India: From Darjeeling to Delhi - story of a young girl who was trafficked
"Tina's* father came to me one night and reported that his 14-year-old daughter had gone missing. Something told me that this was a case of human trafficking that required urgent attention. We lodged a complaint at the local police station and my NGO-MARG also started investigating this case.
As a starting point, I went to Tina's school and spoke to her friends. After speaking to 25 girls I was able to gather bits and pieces of information. I was told that she had lost her mother, and her father, an alcoholic, used to beat her up. She used to spend long hours on the phone talking to a boy named Rajan*. Her friends from school also gave us information about four other boys she used to talk to. We spoke to each of these boys and narrowed our search.
We then showed her photograph to all the taxi stands in the vicinity and one driver recognized her. He had driven her from Darjeeling to Siliguri and he said that during the drive she was constantly talking to a person named Rajan who was located in Delhi. This case haunted me. I visited the local police station and at the same time I kept in touch with Tina's grandmother. One day her grandmother called me and said that she had received a call from Tina who was in Chandigarh. I took the number and traced it. Tina had actually called from Delhi. I contacted CBI in Delhi and informed them about this case. Once we had her location, CBI conducted a raid and she was rescued." - Mr. Nirnay John Chettri, General Secretary, MARG.
File photo of Tina* before she went missing
MARG - Mankind in Action for Rural Growth is a non governmental organization based in Darjeeling, West Bengal. This region in the north-eastern part of India is vulnerable to human trafficking. Many young girls and women are trafficked to Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab for prostitution and forced marriages. West Bengal has also emerged as a hub for agents and traffickers sending women and children to the Middle East as forced labour. Lack of awareness, paucity of work opportunities and frequent natural disasters push women and children into the hands of traffickers.
Tina, too, was easily lured by a trafficker with false promises of work in a big city. Nirnay believes that Tina's case is one of the few success stories where law enforcement agencies, community organizations and civil society were able to rescue a girl that was trafficked. He says: " Today 21 people are behind bars in this case. However, we are not always this fortunate. In most cases by the time we are able to track the location of the girl, she has already been sold several times and we have lost all track of her."
Repatriation and reintegration of the survivor into the community is another huge challenge. Survivors are faced with stigma and are often not welcomed back into their own homes. In most cases they prefer not to go back to their villages. In Tina's case, too, she did not want to go back to her village and instead wanted to stay in Delhi and study.
Nirnay says: "Tina insisted on staying in Delhi and so we arranged for her to relocate to a state run shelter home in Delhi. She is now studying and her favourite subject is Maths. When I came down to Delhi last time, I met her. I asked her what she wanted to do when she grows up and she told me that she wanted to work with MARG. She said that she would never want any girl to go through what she had to."
The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has taken a number of measures to prevent and counter human trafficking in the country. These include the setting up of 225 specialized anti human trafficking units across the country, sensitization programmes for police and training of prosecutors. To know more about services available in India for victims of human trafficking, read UNODC's latest Country Assessment: Current Status of Victim Service Providers and Criminal Justice Actors in India on anti human trafficking.
* Names changed to protect identity.
The assessment was conducted under the UNODC project titled, 'Promoting the implementation of the Trafficking Protocol and the Smuggling Protocol, both supplementing the UNTOC' with the financial support of the European Union.