They feel being born as girls was their first curse and poverty only made life worse. Some are trapped by fake promises of marriage and lucrative offers for jobs in big cities, others are forced into the racket by parents, touts and ‘buyers’.
Not to be surprised, buying and selling girls like a commodity is rampant in Uttar Pradesh on a large scale.
Reports have shown that UP is a source, transit and destination area for trafficking of women for commercial sex within and outside the country.
As per the latest report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report for India, “There are many well identified red light areas where women and girls from the UP and other states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka, Delhi as well as from Nepal and Bangladesh are trafficked and forced into commercial sex.”
Those working against human trafficking feel that UP is a source area for sex trafficking due to the presence of organized crime rackets indulging in kidnapping of minors.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report reveals that the red light areas in Agra, Allahabad, Meerut, Kanpur, Varanasi and Azamgarh are notorious for the trafficking of women and children.
Studies have also shown that areas of western Uttar Pradesh have seen an increase in trafficking for forced marriages.
Experts feel that while red light areas have continued to be prostitution dens for long, the business has expanded out of the red light areas and has become much more organized with times.
“The sex trade operators have started operating from residential colonies, market places, malls etc in the garb of friendship clubs, escort services, massage parlours, dance and beer bars etc," said Rishi Kant, a team member of Shakti Vahini, an organization that works against human trafficking.
"This has helped the traffickers to maximize profits. Deals are finalized and transactions are done through the Internet,” Kant said.
Stories of women’s trafficking and sex slavery almost always throw up brutal pictures, amply illustrating that if one is born poor, one is vulnerable, but if one is also a woman on top of that, dangers increase manifold.
Having carried out studies on trafficking, Sehba Hussain, executive director BETI Foundation, feels that things have become very acceptable in society these days and there are not always major reasons behind trafficking.
“Girls don’t mind getting trafficked for some money to be able to go to a mall and in many cases, even parents don’t object.” Hussain said.
Her researches have shown that a girl was sold by parents, even for petty things. She recounted, “A few years ago, we found a girl in Behraich was sold off by her father for a buffalo. Yet another girl was sold off by the parents in Balrampur for an okhli (grinder).”
“Victims are procured from Nepal and sent to Delhi and Mumbai through UP. Meerut has emerged as a key destination for keeping in-transit Nepali victims. Victims from West Bengal and Bihar have also been reported in Uttar Pradesh.” said Vineeta, CEO, The Alliance Nai Asha, an organisation that works for rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked victims.
“It isn’t the porous Indo-Nepal borders alone. Girls are trafficked and re-trafficked each day, especially in rural areas, for petty amounts,” Vineeta said.
She said there were cases where it wasn’t girls or their parents that were allowed to make money from deals. The maximum share went to touts and the girls were sent back with guilt and depression.
The physical and mental trauma is hard to overcome in such cases, feel experts. “Many victims even have children out of these relationships and they have no option but to rear the child and face the stigma,” Vineeta said.
But what is the solution? “Apart from prosecuting traffickers, it is equally important to protect the trafficked survivors. Protecting the identity and rights of survivors does not only help convict traffickers but also guards against re-trafficking.
To ensure a victim-centred and human rights approach to the crime of trafficking in persons, there is a need to improve mechanisms for the identification of victims and establishment of adequate referral procedures for institutions providing support, assistance and reintegration,” said Rishi Kant.