On the occasion of the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, scheduled to take place from 18 to 22 October 2010 at UNODC Headquarters, Vienna, our Office will publish a series of stories related to human trafficking. The following interview with Mr. Manabendra Mandal, Chairman ATSEC (Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children) is the first of the series.
South Asia: Mr. Manabendra Mandal, Chairman ATSEC (Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children): a relentless crusader for the right to freedom from exploitation
Mr Manabendra Mandal is the Chairman, ATSEC South Asia and National Coordinator, ATSEC India. With 26 state chapters, ATSEC India is a network of 561 NGOs that are working to prevent sexual exploitation and human trafficking, especially of women and children. ATSEC also has regional chapters in the South Asian countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A human rights lawyer by profession, Mr Mandal has a long standing commitment to address this issue from a rights based perspective.
In his interview with UNODC, Mr Mandal explains how serious the problem of human trafficking is in the South Asian region. He also explains some of the collective measures that should be taken by all stakeholders to end this crime.
1) Can you describe the links between irregular migration and human trafficking? Which are source and destination countries for human trafficking?
There are links between irregular migration and human trafficking; what seemed to be unsafe migration can in fact be human trafficking. Many people migrate without proper documents, which can lead to exploitation for labour as well as for commercial sexual exploitation.
There are many instances of unsafe migration in South Asia: people looking for better job opportunities within the country or elsewhere, women and children going to join their husbands or parents at the destination point are easily taken to other countries with false hopes and without proper documents. Within the country, many people including children are taken for work as bonded labour, for human organ transplantation, commercial sexual exploitation and for other purposes. Illiterate people, tribals, minorities and other socially disadvantaged persons are often trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation.
In South Asia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the main source countries. The destination countries lie both within the region, including India and Pakistan, and also in the Middle East and Europe. Bangladeshi girls are taken to Pakistan and Middle East, whereas Nepali girls are taken to India and then to some European countries. From Pakistan, women and girls are trafficked to the Middle East. From North East India, girls are trafficked to Far Eastern countries including Thailand and Philippines.
2) How serious is the problem and what are the challenges? Can you give us an estimate of the number of women and children trafficked annually from source to destination countries?
The problem is very serious. Its not only inter country trafficking, but also intra country migration without documents that takes place almost every day. It is said that five to seven thousand women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked through India and sent to Pakistan and Middle East annually. The traffickers easily bring girls from Bangladesh without documents as India and Bangladesh have porous land borders of thousand of miles. In the process some five to ten percent women are absorbed in the local flesh market in India. Similarly Nepalese citizens don't require a passport or visa to enter India. This has made it very easy for traffickers from Nepal to bring women and children to India. Nearly three to five thousand women and girls from Nepal are trafficked to India and then sent to the Far East as well as European Countries. Recently few Bhutanese girls were also being trafficked to India.
3) What are the legal provisions/instruments in place to counter human trafficking in India and how effective are they?
So far as the legal instruments in India are concerned, there is the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) 1956, the Indian Penal Code 1860, the Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994 etc. There are international conventions like the Convention on Elimination on Discrimination against Women 1979 (CEDAW) and the Convention on Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC). Both these conventions have been ratified by India. There is also the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (2000). India has a national policy to combat trafficking. Article 23 of the Indian Constitution prohibits trafficking in human beings.
However, there are also gaps in the law; for example the ITPA 1956 does not provide any definition of trafficking. Except for the past few years, the traffickers have hardly been booked under the ITPA. The punishment under ITPA is much lower compared to the Indian Penal Code 1860. So what is required is the strict implementation of the law and large-scale awareness amongst the judiciary, police, NGOs and other stakeholders so that the survivors of trafficking get the justice due to them.
4) ATSEC has been working on community policing as a means to curb human trafficking. Can you explain the concept of community policing?
Community policing encourages the police and community to work closely together to address the problems of crime and social disorder. It uses different approaches, such as foot patrol and problem-solving at the neighbourhood level.
In Bangladesh, the police has taken the lead to form committees on community policing up to the district level. The Victim Support Centre in Dhaka is a good example, where police and NGOs are working together as a group.
Community policing is being practised even in Nepal, by the Police and NGOs on the official borders of Nepal and India to check cross border trafficking.
In India, Anti Human Trafficking Units that have been developed by the Home Ministry with the help of UNODC, work with NGOs in the rescue and psychosocial counselling of survivors, preparing them as witnesses to face the defence counsel in court etc. NGOs also provide rehabilitation, repatriation and re-integration. Anti Human Trafficking Units of police in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa are also examples of Police-NGO collaboration. In India, the Chamber of Commerce (CII), corporate houses, NGOs and the police are collaborating to prevent trafficking as part of corporate social responsibility.
The Socio Legal Aid Research and Training Centre (SLARTC) in Kolkata is the National Secretariat of ATSEC India and has worked on community policing with the support of UNODC in the Basirhat sub division of the North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. Here we have oriented the police and the Border Security Force (BSF) on human trafficking and law enforcement. We have also trained school children, teachers, panchayat (elected village council) members, self help groups, hoteliers, bus conductors and others. We have regularly organized field level discussions in tea stalls, courtyards and even during gram sabha (village assembly) meetings. The entire community now works together in the border areas to ensure that any trafficker who brings women and girls is apprehended with the help of the police or BSF.
Developing and strengthening community policing is essential to combat trafficking. Community policing gives us hope that we can prevent cross-border trafficking and also bring traffickers to book, so that they can be punished by the appropriate court of law.
5) Any message you would like to give out to all those involved in addressing this problem?
What we need is full commitment to prevent trafficking and active participation in rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims. If we develop a strong safety ring to protect the vulnerable population, then it will be difficult for the traffickers to take them away. This needs awareness at all levels, cooperation and commitment from all the involved people so that trafficking at the source point, transit point and destination point can be stopped.
UNODC works closely with ATSEC on cross border initiatives on community policing and provision of legal and counselling support to victims of trafficking in select shelter homes of West Bengal. UNODC's work in this area has been possible thanks to the contribution of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).