ON November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a sudden move, announced his government’s decision to discontinue the legal tender status of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes. This ‘demonetisation’ policy, according to the PM, was aimed at tackling black money, counterfeit currency and disrupting criminal activities among others. The impact of the demonetisation policy as related to curbing the finance of criminal activities is gradually emerging. So, after six months, has demonetisation achieved its objective of curbing human exploitation?
Yes, the human trafficking industry, which is one of the most inhuman activities—kidnapping innocent children, little girls and gullible women to use them as sex workers—came to a grinding halt with demonetisation as all such transactions were carried out only in cash.
Though there has been no detailed study conducted till date to assess the exact numbers involved in human trafficking, Global March Against Child Labor, an ILO partner, estimates that this industry is the third-largest organised crime after drugs and the arms trade across the globe. Global March Against Child Labor, a worldwide network of more than 300 organisations founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, states that close to 80 per cent of the human trafficking is done for sexual exploitation and India is considered as the hub of this crime in Asia. Young girls are also trafficked from neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh to India, which is the transit point for trading them internationally.
According to Chairperson of Global March Against Child Labor, Timothy Ryan, human trafficking can also be regarded as forced labour. Three out of every 1,000 persons worldwide are in forced labour or ‘modern-day slavery’ at any given point in time, he says.
Says Ryan, children make up 26 per cent of all forced labour victims. This means there are 5.5 million child victims at any given point in time. It is also estimated that children make up 21 per cent of forced sexually exploited labour in the private economy. Although families and communities may value and cherish their children, but they can be easily used as commodities in situations where families are desperate and feel they have no other financial options, he opines.
According to the Women and Child Development Ministry, the Government of India, in every eight minutes a child goes missing in the country, majority being from West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Further, it is assumed that only 30 per cent of the total cases of trafficking are reported.
As per government statistics, girls are kidnapped from all over every year and are transported to different places, both nationally and internationally, using middleman. They are sold to brothels, placement agencies and as child brides. Sometimes, people who indulge in black magic also buy them through dealers.
During the month of November and December the demand is high due to holiday season and new year parties, but there was no movement seen of these middlemen or touts in the market after the ban on large denomination currency notes, which sucked out the cash from the economy. All the transactions—selling and buying—are through cash and once the cash flow dried up due to demonetisation, the mafia did not have the money to pay to the middleman. Mostly big denomination currency—500 and 1,000 rupee notes— were used as it was easy to trade with them. But, with no liquidity, it hit the business seriously.
Once sold to brothels, the victims seldom come back to normal life as the impact of the suffering is intense and they often lose their mental balance and accept their life as prostitutes. Many girls who try to escape are killed or punished so brutally that it becomes impossible for them to remove the scar from their minds.
Says Satyarthi, also Founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, after demonetisation, the brothel owners lost their business since they could not exchange black money in banks and the new currency was not readily available in the market. Also, due to the limitation on cash transactions, the human trafficking trade was impacted adversely. As a result, the customers stopped going to brothels and brothel owners stopped trading in new recruits since they had no cash to pay to the middlemen.
The rescue workers at the NGO say that they find at least 10-15 cases of child trafficking every day, but since demonetisation in November, there was no report of any child trafficking during the peak season. The kidnapped girls are usually sold for Rs. 2.5-3 lakh, though the actual cost is only around Rs. 20,000 which includes bribing politicians, local policemen, administration officers, grooming her for the work and transportation. So, the trafficker and mafia make a hefty sum of over Rs. 2 lakh per victim for themselves. Many trafficking agencies charge according to the age of the girl, for example 10-12 year old girl costs Rs. 5 lakh and girls between the groups of 13 and 15 cost Rs. 4 lakh, which is all paid in black money.
IT’S not only the mafia and traffickers who make money, many brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials are also said to be involved in the racket. The money is transferred and distributed quickly to the all players in the crime so that no trail is left behind of the illegal trade.
Looking at the magnitude of the issue, the UN General Assembly last year took a new initiative for the eradication of forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour by 2030. The United Nations’ International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression is observed on June 4 each year to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.
While demonetisation will deal a severe blow to criminal activities, particularly human trafficking, but these will be short term hurdles. Under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation is penalised. The punishment ranges from seven years to life imprisonment. But, there still is a huge gap between enactment and enforcement of these laws. To safeguard our children, young girls and women, the government will need to tackle the issue from many angles. The key, therefore, in the fight to end human trafficking, is the need to advocate policy changes by highlighting how urgent is this human dilemma.