India: A major destination & transit point for the 10,000 women & children sucked into slavery daily Print E-mail
Sunday March 8th, 2009

One step forward, two steps back?


“If women were humans, would they be a cash crop shipped from India in containers into New York brothels? Would they be burned when their dowry money wasn’t enough or when men tired of us, starved when their husbands died?”

These sobering thoughts of a leading feminist resound through our minds on International Women’s Day for Unifem confirms that one crore women have been trafficked in India alone and the numbers are rising.

A massive study undertaken by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2006 has estimated that trafficking of women and children in India is generating $400 million annually, with transactions in prostitution alone grossing over Rs 40,000 crores annually. These revenues are being shared between procurers, pimps, brothel-keepers and the police.

This thriving commerce in women and children rivals drug trafficking and illegal arms trade for the top criminal activity on the planet. Slave trade sits at number three on the list but is closing the gap.

Legendary activist Gloria Steinem declares, “There is more slavery today than there was in the 1800s. People are being enslaved across borders, both for labour and for sex. Trafficking is almost as profitable as arms and drugs. The amount of investment needed in this trade is very little, as it costs less to buy a person than to buy drugs and arms. In the US, women fighting this slavery call themselves the ‘new abolitionists’.”

The ISS study confirms that traffickers are the kingpins of this operation. At the top of the hierarchy are the master traffickers, who are then assisted by field-level purchasers, transporters, master operators, pimps, brothel owners and brothel managers.

The ISS tracked down and interviewed 160 traffickers from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, West Bengal and UP, who were in their mid-twenties and early thirties and could converse in several Indian languages.

Trafficking, they admitted, was a low investment, high profit business. Girls were being purchased for as little as Rs 1,000 per girl and sold for 20 times that amount.

A trafficker from Muzzafarpur said, “I traffic at least 40 women and children every month which fetches me Rs 10 lakhs just from a sale of these women. During the festival season, the numbers go up to 60.”

The traffickers admit to sexually assaulting these girls before handing them over to a brothel. Traffickers first develop a relationship with members of the family and it is, shockingly enough, family members, including parents and husbands who often facilitate the handing over in lieu of a financial kickback.

Sixteen-year-old Chaya, rescued recently from a G.B. Road brothel in Delhi and moved to the Nirmal Chhaya remand home, cited how she had been picked up by a trafficker from her native village at a young age and was forced to entertain customers for more than 12 hours daily. The first customer came in at 10 am and the last customer after midnight.

Many traffickers admit to exploiting women and children for pornographic reasons with kids being trafficked to West Asia, UK, Korea and Philippines for pornography.

Indian traffickers now travel abroad frequently in order to arrange for “dance and song programmes” for girls while others admit to sending male children to Saudi Arabia where they are being used for begging.

Siddharth Kara, in his book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, has divided modern-day slaves into three categories. He writes, “From the 28.4 million slaves in the world at the end of 2006, there were 18.1 million bonded labour slaves, 7.6 million forced labour slaves and 2.7 million trafficked slaves. Of these trafficked slaves, 1.2 million were sex slaves.”

She points out that sex slavery is by far the most profitable form of slavery. Even though only four per cent of all slaves were sex slaves, they generated almost 40 per cent of the total profits enjoyed by slave owners each year. In September 2003, then US President George W. Bush had told the United Nations General Assembly that there was a global crisis created by slavery.

Twenty-eight million slaves, girls and boys and women, are being forced to toil in the carpet sheds of Bhadohi, the cubby holes of Kamathipura in Mumbai and in the brothels of G.B. Road.

The numbers are growing, with India emerging as a major destination and transit point with 10,000 women and children being sucked into slavery each day, reports suggest.