Young minor girls from Hyderabad are taken to the Gulf nations after being 'bought', and are repeatedly sexually abused and exploited by several men, after a rich sheikh takes his 'turn' with her.
These girls, whose parents are lured on the pretext of their daughters getting married and leading a lavish lifestyle, end up getting raped by men who are more than twice their age, and in some cases, old enough to be their grandfathers.
This was the revelation made by Hyderabad Police Commissioner M Mahender Reddy, after the city police busted a massive web of brokers and qazis who ran an elaborate trafficking racket in the city.
On Wednesday, the police arrested five Omani nationals and three Qatar nationals, who were in the city to marry minor girls and traffic them to the Middle East. The police cracked a nexus of sheikhs, Muslim clerics and agents.
Since the findings, authorities have stepped up their attempts to curb this horrifying menace.
Besides stating that a foreigner must bring a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from his country, the police also suggested that the age gap between the husband and the wife, should not be more than ten years.
They also suggested that the foreigner must apply for permission from the police in writing, with details of the bride, one month before the intended wedding. A sub-inspector or someone above must then be deputed to look into the documents.
The police also suggested that the marriage should be held in the presence of MWD or Child Welfare officials.
“Until and unless all the conditions are met, it will be illegal for any Qazi to conduct the marriage. If a Qazi doesn’t follow these orders, they shall be liable for criminal action under IPC 120 B(Criminal Conspiracy),” the police said.
The police has also asked the Minorities Welfare Department, to issue stricter guidelines for foreign nationals, if they want to marry someone from Hyderabad.
As part of the crackdown, the police said that they have identified more than 35 brokers in Hyderabad alone, of which 25 were women.
Four lodge owners and five brokers and three Qazis were also arrested, including Chief Qazi of Mumbai, Farid Ahmed Khan, who was considered the kingpin.
Need for stricter law
Activists however, demand stricter laws to curb the menace.
"Firstly, authorities should accept only government based certificates, over certificates issued by any religious body. The marriage must be registered with the state government," says Achyuta Rao, a Hyderabad-based child rights activist with the Balala Hakkula Sangham.
He also demands that any suspicious activity at airports must be tracked, where anyone accompanying a minor, should clearly declare what their relationship is.
Achyuta, who is a former member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), also argues that the culprits are let go, too easily.
"This is a sexual offence against the children. More than the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, this attracts sections of Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act," he says.
"Not only the groom, but every person involved at every step, must be booked under non-bailable sections, so that it attracts a higher quantum of punishment," he adds.
As far as the parents who 'sell' the girl out of poverty, Achyuta says that they must be booked under sections of the IPC and Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
Any nexus is incomplete without politicians and local leaders, which is the same in this case.
After the arrests, at least two GHMC corporators and other small-time leaders of political parties were reported to have rushed to the police station, to try and get the accused released.
"The Hyderabad police conducted these raids after a lot of pressure from the Centre and the media, and yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a large nexus, and several local corporators are involved. It has been going on for years," says Amjed Ullah Khan from the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT).
Amjed had earlier reported the case of an Omani national illegally trafficking a 16-year-old, to the police, which had triggered off the entire investigation.
"These cases were happening right under the noses of the police and politicians. The AIMIM and its chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who speak on every national issue, are remaining silent now," he accused.
When asked about what can be done to tackle the issue, Amjed says, "The prevalence of dowry is alarming, and must be curbed. The concept of lavish weddings, is also putting a lot of burden on the family. Thirdly, this massive nexus has to be broken."
"This is sex tourism under the guise of Nikah, and it has to be stopped. Additionally, even mosques can talk about this issue during their Friday sermons, so that people do not get lured as easily. It is not a lack of awareness, but greed, which is the driving motive in such cases," he adds.
Authorities draft ordinance
Speaking to TNM, Syed Omer Jaleel, special secretary, Minorities Welfare Department, says that they have taken already considered most of the suggestions of the police.
Adding to that, Jaleel says, "We are also insisting that the foreigner should come on a visa that clearly states his purpose as 'marriage'. We will not entertain tourist or business visas. If anyone violates this, they will be liable for seven years imprisonment."
"Strict action will also be taken against any Qazis carrying out the marriage of any girl below 18. Additionally, we also suggested that the wife should have access to India's consular office in the foreign country, and report once every few months, at least during the first one year of the marriage," he adds.
Jaleel also says that the MWD has taken concrete steps.
"We have drafted an ordinance after consulting the law department, and we have sent it to the Advocate General for clearance. Once that happens, we will place it front of the Chief Minister, and see how to take it forward," he said.
"Either we will pass the ordinance, or bring in the legislation," he added.