Human trafficking as defined by the UN is, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or service, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
Almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 percent from the previous year.
Behind these statistics are real people, mainly women and children who were abandoned or kidnapped and then pushed into modern day slavery. Away from the bright lights of the city, a whole section of society lives in darkness and despair, their existence unacknowledged outside the system that chains them.
India is a hotbed for human trafficking, owing partly to its huge population, high rates of corruption, distinct socioeconomic structure and ineffective implementation of laws. Women and children from rural areas are lured into the city with the promise of better prospects and then trafficked, often being sold into prostitution. With the help of corrupt officials, a backlogged legal system and a society that views trafficked victims as ‘immoral’, brothels, forced labor camps and entire factories employing underage workers, have mushroomed over India. Despite repeated efforts by independent and government supported NGOs, human trafficking continues to grow in India, with more and more school-age children being pushed into the trade that will consume their entire lives.
Even after being rescued, the victims suffer from various conditions like severe depression, mental trauma, anxiety, alcoholism and drug abuse. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Swiss philosopher once said, “Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them”. It takes away from them the ability to dream, to envisage a better future and to work towards that future. Victims are often physically, mentally and sexually abused to the point that they are crippled. They are often malnourished, sufferers of sexually transmitted diseases and have complex psychological needs. Hence, the real battle doesn’t end with the rescue mission. The rescued victims should be given a new lease of life, with the help of rehabilitation centers that focus on their social skills, provide effective counseling and aim to integrate the victims into society, without stigma and prejudice. Often the rescued victims have troubled childhoods, supplemented by substance abuse that might require the help of experts. Without this, the victims may escape physical slavery, while still being isolated from the other sections of the society in the form of an unwritten echelon.
In the 21st century, in a world that champions freedom and personal rights, the right to dream and the right to live are fundamental. Trafficking is not just the trade of people; it is the trade of entire lives. Perhaps the biggest crime in the world is taking another’s freedom and claiming it as your own. It is time that we all stand together and break the chains, cuffs and cages that confine the victims of human trafficking.