Thursday, July 5, 2007

Parlours selling sex may be treated as brothels

Parlours selling sex may be treated as brothels
2 Mar 2007

NEW DELHI: Government proposes to broaden the definition of ‘‘brothel’’ to include those massage and beauty parlours as well as dance bars where prostitution takes place in various guises — a move which could lead to harassment of a wide range of establishments. Working on suggestions of an NGO, Shakti Vahini, government has modified the definition of brothel in the modified Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2006. This was stated by advocate Rajiv Datta after the hearing in Supreme Court on Shakti Vahini’s PIL on trafficking of women. A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices D K Jain and V S Sirpurkar expressed anguish at the slow pace in which the government was working on the suggestions of the petitioner and asked Datta to inform the court about the status of the Bill during the next hearing. Datta said the government has incorporated the changes suggested by the petitioner to make the punishment for offences more stringent and modify the definition of 'brothel' to include "parlours, bars and such places being used for prostitution to bring them under the ambit of the law", he said. These are part of the amendments under consideration by the ministry of women and child development (WCD) and include a more stringent definition of "trafficking in persons" on the lines of International Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and "enhancing the punishment for a person who keeps or manages or acts or assists in keeping or management of a brothel".


House of horror for kids- From Bengal, enslaved trio can’t recall address

Two of the children rescued from Delhi. Picture by Shakti Vahini
New Delhi, Nov. 20: Bruises on their bodies and trauma on their faces, the three children stare vacantly out of a dimly-lit room in a Faridabad police station. All from Bengal, they don’t remember their exact addresses, except that their village is somewhere in Midnapore.
Rescued on Saturday from the house of a local businessman, Sujata, 6, Santoshi, 8, and Sita, 12, will be shifted to Nari Niketan, a home for women and kids, in nearby Karnal.
“The medical report hasn’t come in yet, but there is no doubt that these children were subjected to inhuman behaviour,” Mahipal Singh, the officer investigating the case, said.
After being rescued from the businessman’s Indra- prastha Colony home in Faridabad by Shakti Vahini, an NGO, the children were handed over to the local police station.
While Sujata and Santoshi had apparently been kept in the house for “domestic work” for two years, Sita, the oldest among them, had been brought about a year back.
“These are the trafficked children from Bengal. The investigation must go beyond the National Capital Region, right up to Bengal, to ascertain how and by whom, these children were trafficked,” said Jagdip Rawat of Shakti Vahini.
The case not only exposes child labour and cruelty, but also involves bonded labour as these children were kept in illegal confinement and forced to work without wages, Rawat said.
In his statement to the police, the businessman claimed he brought the children from a placement agency for domestic help in Delhi. He said he initially paid their wages to the agency, which, he claimed, stopped contacting him later. He didn’t recall its name or address.
Equally unexplained are the bruises on the bodies of the kids.
In his statement, the businessman said the injuries were caused by infighting among them, but the wounds are far too serious to lend credence to his version. The medical report is expected to throw more light.
Meanwhile, Shakti Vahini has alleged that police are showing leniency to the businessman. “The accused has not yet been arrested. Even the sections that have been levelled against him relate only to the juvenile justice act and the IPC. The laws on prevention of child and bonded labour must also be used against him,” said Rawat.


Stopping the Traffic
Slavery is not dead in India. Fuelled by trafficking, it is spreading far and wide. Thousands of Indians, especially women and children, are trafficked everyday to some destination or the other and are forced to lead lives of bondage. They survive in brothels, factories, guesthouses, dance bars, farms and even in the homes of well-off Indians, with no control over their bodies and lives. Women and children are also being trafficked for illegal adoptions, organ transplants, the circus and the entertainment industry.In 2000, the United Nations defined trafficking as: "The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception...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 labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. "Although cross-border trafficking of women and children has been a problem in India for the last two decades, NGOs and academic researchers say that there has been a phenomenal growth in inter-state trafficking in the last five years. While India is both a source and conduit for international traffickers, 89 per cent of trafficking in India is inter-state.
Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on anti-trafficking issues, claims that traffickers are not just getting women and children to brothels or to tourist spots: young women from conflict-ridden states like Assam or drought-prone states like Andhra Pradesh are being sold as 'brides' in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. It is well-known that due to rampant practice of female feticide in the last two decades, Haryana has a severe shortage of women. The traffickers, who include even women, lure young girls with the promise of a job or simply abduct them and bring them to Haryana. Here, they are not married, but kept as 'wives' by men. Shakti Vahini says these women are caged in homes and undergo rape almost everyday.
Several tribal women and minors from states like Jharkhand and Bihar reach Delhi and NOIDA to work as domestic labor. A few months ago, the Human Rights Law Network, the National Domestic Workers movement and the National Commission for Women organized a public hearing of domestic workers (some as young as eight years) in Delhi. They all had horror tales to tell: some children said they are beaten with brooms, rods and belts. The women are often raped and if they try to leave, they are not paid their wages. Several of these women come from 'placement agencies' which have mushroomed all over Delhi.
In some parts of Punjab, women and children (mostly dalits and tribals) from states like Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand are increasingly being used as farm labor. They are sold to rich farmers who use them as bonded labor: they get no money, no rest and no freedom. One researcher has described what these persons face in the first few days of being trafficked. "They are starved, locked up in dark rooms, burnt with cigarettes butts, bound and tortured and sometimes killed for not trading their bodies. Children usually relent in seven to 10 days..."
While earlier women and children were largely trafficked from poor states, today the northeastern states - Nagaland, Assam and Manipur - have also joined the list.
In 2004, a report, 'Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children in India', commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) - in collaboration with UNIFEM and the Institute of Social Sciences - revealed that every year over 22,000 women and 44,00 children are reported missing in India. Of these, more than 5,000 women and 11,000 children are not traced. Many of the persons missing are actually trafficked. In states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tamil Nadu, the rate of missing children had increased from 100 to 211 per cent!
Like slavery, trafficking offers huge profits. According to the NHRC report, transactions in prostitution itself are worth Rs 185 million a day Rs 370 billion per year. Human trafficking is globally the largest source of profit after arms and drug trafficking. And, comparatively, the least risky. Experts feel that the government, law enforcement agencies, politicians and the general public should be more pro-active in tackling the issue. In 2004, the US government put India on the Tier 2 Watch list (along with six other Asian countries), for its inadequate response to the trafficking issue. The US government has also threatened to impose sanctions if the situation does not improve.
The Indian government has made efforts to prevent trafficking in the last few years. But a lot more can be done by engaging with important stakeholders from the judicial and law enforcement sectors. Strengthening of inter-departmental (government) collaboration and cooperation and bringing in accountability and transparency in government actions are areas that need to be worked on.
In 2002, Shakti Vahini filed a public interest litigation seeking to know how far the states had been able to implement the recommendations (made in 1998) of the Report Committee on Prostitution, Children of Prostitutes and Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Women and Children. Two years later, the states submitted their replies: none, except Andhra Pradesh, appeared to have taken any concrete steps. Some states have not even formed the basic committees to coordinate work on anti-trafficking. None of the state governments have conducted any mapping activity to determine the extent of trafficking, an essential requirement under the plan.
Training police officers to handle cases with greater sensitivity; setting up minimum standards of care for survivors of trafficking; coordinating law enforcement in the case of missing persons - the states have not set these processes in motion. Despite the enormous number of people trafficked, very few traffickers are arrested and prosecuted.
Of course, despite the cracks in the system, there are rays of light beaming through. Small, though significant, initiatives have been taken in recent years by NGOs by creating awareness on the issue, rescuing trafficked persons and getting the traffickers arrested.
However, this is a mammoth task. War against slavery needs a multi-disciplinary approach. Women and Child Development, Labour, Home and External Affairs - all these agencies must move beyond rescue operations to rehabilitation and integration of trafficked victims.
But this is not the government's problem alone. Ordinary citizens - those who don't mind hiring children in their factories or homes; who discriminate against the girl child; who look the other way when the issue of the use of children in sex tourism is brought up; who buy organs without bothering to check how the donation has been made; and who cannot see that the largest number of poor people are women - can be major agents of change.
The foundations of several ancient civilizations were based on slavery. Global India must not repeat history.


Shakti Vahini to conduct workshop on human rights
HERALD NEWS BUREAUPANJIM, APRIL 13 — Indian journalists will participate in an upcoming two-day workshop in the State, to focus on two pressing human rights issues, human trafficking and the selective abortions of females.
The workshop is scheduled for April 23 and 24 and about 50 journalists have already been selected to participate. The Indian human rights group Shakti Vahini is organizing the event with support from the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), according to a report in the International Journalists Network.The workshop will help the journalists learn more about covering the issues of human trafficking and female feticide. A recent study by the British medical journal The Lancet found that about one in every 25 female fetuses is aborted in India – or about 500,000 per year. The practice has deeper implications for society, as there are about nine girls born for every 10 boys in India, the report stated.


India's Other Virus Human Trafficking And The Spread of HIV

News Update received by email from the author.On Monday, 21 August, Seelu (main character in story) was at New Delhi station and walked right into the very woman who had trafficked her. She immediately rang Shakti Vahini (an NGO active in anti-trafficking, HIV prevention and health outreach) and managed to keep the woman (Rukmani) distracted for an hour by feigning interest in buying girls herself, before Shakti Vahini arrived and an arrest was made. Shakti Vahini told me she handled the situation with great presence of mind. The incident was on that night's TV news and in the next day's newspapers.

The case against Rukmani and the brothel to which the girl was sold is very strong as Shakti Vahini has a lot of supporting evidence. But the girl's nayika (controller inside the brothel) has apparently sincedied, so action will probably be taken against the brothel owner. But the big scoop is that a diary was found on Rukmani with details of all sorts of contacts in Delhi's and Mumbai's red light areas to whom she has allegedly confessed selling girls. Because the Indian Home Minister's constituency includes the district in Maharastra where this woman operates, Shakti Vahini is now writing to urge him to launch a full scale investigation of all the girls that have disappeared from that area, on the strength of this find. So this chance encounter may come to have very big ramifications.
Beginning of original article
India's looming HIV disaster terrifies the rest of the world, and its potential to outpace Africa as the world's largest reservoir of the virus has brought out the big money to contain it. World Bank funds are flowing into HIV-prevention programmes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $200 million to galvanize leadership at the institutional level and change behaviour among high-risk groups. The Clinton Foundation is assisting India's National AIDS Control Organization to train large numbers of doctors in the basics of HIV medicine and broaden access to treatment.
A commercial sex worker in Mumbai, India © WHO photo/P. Virot
And change is happening. Programmes to distribute free antiretroviral (ARV) drugs have been established and safe sex campaigns are gradually entrenching condom use in Delhi's GB Road and Mumbai's Kamatipura red-light districts-notorious epicentres of infection. But the spread of HIV is not merely a practical problem that enough condoms, drugs and doctors can bring under control. For underlying this epidemic is a phenomenon of greater magnitude and complexity which threatens to overwhelm the impact the Clinton and Gates Foundations' combined expenditures might make. This is India's vast, murky, semi-criminalized, semi-tolerated trafficking of girls from economically marginalized States into coerced marriages, forced labour and prostitution.
Trafficking is an issue that struggles for attention in India's overburdened social policy arena. While HIV/AIDS funding is becoming something of a "cash cow" for better positioned agencies in the field, according to a Times of India article, trafficking is an area of under-resourcing and government inertia. Yet, to the extent that trafficking is a direct contributor to the pattern of infection, HIV-control strategies require a distinct set of policy measures targeting its underpinning organizational structures. Identifying those targets and how to act on them has relevance for curbing the link between HIV and trafficking, not just in India but elsewhere in the Asian region, particularly in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, where there are substantial movements of young women from circumstances of poverty into prostitution. How this transfer is effected may vary from country to country, but the mechanisms at work in India are far more widespread, recurring in neighbouring countries as well.
Take the case of Seelu, a girl in her early twenties who had been trafficked four years earlier to Delhi from Maharashtra. She had fallen ill with tuberculosis and was being monitored by Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organization (NGO) active in anti-trafficking, HIV prevention and health outreach on GB Road. A seemingly unremarkable business precinct specializing in machine tools, pumps and presses, up to 3,000 prostitutes live in overwhelming monotony in this small area, with little hope of a future once they can no longer compete with younger recruits to the cycle of sexual super-exploitation and infection. The Delhi Government's latest survey puts the HIV-infection rate on GB Road at 12 per cent, considered to be an underestimate by many.
The girls are highly controlled through fear. "They are told these NGO people who come to the brothels can't be trusted, that if they go away with them they will just be sold again", Shakti Vahini's Director Ravi Kant explained the reluctance of trafficking victims to seek help. Outsiders are viewed with deep suspicion, the police, with outright apprehension. "They know the police take bribes from the brothel owners. They are told if they complain they will be taken to the thana police station and raped as punishment for making trouble." Seelu was particularly well placed to doubt the police: her brothel owner had had a long-standing affair with a local police commander.
"Once the girls enter the brothels, they are sold several times over", Ravi is talking about their udhar debt, which increases exponentially as ownership changes hands-it's a contrived inflation. With little prospect of paying off, the girls are locked into years of servitude. To unravel the money nexus is to begin to comprehend the vested interests feeding off this system that block effective control of trafficking. After haggling down the starting price, a customer finds himself importuned over again for baksheesh, but the baksheesh is about all the girl will keep for herself. The rest of the money is entered into meticulously kept chits held against each girl's name: half will go to the owner, who has accounts to settle with building owners and hafta to buy off police and other officials to disregard the illegalities of the trade; the other half goes to the nayika.
It took Shakti Vahini a long time to identify Shobha, Seelu's nayika. Seelu kept her connection to Shobha well concealed for good reason: she was a figure of real power. A short, fat woman with gold jewellery and palpable air of command, fussed over by half a dozen girls, she took Seelu's money, beat her and never allowed her unaccompanied outside the brothel. Shobha was the key to understanding what Seelu was up against. The nayika, a term equivalent to boss lady, occupies a role absolutely pivotal to the brothel system. Usually older ex-prostitutes, they have survived by saving money and gradually acquiring girls of their own. Several nayikas might rent space in one brothel; the organizational effect of this is akin to cell structures used in spy networks to isolate individual operatives and frustrate outside penetration. The girls are not only physically and psychologically cut off from the outside world, but they are also divided amongst themselves by the pressure of competition with girls working for other nayikas.
Nayikas are also instigators and the end point behind the flow of trafficked girls, employing their connections to bring girls from their home regions. Both Seelu and Shobha were from the same town in the border region between Maharastra and Andrah Pradesh, a major supply zone for trafficked girls. Nayikas pay the go-betweens, the dalaals who know where the vulnerable families are-whose crops have failed, whose breadwinner has died-and inveigle daughters away from gullible parents and arrange transport to Delhi. Little room for compassion exists in the relation of a nayika to the girls she controls. A veteran of a brutalizing system, she knows all their motives and evasions; her livelihood depends on working the girls relentlessly. It is a relationship that mocks calls to legalize prostitution in order to regularize their rights. Few of the attributes of a regular employment relationship can exist in this environment. As Seelu put it, "our lives are like of animals".
"If a girl stops earning, she won't last long in there." Ravi heard of one girl, who after breaking a leg was simply dumped on the street until well enough to resume work. Asked if she felt any obligation for the costs of her tuberculosis treatment, Seelu was scathing: "Shobha paid that money only because I made money for her. Girls who get sick and are not making money are left in a back room to die." This callousness is responsible for much of the HIV problem. "Meeri majboori", Seelu answered flatly when asked about her inconsistent use of condoms-an expression that conveys compulsion, having no option and by which she meant that Shobha would not tolerate displeasing customers who wanted to dispense with them. And if their nayikas won't educate them and back them up, where else are intimidated, barely literate young girls going to find the capacity to insist on safe sex with ignorant or uncaring customers?
Seelu had an even more compelling reason to obey Shobha. "A Nayika will work a girl for a few years when she is young and making a lot of money, then let her get pregnant and take the child and keep it. Once she has control of the child, the mother cannot run away." Seelu's two children were born before she was trafficked, in a young marriage that failed because her husband drank and beat her. Going against the tradition of arranged marriages had alienated her family, who were too poor anyway to be much support when her love-marriage foundered. So when Seelu was approached for a job as a domestic servant in Delhi, she had already fulfilled three of the disposing conditions for trafficking. "There are four main reasons girls get drawn into prostitution", Ravi explained, "poverty, domestic violence, divorce and desire for easy money. Poverty is by far the biggest cause of vulnerability." Within moments of arriving at New Delhi station, Seelu was driven straight to GB Road and her children taken from her. For a long time she held out, but alone in a vast impersonal city, speaking little Hindi, with no money and no way of finding her children, Seelu was utterly trapped.
Getting the message out: Shakti Vahini's health outreach workers provide HIV-prevention education to sex workers and their customers. Photo/Shakti Vahini
The Government's stance against trafficking is ineffectual and confused at the highest levels. The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA)-India's principal legal response dating back to 1956-prohibits trafficking in persons, criminalizes sexual exploitation and enhances penalties for offences involving minors. Prosecutions of traffickers are rare, however. In the assessment of the United States State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, the administrative machinery to support ITPA languishes. Police simply do not utilize all the ITPA provisions, diminishing the penalties against traffickers and brothel owners.
Trafficking is inherently an interstate phenomenon, but efforts to investigate trafficking across State borders are encumbered by lack of coordination among States' police departments. But where the subversion of government anti-trafficking measures particularly occurs is with the endemic complicity of lower-level law enforcement officials-the local police's accommodations with dalaals, border guards facilitating the interstate movement of victims, and police officers tipping off nayikas to impending raids for underage girls.
Investigations by Shakti Vahini, the anti-trafficking NGO, into the disappearance of an underage Assamese girl trafficked to Haryana reveals why the local police steadfastly declined to take action against the dalaal despite evidence of at least 11 girls trafficked by her. Lured herself from Assam on a pretext of marriage to a rich Haryana landowner, but sold instead to a landless pauper, she had turned this dismal experience into a skill of sorts, enticing other poor girls from her home region. The acceptance of bride-buying in Haryana and the large numbers of men ready to pay for brides made her services as a dalaal an avenue to social acceptability and income. However, her customers complained she was blackmailing them with threats to expose underage marriages-money she insisted was being siphoned by the police threatening to arrest her. This dalaal was effectively an agent of rent-seeking behaviour by the police.
Shakti Vahini's tactic was to work on Seelu's awareness. "Sometimes girls rebel against their nayikas. Once they find out about their rights, they begin to realize they can fight back." It was a confrontation with Shobha over seeing her children more often that pushed her over the edge. Seelu one day slipped away to one of GB Road's ubiquitous phone stalls and called Ravi: "I have left that place." It took Shakti Vahini another month to track down her children through their contacts. Girls like Seelu enter the world of trafficking through an act of casual deceit and, because of their social marginality and tenuous formal identification, exist in a zone of structural invisibility to the authorities, an indifference compounded by lax law enforcement that permits the trafficking market to flourish.
Constraining the market makers is essential to limit HIV propagating through the pathways of the human trafficking trade. What Seelu's story illustrates is the urgency for incisive action aimed specifically at breaking the nayika system in the brothels, the nexus between nayikas and dalaals, and the complicity of local authorities. This needs to be made the focus of intervention right across the Asian region wherever naïve girls like Seelu take that fateful first step.
Postscript: Had Seelu not called Ravi, she would probably now be dead. Seelu was subsequently diagnosed as HIV-positive. Her tuberculosis-the biggest killer of HIV-positive people in India-was resurgent because of the drug-resistant strains and insalubrious living conditions on GB Road. She is receiving free ARV drugs through the Delhi State AIDS Control programme and TB treatment through NGO Shakti Vahini, where Seelu is being trained to work on its sex worker outreach programmes as an HIV-role model and educator.