Malaysian, Singaporean and Indian authorities have launched a probe into the trafficking of young tribal women from North-East India to the Southeast Asian flesh trade market as "Spices of India" by recruitment agents on the pretext of getting them jobs there.
The probe comes in the wake of an incident in which five young tribal girls from Manipur and Assam, who were taken by an agent to Singapore on the pretext of getting them jobs there, were sent to Malaysia to work in the flesh trade.
One of the girls managed to escape and alerted a pastor who got help from an NGO.
All five were housed at the David Pasteur Christian Home for destitutes here, which linked up with social activist Kinderson Panmei.
India's Minister for Overseas Affairs Vyalar Ravi, currently on an official visit here, has said his ministry had decided to immediately crack down on dubious recruitment agents and as a first step would suspend the agency on the receipt of any report against them and then start an enquiry against them.
He said his ministry had helped in the repatriation of the women back home last Friday.
The women told the authorities that they were initially lured to Singapore with promises of lucrative jobs as maids for six months. However, they were later made to work as bar girls and prostitutes in nightclubs of Singapore and Malaysia.
One of the agents involved in the incident has been arrested in Manipur in India while one is on the run in Kolkata. Ravi has said there were plans to amend the existing Immigration Act and recruitment agents duping people would be sentenced to a minimum of five years imprisonment.Manipur police are believed to have made several arrests in connection with the case of agents luring girls to this region, local media reports said.
Singapore and Malaysian police are believed to be hot on the trail of another man, believed to be the mastermind of a Singapore-based "recruiting firm", New Straits Times reported today.
The daily quoted unnamed officials saying a group of 15 young women from Punjab were rescued by temple priests in Kuala Lumpur and repatriated last month.
"We believe the girls rescued are just the tip of the iceberg. There could be many more victims from other Indian states," the daily quoted a source as saying.
An Indian High Commission official said NGOs had indicated that there could be as many as 150 women from Manipur, Assam and Nagaland who were duped by recruitment agents in recent months.
The agents took advantage of many ignorant and destitute families in Manipur's backward districts, like Tamenglong, promising them a way out of poverty, the official said.