West Bengal’s Long Battle With Human Trafficking, Will It End? (Part II)

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West Bengal’s Long Battle With Human Trafficking, Will It End? (Part II)

Women involved in prostitution have always been an object of research in India. Although the real numbers of how many women are into prostitution are still dodgy, it’s estimated that around 1% of adult Indian women is associated with sex work (Dandona R, Dandona L, Kumar GA, Gutierrez JP, McPherson S, Samuels F, Bertozzi SM; ASCI FPP Study Team. “Demography and Sex Work Characteristics of Female Sex Workers in India,” BMC International Health Human Rights. 2006 Apr 14;6:5). They live a very different life; the mainstream society shuns them and looks down upon them. That has to be changed. With the combined effort from state, NGOs and society, we are here to break the norms and stringent stigmas associated with prostitution and trafficking.

In West Bengal, the demand for sex workers is increasing rapidly, especially in the capital, Kolkata. Of late, WB has emerged to be the focal point of sex trafficking activity and brothel based prostitution in India. The trafficking in brothel-based prostitution has become a cause of concern in WB at the interstate as well as intrastate level and throughout the porous international borders. The major attributes to sex trafficking are socio economic reasons as well as accidental absorption.

Thriving Brothel Culture

The rural India is plagued with trafficking; the extreme poverty often coerces young girl to seek better livelihood options, wherein they easily get lured by false promises of vile traffickers. The girls are largely illiterate and hail from poor families. Crafty traffickers or brokers easily get hold of these girls through false promises of a better life, comfortable livelihood and dispatch them to metro cities, like Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, which are hubs of flesh trade and prostitution.

As the city is expanding, so is the prostitution. According to a report published by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) on 30th November, 2018, increasing numbers of minor girls are being trafficked across the city brothels, massage parlors, hotels, private houses as well as in outskirts and neighboring districts.

Though for years, Sonagachi has been the prime red light district of South Asia, prostitution is now seeping into myriad hidden pockets across the city. These establishments, contrary to brothels operate in complete secrecy, via an intricate network of pimps, madams and traffickers. These other establishments prefer using trafficked children than brothels, which shares limelight and prime attention; resulting in a spike-up of child trafficking rates.

Two and a half million women and children (around 500.000 prostitutes in India are under 16) are working in the country’s sex industry. Amidst that, 9000 women, many of them trafficked into the country from Bangladesh or Nepal, work in Sonagachi. 60,000 more sex workers area active across Calcutta. Governments, both local and national, do little to tackle the increasing risk of sex trafficking around the vulnerable region.

Efficacy of Laws and Social Initiatives

Throughout history, states in association with policymakers and government authorities have attempted to roll out different policies and memorandums that outlawed trafficking and prostitution from time to time. The India government has for long marked prostitution illegal, in fact, it has come a long way since 1956, when Parliament sanctioned the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act—or ITPA—that seeks to curb sexual exploitation, but the plight of the females in the red-light areas remains status quo. Unfortunately, the law hasn’t been enforced in the right manner, leaving a set of loopholes in the system unaddressed.

However, a few years back, the Indian Government waged a war against AIDS for the prostitutes living in the red-light districts. Widely known as the Sonagachi Project, the main objective of this initiative was to avoid the horrific burden of death in India, as compared to many African nations, and till date, it has been showing signs of improvement.

Condom use in Sonagachi has soared, from 3 percent in 1992, when the project began, to 90 percent in 1998. The figures further improved: According to the 2017 UNAIDS data, new HIV infections in India have decreased by 46%, and AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 22% since 2010.

Lastly, above anything, social awareness is the key to change the perceptions of people about prostitution and raise voices in support of the victims. Prostitution is often the auxiliary effect of human trafficking. And human trafficking is dark and dangerous. It’s important to nip the issue right at the bud; our WCD program aims to do just that. It spreads awareness about sex trafficking through schools in the rural areas. Schools are the best platform from where information is articulated. With six assigned teams working in total 70 schools, we organize awareness sessions for adolescents, as they are the most vulnerable to the issue. Our classroom awareness program aims to educate children on the issue and create an environment that enables conversation on a topic that is otherwise taboo at home.

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Our other awareness focused programs are: Livelihood Project, Stencil Campaign and Mural Walk.