely to stay in school, marry later, and have an asset in their name, said Sumit Gupta, chief revenue officer in Nadia district where Charmahatpur village is located.

“These issues are all linked to poverty, and landlessness is the biggest indicator of poverty. So using land literacy and land ownership to address these issues is a practical approach, and it has worked,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We want to see these girls be independent and live with dignity. For that it’s important they know their rights and the importance of land ownership,” he said.

Small plots

West Bengal has a checkered history in land reforms. It was among the first states in India to enact a land reforms law as early as 1955, to give land to poor tenant farmers and to impose ceilings on land holdings.

Yet it has been slow to implement measures to redistribute land. About 70 percent of the state’s rural households do not own land, higher than the national average of 56 percent.

The Girls’ Project, which is being scaled up to reach 1.25 million girls, aims to bridge the gap for women.

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Girls learn to grow vegetables or fruits – even timber – in a corner of their family plots, so they can supplement their meals, as well as add to the family income, or set aside some money by selling some of the produce.

Their efforts are complemented by federal and state schemes for poor adolescent girls. The girls receive 750 rupees ($11) a year from the state toward their education, and 25,000 rupees ($380) on turning 18 if they are still in school and unmarried.

Despite a law banning girls from being married before the age of 18, nearly half India’s girls are married before that age, according to UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency.

Staff at the community center have stopped about half a dozen child marriages in recent years, said Pinaki Haldar, Landesa’s state director.

“Girls, particularly in rural areas, are seen as a burden, and are married early because the dowry that is demanded of the parents rises with older girls,” he said.

“Educating girls on land impacts their thinking, their life, and builds their confidence. Even if she doesn’t get much of an education, she learns to be independent, and also gains some value at home,” he said.

My home, my land

State chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who won an election in 2011 largely on the platform of supporting the rights of farmers and villagers over land, is a champion of land rights.

She introduced the ‘Nijo griha, nijo bhoomi’ (my home, my land) scheme that allocates plots of about 2,200 sq feet (204 sq meters) to each landless rural family, so they can build a small home and cultivate the rest of the land to sustain themselves.

More than 200,000 families have benefited so far. Some have daughters who have been educated about land rights and farming.

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At the community center in Charmahatpur, about a dozen girls who have finished school for the day inspect cabbages, beans and spinach growing in the small garden in the back. They chatter and giggle as they pull out weeds and check for pests.

It took a while to convince parents about the benefits of the program, said Dilwara Mondal, the supervisor.

“Earlier, parents would stand by the door or peep through the window to make sure we weren’t corrupting their daughters,” she said.

“Now they send their daughters willingly. They can see the difference it’s made to them, and to their lives.” (VOA)

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Advanced Technology Required To Tackle Online Sex Trade and Trafficking: Analysts

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide.

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Trafficking
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally in Washington. VOA

The online sale of sex slaves is going strong despite new U.S. laws to clamp down on the crime, data analysts said Wednesday, urging a wider use of technology to fight human trafficking.

In April, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute social media platforms and websites that facilitate sex trafficking, days after a crackdown on classified ad giant Backpage.com.

The law resulted in an immediate and sharp drop in sex ads online but numbers have since picked up again, data presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference showed.

“The market has been destabilized and there are now new entrants that are willing to take the risk in order to make money,” Chris White, a researcher at tech giant Microsoft who gathered the data, told the event in London.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct, trafficking
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

New players

Backpage.com, a massive advertising site primarily used to sell sex — which some analysts believe accounted for 80 percent of online sex trafficking in the United States — was shut down by federal authorities in April.

Days later, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which introduced stiff prison sentences and fines for website owners and operators found guilty of contributing to sex trafficking, was passed into law.

The combined action caused the number of online sex ads to fall 80 percent to about 20,000 a day nationwide, White said.

The number of ads has since risen to about 60,000 a day, as new websites filled the gap, he said.

In October — in response to a lawsuit accusing it of not doing enough to protect users from human traffickers — social media giant Facebook said it worked internally and externally to thwart such predators.

 

Trafficking
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

 

Using technology to continuously monitor and analyze this kind of data is key to evaluating existing laws and designing new and more effective ones, White said.

“It really highlights what’s possible through policy,” added Valiant Richey, a former U.S. prosecutor who now fights human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), echoing the calls for new methods.

Law enforcement agencies currently tackle slavery one case at a time, but the approach lacks as the crime is too widespread and authorities are short of resources, he said.

As a prosecutor in Seattle, Richey said his office would work on up to 80 cases a year, while online searches revealed more than 100 websites where sex was sold in the area, some carrying an average of 35,000 ads every month.

Also Read: Sexual Misconduct Cases Will Be Handled Better: Google

“We were fighting forest fire with a garden hose,” he said. “A case-based response to human trafficking will not on its own carry the day.”

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide — with nearly 25 million trapped in forced labor and about 15 million in forced marriages. (VOA)