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West Bengal sees a thrive in Human Tafficking

India witnessed a 38.7% rise in human trafficking over the previous year, NCRB

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source: respectwomen.co.in
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Kolkata: Over nine years since 2005-06, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose 76 percent, hiding darker changes that evolved in concert with this economic transformation.

One of those is a 20 percent rise in human trafficking related to “purposes of prostitution”, with West Bengal accounting for a fifth of such cases and being the epicentre of India’s human-trafficking industry.

Forty-two percent of minor girls captured by traffickers nationwide are from West Bengal

We met Aamina and Pinki in Sanlaap, an NGO-run home in Naredrapur, 17 km from central Kolkata. Their future is uncertain, but thousands of minor girls sold into sexual slavery don’t get even these breaks, especially not in West Bengal, which is particularly dangerous for minor girls from impoverished families.

Consequently, Sonagachi in central Kolkata is reported to be Asia’s largest red-light district, destination of many trafficked girls, most with little or no hope of escape.

In 2014-the latest year for which data are available – India witnessed a 38.7 percent rise in human trafficking over the previous year, according to a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report. With 1,096 cases, West Bengal accounts for 20.1 percent of India’s total.

The state accounted for 42 percent (850) of minor girls acquired by traffickers nationwide, the NCRB data revealed.

Despite several government programmes, there is a “severe lack of awareness” across West Bengal of the dangers from human traffickers, said Geeta Banerjee of Sanlaap.

A colleague, Tapoti Bhowmick, pointing to the ubiquity of such trafficking in West Bengal, narrated a tea stopover with some police officers on the road into Kolkata. The demeanour of the tea-stall owner appeared “shifty” and troubled her. On her return, she called the local administration and spoke of her “hunch”. Two weeks later, Bhowmick was told the police had rescued 50 Nepalese girls from the basement of the tea stall – 19 of those were aged between nine and 14.

Not enough anti-trafficking units: Given Rs.1 lakh per month, many don’t bother

Why do so many girls never escape the world of traffickers and brothels? The answers lie in the inadequate response of state and central governments.

After ratifying a global convention on transnational organised crime in 2011, the Centre proposed it would set up 335 AHTUs (anti human trafficking units) in half of India’s “vulnerable” districts and train 10,000 police officers, prosecutors, judges and other stakeholders. For more than a decade, New Delhi has also issued to India’s states 15 detailed advisories on the subject.

These plans are failing, as an IndiaSpend investigation revealed, for two leading reasons:

1. For instance, of the proposed 335 AHTUs to be established by 2013, no more than 270 were set up until January 2016, according to a government answer in the Rajya Sabha.

2. These units, together, were given Rs.20 crore during 2010-11 to 2014-15, or Rs.1 lakh per month per unit, or less than half the Rs.54 crore needed, by the centre’s reckoning. Many did not even use this money, minutes of AHTU meetings reveal. In one case, after buying 10 tables, a computer and a Rs.3,000 mobile phone, there was nothing left.

Why the anti-human-trafficking units are failures

A table, 10 chairs, a desktop computer, two mobile phones (not more than Rs.3,000 each), a video camera, a motorcycle.

This is the equipment that the Centre provides each AHTU, supposed to be established in half the police districts in each of 29 states and union territories vulnerable to human trafficking. Establishing and training such units first began a decade ago, a joint initiative of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In Bengaluru, the AHTU is “adequately equipped”, said deputy superintendent of police D N Shettennavar. It operates out of a single room but has six computers and multiple telephone lines. It’s headed by a superintendent, with a team of three DSPs, three inspectors, four head constables and two constables.

Still, “(the) workforce is not enough, and central funding is inadequate,” said Shettennavar.

Compared to the Bengaluru AHTU, its Kolkata counterpart is a poor cousin.

Here, at ground zero of India’s trade in women forced into sexual slavery, the AHTU does not even have a dedicated telephone line – it shares one with the Protection of Women and Children Cell.

AHTU chief, West Bengal, Sarbari Bhattacharjee was not available for comment. Queries sent by email to Malay Kumar, a senior home ministry bureaucrat, went unanswered.

In 2011, West Bengal had four AHTUs – it should have nine for 19 districts (till June 2015). In 2012, instead of rising, the number fell to three, according to Lok Sabha data. From Rs.30 lakh, money from the Centre to set up AHTUs in West Bengal fell 25 percent to Rs.22.7 lakh.

With a 2,217 km border with Bangladesh, 92 km with Nepal and 175 km with Bhutan, West Bengal is a trafficking transit point. The lack of policing is manifest in the state’s rising tide of trafficking, evident in the women who populate the pubs and bars on Kolkata’s outskirts.

Across India, a new generation of traffickers uses technology to outsmart police

A private tutor, a pharmacist and a life-insurance salesman were some of the people involved in trafficking underage girls and young women, police investigation in West Bengal revealed.

The story is much the same across India.

Traffickers have become “super advanced” and “technology has accelerated and diversified the forms of trafficking in India”, said Sunita Krishnan, awarded a Padma Shri in 2016 for the work as founder of Prajwala, an advocacy that rescues and rehabilitates trafficked women.

A gang-rape victim, Krishnan said society is “caught in a time warp”, believing that only rural girls are trafficked. “The reality is traffickers nowadays are trafficking literate, urban girls, too,” she said. “We have failed to understand that human trafficking is organised crime, not a social problem.”

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) report, estimated at $32 billion, third only to illegal drugs and arms smuggling. (IANS)

 

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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp
WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

whatsapp
WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)