After the tragic Nepal earthquake in 2015, the bordering state of Uttar Pradesh witnessed a sharp spike in human trafficking. Hundreds of economically vulnerable Nepali women and children, who had lost their husbands and fathers, were peddled into the state after being lured with money only to end up into the dark world of commercial sexual exploitation. The state government was caught in this frenzy and was desperately looking for ways to curb this menace.
At that time, Ministhy S Nair, who was the then special secretary to the home department of the state government, rose to the occasion. She began with sensitising stakeholders, starting from truck drivers to public prosecutors representing child victims. She led the statewide crackdown on trafficking, and became a force to reckon with. Her endeavours grabbed eyeballs and she was honoured by the Consul General Kolkata Consulate for East and North East India.
In a conversation with The News Minute, the woman of steel talks about her modus operandi, inspiration, the challenges in tackling human trafficking and the glaring loopholes in the system.
Q: How did the earthquake abet trafficking of women and children across borders?
A: Thousands of Nepalis lost their jobs post the earthquake. Farmers lost their lands and were striving to make ends meet more desperately than ever. Traffickers exploited their situation and lured them with money under the pretext of finding jobs for the women and children in their families in India. Under the façade of domestic labour, hundreds of women and children were sold off for commercial sex.
Q: What triggered you to take up the challenge head on?
A: I was the in-charge of the development of women and children in the Home Department of Uttar Pradesh. At one of the seminars that I had attended, I heard a victim speak about her ordeal. When she was a child, she was kidnapped after the Gujarat earthquake and sold at GB Road, New Delhi. Later, she was diagnosed with HIV. She was rescued and she is now a volunteer with the New Delhi-based NGO, Shaktivahini. Hearing her plight moved me. Being in a position of power, I knew that I had to do something to arrest this issue.
Q: What was your modus operandi?
A: It is important to understand that it requires 13-14 departments to protect a child. Hence, the first step was to facilitate was the convergence of all stakeholders. We invited NGOs, members of child helpline, railway officials, the Seema Sashastra Bal (SSB), and officials from the UNICEF. By the end of it, we involved more than 3,000 stakeholders. We spoke to truck drivers and bus conductors and taught them how to think on their feet whenever they see something suspicious. Next, we worked on spreading awareness amongst the families that resided in the bordering districts of Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. We realised that they had no idea about what a child goes through once they are trafficked. It was important to bring them face-to-face with the horrors of trafficking to prevent them from reselling their children once the victims were brought home. Third and the most important step was to always be available for any phone call reporting an incident of trafficking.
Q: How did you make sure that the victim’s trauma was dealt with adequately once they were rescued?
A: With the help of a few NGOs and the UNICEF, we came up with more than 20 child-friendly police stations in the state. In these stations, child counsellors help them deal with the trauma whereas we store books and films that help them recuperate. They have received an overwhelming response so far. We organise interactive sessions with lady officers who make the victims comfortable and provide them with requisite confidence to speak without being afraid.
Q: What, according to you, is the biggest cause of human trafficking and what is the solution?
A: The crux of the issue is poverty. Families belonging to the economically weaker sections fall for the false promises of work in cities. Statistics show that out of every 10 children who are trafficked, eight are forced into commercial sex work. Hence, unless there are sufficient poverty alleviation measures in place, human trafficking is always going to be a headache. We need to understand that human trafficking ranks amongst the top three illegal enterprises in the world. It is an organised industry as the buyers and sellers have a well-spread-out network. Hence, we need an organised system in place to combat it.
Q: How challenging is rehabilitation of the victims?
A: It is the most challenging part of the process. There is a dearth of shelter homes. The ones that are functional now are overcrowded. With the help of corporate social responsibility, it will be possible to build new homes as well as fund NGOs that are working towards rehabilitation of the victims. The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016, is one of the most awaited as it clearly addresses the issue and should be passed by the Parliament as soon as possible. The directives of this bill press for speedy trial and repatriation of the victims within a year from the time of their rescue, immediate protection and rehabilitation, and complete confidentiality of the victim’s identity, among others.
Main image courtesy XL Meri Jaan.