Human Trafficking: Role of civil society

EAS Sarma

EAS Sarma

The other day, a Telugu newspaper has published a detailed report on large-scale human trafficking that is going on from the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and some Telangana districts like Karimnagar to Gulf countries.

The report has cited individual cases of families that have fallen victim to the racket and exposed the extent of proliferation of human trafficking and job agents in the two states. Surely, this racket is not confined to these two Telugu states alone. It must be taking place in all parts of the country.

As far as the Telugu states are concerned, the governments’ indifference and local officials’ apathy have to be blamed for the flourishing racket.  In fact, a large number of people have become active in recruiting and exporting job aspirants to the Gulf market. In many cases, the worst sufferers are women who go there on lucrative job promises but end up as ‘slaves’ in Arab homes.

For example, AP has “authorized” 500 “agents” to recruit Gulf job seekers. But, it is suspected, that as many as 5,000 are carrying on this business. The magnitude of this racket can be gauged from the in-depth report which said that as many as 200 women are being sent daily to the Gulf countries from one small cluster of villages in East Godavari district alone. This would not be possible without the collusion of many officials from various departments at every stage.

To check this illegal activity, both the state and central governments have to take some concrete measures. Among these are, the antecedents of the so-called “authorised” agents need to be scrutinized, as many of them may be fraudsters; central investigation agencies should be asked to trace the ‘unauthorized’ agents so that they may be brought to book at the earliest; the concerned officials of the state governments and the concerned passport offices should also be investigated for possible connivance; the functioning of Indian embassies and consulates in the Gulf countries too need to be looked into.

The system of surveillance set up in Maharashtra could be studied, improved upon and replicated in all those states where this racket is rampant.

It’s a good idea to involve non-government organizations (NGOs) to reach out to the families who fall prey to Gulf job racketeers and human traffickers. The NGOs can provide solace to the victims and report the malpractices to the authorities concerned. In this respect, the potential of NGOs is not fully tapped. An occasional workshop conducted with the NGOs or operating the Ujjwala scheme, that offers token cash assistance, cannot address the problem.

A look at the annual report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development reveals that it doesn’t have an advisory body of NGOs to provide information and tangible suggestions on how to deal with this problem. As a first step, the ministry should form such a body and ask the states to do likewise.

On the basis of the inputs drawn from such an advisory body, the Ministry of Women and Child Development should build up a database of its own on district-wise cases of human trafficking, a confidential list of brokers’ names, the status of the cases filed, the hurdles faced by the affected families in getting relief, the preventive and corrective measures needed and so on. Case studies available with the NGOs can help the ministry reorient its existing programmes to make them more effective. The ministry can also launch a national mission, “Zero Tolerance to Human Trafficking” to be implemented over the next five years.

Among other suggestions, the heads of Indian missions in the Gulf countries need to  set up data bases on women workers employed and complaints received; easily accessible help lines for women workers; expert counseling and briefing on overseas job risks to Gulf-bound workers in general and women in particular.

(This article is based on letters sent to Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women & Child Development, and, Leena Nair, Secretary at the ministry, by E A S Sarma, former secretary, Government of India. Copies of the emailed letters have also been sent to the ministries of external affairs, home and labour).

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