Roma Debabrata on fighting human trafficking & violation of women's rights through STOP
20 May 2009: The effective suppression of trafficking in women and girls for the sex trade is a matter of not only national but international concern. Approximately 80% of the people trafficked are women and children for commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls who are victims of this international illicit trade are further exposed to increased levels of violence, of unwanted pregnancy as well as of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS.
In India, law enforcement agencies in collaboration with civil society organizations help rescue trafficked victims. While the police and judiciary are mainly responsible for and involved in the rescue operation, investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, civil society organisations have assumed the challenging job of rehabilitating and reintegrating the victims back to society.
STOP: Stop Trafficking and Oppression of Children and Women, a Non Governmental Organisation, is one such agency that helps in this process. What makes STOP different is that it also works on reducing gender discrimination in society taking into consideration that social bias against women and the lack of opportunities for them in the labour market make them vulnerable to being trafficked and re-trafficked.
Ms. Roma Debarata, President of STOP explains that, "STOP is not an organization. It is a movement. A movement all should join to destroy the evil of human trafficking before the numbers are too big." STOP was initiated in 1998 under the Ramola Bhar Charitable (RBC) Trust to combat trafficking and empower women and children. STOP follows a human rights-based approach to prevention of trafficking of women mainly for sexual exploitation. Through a strong and cohesive network of partners ranging from civil society, policy makers, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and corporate sector STOP has succeeded in recovering and empowering innumerable survivors of trafficking. It ensures that the standards and principles of the international human rights system are integrated into its policies and programs.
STOP has been relentlessly working in the vulnerable communities of Bawana and New Seemapuri located in the outskirts of Delhi, which are susceptible to exploitation. It works on rehabilitating the rescued victims through a three pronged strategy: 'recovery and empowerment', 'prevention' and 'participation'. According to its 2007 Annual Report, the total number of victims recovered till 2007 is 100. The victims recovered ranged from 5 to 25 years of age. According to the Report, STOP has in total recovered, restored, repatriated and rehabilitated altogether more than 1000 girls, children and women. It worked closely with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to facilitate 155 arrests of perpetrators and 74 convictions of traffickers for sexual exploitation.
After rescuing the victims, it empowers the survivors by educating and training them on vocational skills like candle making, embroidery, cafeteria management and cooking. The girls today run the Miranda Cafeteria at Delhi University, manage the products of a small farm house and are in charge of their shelter home called 'Ashray'. All major decisions to run the shelter home are taken by them. The empowered girls of the home act as peer counselors and are also invited to discussion forums to inform and educate others.
Despite the hard efforts, rehabilitating and reintegrating the victims back to society is often not successful. According to Ms. Debabarata there are several challenges that need to be addressed like social stigma and emotional scars that must be overcome during the process of reintegration. Instead of being considered victims, the rescued women are often treated as criminals of the sex trade which further discriminates and alienates them. Also, reintegration resources are not easily available neither at the national level nor in communities to assist the victim with work-related training or to provide financial support during the transition period. The problem that needs immediate attention according to Ms Debarata is the violation of women's rights as it is a cause and a consequence of trafficking in women. Although trafficking affects both men and women, it is not a gender-neutral phenomenon, as women in India - as at global level - are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their poor social and economic standing.
Ms. Debabrata underlines that reinforced and collaborative efforts are required to prevent trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation. She further states that the implementation of the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, as well as other relevant Acts, need to be reviewed and strengthened. Strengthening of existing legislation to provide better protection of the rights of women and girls and punishing the perpetrators, through both criminal and civil measures is also imperative.
There is already a rights based international framework in place to address human trafficking at a global level. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three Protocols of which to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children is one of them, entered into force on 25 December 2003. It is the first global, legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. The parties to the Convention commit themselves to prosecute and punish human trafficking as a serious crime, to prevent it and protect the victims including their restitution of rights.
The Government of India (GoI) signed the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime on 12 December 2002.