#minorsextrafficking | Stuck in shelters, spurned by kin: What trafficking survivors face after rescue | India News

There are endless stories of human trafficking rescues — of women, girls and a handful of minor boys sold into brothels, construction sites and even middle-class homes — flooding our news feed every day but the stories of struggle after they manage to escape the clutches of their traffickers remains largely untold.
Take the case of Kamla* in Bengal, a state that tops the country as a trafficking hotbed, according to NCRB’s 2016 report, largely because of its porous international borders and several red-light areas. A week into the nightmare of being forced in to flesh trade, Kamla found her way to a shelter home after being rescued. But her trauma did not end there. Kamla described suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of senior residents — mostly women stuck in the home due to procedural issues or those seeking repatriation.
“I’d have to follow all their orders, wash their clothes and their utensils or else they’d beat me up. They would also abuse me sexually. When I tried to tell the shelter staff, they gave me sedatives in the name of vitamins to stop me from getting aggressive. I felt powerless and slit my wrist,” she says. The Child Welfare Committee’s (CWC) order for her release came through nine months late. With a handful of CWC offices tackling all the cases during the pandemic, several survivors like Kamla are forced to stay on in shelter homes for months.
The story of Rina* too, is not a tale of her trafficking, but what happened to her after rescue. Rina, a 14-year-old who fled home trying to escape a violent stepdad, was trafficked to a brothel in Meerut by a woman she met at the railway station. In six months, she was rescued and returned to her home in the South 24 Parganas. “Because I had come back from a red-light area, my stepfather turned me away,” says Rina, who found refuge in a neighbourhood ‘aunty’ who took her in and prom ised her a job. “Instead, I was sold once again to a brothel. There I was sexually abused and videotaped by the brothel owner to keep me from running away,” recalls Rina, who w as rescued after a year and moved to a shelter.
When three years went by and no chargesheet had been filed, Rina sought help from a special public prosecutor. “But he, too, took advantage of my situation an d tried to molest me. The local police station refused to file my complaint because the person was an influential member of the bar council,” she says. A determined Rina approached the women’s grievance cell who finally lodged a formal complaint against the public prosecutor. As for the times she was trafficked, there is still no chargesheet.
Rina and Kamla’s plight is not unusual. The road to recovery for survivors of human trafficking is fraught with several challenges. Madhumita Halder, state consultant for prevention of trafficking, says that the CWC follows up on survivors for a year. “With an average of 700 children being rescued every month, it’s not possible for government officials to follow up on each of them but CWCs have the power to direct other agencies to monitor. ”
The ones who do manage to return home are most often spurned by their own family and neighbours and rejected by schools.
Diya*, 16, from Ramch andrapur was barred by her neighbours from fetching water from the common tubewell or entering the local temple after she was rescued from a dance bar in Bihar two years ago. “M y tuition mates were warned by their parents to not sit beside me,” she says. For Taslima*, 15 who was rescued from a brothel in Surat, it took several appeals to the school headmaster and an interv ention by the District Child Protection Unit for her to be allowed back into her school.
It’s been four years since Hafiza* was trafficked and rescued from a brothel in Pune but the 27-year -old has still not had a court trial while her trafficker is free on bail and threatens her with acid attack for refusing to withdraw her police complaint. “I’ve been living i n another village for the past two years out of fear,” she says.
The main reason perpetrators get easy bail and cases collapse is because many survivors forgo medical examination or reco rding their statement under Section 164 of CrPC out of fear, insecurity and associated stigma, says Sulagna Sarkar who works with the nonprofit World Vision on reintegrating survivors fr om Bengal’s South 24 Parganas — an area prone to cyclonic disasters and a hunting ground for traffickers. “Sometimes the police and public prosecutors are hand-in-glove with traffickers and purposely delay filing the chargesheet,” explains Sarkar.
Statistics shared by the Ministry of Home Affairs this year reveal that the conviction rate in human trafficking cases had consistently declined — from 27. 8% in 2016 to 10. 6% in 2020 — a trend that activists feel underscores the absence of robust evidence. And although trafficking cases span different states, the investigatio n is rarely interstate, thus leading to easy acquittal of traffickers.
“What needs to be advocated for is a comprehensive case management process. If the government can assign NGOs to monitor survivors for at least two years till they’re fully reintegrated within their community and a single-window option for all services they’re entitled to — health, psychosocial, legal, education, job placement and safety — these girls can get back on their feet with dignity,” says Joseph Wesley, who heads the anti-child trafficking project for World Vision India.

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