500 nuns from the Buddhist sect Drukpa Order were on a 4,000-km bicycle trek in September this year from Nepal’s Kathmandu to Leh in India to raise awareness against human trafficking. The ‘Kung-Fu nuns’ as they are known for their training in martial arts have been using bicycle treks to spread awareness on gender equality. They believe that praying is not enough. The Nepal earthquake that left 40,000 children without parents and became a hunting ground for traffickers triggered this trek.
A conference in Delhi organised by the National Foundation for India (NFI) and the International Justice Mission (IJM) with a large number of young journalists from across the country came together to identify why the media is not provoked by the growth of human trafficking in India. In the latest Indian data, trafficking tops all other crimes, an increase of over 25% in 2015 with Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Telengana reporting the highest cases.
In December last year the Supreme Court had asked the government to complete the consultation process for a comprehensive law against trafficking, the draft of which is now ready. Despite government figures and information on trafficking, India has been reluctant in acknowledging that it is the home to the largest number of ‘slaves’ in the world? The Labour minister in the Rajya Sabha stated the government’s intent to identify, release and rehabilitate 1.84 crore bonded labourers in India (Since 1976, MoLE figures state that around 3 lakh have been rescued and rehabilitated). There are several laws against bonded labour but the perception in the media and in general has largely been that labour trafficking are labour issues rather than a crime.
It is common knowledge now how women and children are trafficked from Nepal, Bangladesh, several states of India’s Northeast and sold to brothels in Maharashtra and sent to illegal placement agents in Delhi-NCR for domestic help or sold as brides in states like Haryana. No matter where you live, chances are that is happening nearby.
There is an increasing recognition globally that human trafficking must be seen as modern-day slavery. But that semantic shift is not quite accepted yet. About 56% of global slaves come from Asia-Pacific region and the global economic meltdown has seen a spike in taking more slaves. What is appalling is that almost half of this slave population is children employed into child prostitution, pornography, child soldiers, debt slaves and domestic help.
The global estimate on illegal profits from forced labour is significant. In 2014, the ILO estimated that forced labour alone generates illegal profits of $150 billion every year. Siddharth Kara in his book Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, estimates the return on investment for industries in South Asia from bonded labour is 1293%. This is even higher for brick kilns–a whopping 1750%. There are more slaves today than any point in human history and that’s important to first recognise and then identify the synergies to make effective intervention. Media must be the forefront driving this change.
The writer is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. His most recent book in ‘Blood On MY Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters’