New Delhi, (WFS) - Every year, an average of 22,480 women and 44,476 children are reported missing in India. Out of these, every year, an average of 5,452 women and 11,008 children are not traced. A recent report, Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children in India - 2002-2003 indicates that many of the missing persons are not really missing but are instead trafficked.

Take the story of Parvathi Vinayak, a young girl in Maharashtra who was reported missing. She was abused and sexually exploited in a beer bar, according to the report. Even when it was confirmed that PV had been trafficked, the police records still had her name listed in the 'missing' list. Similarly, Suhasini Lakshmi, a Class 9 student in Karnataka, was brought to Mumbai by her neighbour for a job. While her parents complained to the police that she was missing, SL was sold to a brothel-owner in Mumbai and was rescued after 20 days when the brothel was raided by the police.

The report, commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in collaboration with UNIFEM and the Institute of Social Sciences, talks about several instances where children who have been “trafficked” were reported as “missing” in local police stations. After a long time, many of these children were rescued from brothels or other similar exploitative situations. According to UNIFEM's Regional Director Chandni Joshi, the objective of this research was to study the trends and dimensions of trafficking in order to identify vulnerability factors that would facilitate the responses of the civil society to these situations.

The NHRC studied the data on missing persons from all the Indian states/union territories and six metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad) between 1996 and 2001. A steady increase in the number of women reported missing was noted in this six-year period. However, it is the rapid increase in the number of children reported missing that NHRC found really alarming. In union territories like Pondicherry, there has been an increase of 400 per cent, while in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tamilnadu, the increase ranged from 100-211 per cent. In the metros, too, the figures are rising.

The brothel-owners interviewed admitted that the highest demand was for virgins and confirmed that the highest profits came from children.
 •  Not just a matter of choice
 •  When police act as pimps
The report says that in view of the possible linkages between missing persons and trafficking, the issue of trafficking needs to be given serious attention by law enforcement agencies, NGOs, the government and the community as a whole. It says: "Since information about missing persons is entered in the (police) station diary and not registered as an FIR, the follow-up is almost nil. There is a genuine requirement for integrating the police system with childcare services run by concerned NGOs. These agencies should take on the social responsibility of educating children and their parents about the steps that should be taken and the care that one should bestow upon children so that they do not go missing."

The report notes that 40 per cent of the police officials interviewed (852) were unaware of the growing trade in women and children! Traffickers usually target minors and Dalit women - the most oppressed group in the society. A study prepared by Bhoomika Vihar, an NGO from Bihar, says in the report that out of the 173 identified cases of women who had become victims of sex trade, 85 per cent were minors, and half were Dalits.

The report claims that trafficking, though not reported from many places, occurs almost everywhere. "The situation is worse in areas that are underdeveloped. Trafficking of women and children from the northeastern states, and bordering countries - in both directions - is a serious issue that has not drawn public attention. Pangsa and Dimapur in Nagaland and More in Manipur are the major transit and demand centres. Women and children from Assam and Bangladesh are trafficked to More, and are moved out from there to Myanmar and other South-East Asian countries. The long-drawn conflicts in the north-eastern states have made women and children highly vulnerable."

The NHRC report is the first of its kind in that it studies the long chain of trafficking from beginning to end. The Commission interviewed 4,006 persons in seven categories - victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), brothel-owners, survivors, traffickers, clients, trafficked children rescued from brothels and police officials - in 13 states and union territories.

Out of the 464 victims of CSE, almost 23 per cent started their lives in the brothels when they were less than 16. Two per cent were aged between 13-15. According to the victims, both men and women (in almost equal numbers) were involved in trafficking. Over 68 per cent were lured by promises of jobs while 17 per cent were promised marriage. Despite being in brothels for several years, almost 61 per cent had no savings.

Out of the 561 survivors of CSE interviewed, 21 per cent were children below 18. Over 24 per cent had been rescued earlier and were victims of re-trafficking. The survivors claimed that on an average, they had to satisfy seven clients a day. Over 32 per cent had health problems and among them 30 per cent were suffering from a sexually transmitted disease and 8 per cent were HIV positive.

The high percentage of children is not surprising. Out of the 852 clients interviewed, over 39 per cent said they preferred young girls because they were submissive. Some preferred young girls for fear of AIDS or other diseases. About 45 per cent of the clients were married and 72 per cent lived with their spouse. A few even took CSE victims to their homes.

Most trafficking routes replicate migration routes. Traffickers use known migration routes to avoid detection and carry on trafficking under the façade of migration.
 •  Executive summary of report
Human trafficking generates billions of dollars, and is globally the third largest source of profit from organized crime, after arms and drug trafficking. Several women and children trafficked are forced into the sex trade. The brothel-owners interviewed (412) admitted that the highest demand was for virgins and confirmed that the highest profits came from children in CSE. Quoting several recent studies, the report says the transactions in prostitution (in India) are worth Rs 185 million a day, and Rs 370 billion per year.

The report also talks about the strong linkages between trafficking and migration. It mentions the apparent similarity in the routes taken towards the destination points by migration and trafficking - i.e. most trafficking routes replicate migration routes. "Traffickers use known migration routes to avoid detection and carry on trafficking under the façade of migration."

The problems of people who are victims of trafficking cannot by addressed by a single strategy, according to the report. The trafficked population can be categorized into three groups: Newly-inducted women and children who desperately want to be rescued; old women who have no options before them; and middle-aged women who have almost reconciled to lives in the brothels for many reasons including lack of livelihood options. A separate strategy needs to be evolved for each group.

The report suggests that besides increasing sensitization, training and accountability of police officials on the issue, the justice delivery mechanism in the country needs to be improved. Proceedings in court need to be made more victim-friendly and less intimidating. Misuse of local and special laws that result in harassment of women and children by branding them as 'prostitutes' should be prevented; and concerned ministries should monitor the implementation of laws related to trafficking in its entirety.

The involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions in anti-trafficking work has produced very good results in some states and needs to be replicated. The report recommends the formation of a national nodal agency to coordinate various activities like rescue and rehabilitation.