Girl Trafficking on an Increase in Sundarbans

Amitava Das/Sandeshkhali (Sundarbans)
Girl Trafficking on an Increase in Sundarbans
Renubala Singh of Manipur village of Sundarbans delta is too poor to feed her minor girl and son and cannot but send them to work with unknown persons at unknown places.

Renubala is a poor tribal mother of three sons and three daughters. On May 25, cyclone Aila has taken away her means of earning as wage labourer and killed the livestock her son would graze. Poverty forced her to mortgage the tiny patch of land to treat an ailing husband.

"I cannot feed my children everyday since the cyclone. They would roam around hungry," she says at her tarpaulin tent in Sandeshkhali, 65 km from Kolkata.

The unknown agent also asked her to go to work in New Delhi. She declined. For Rs 400, however, she agreed to send her 12-year-old son Sanjay and 10-year-old daughter Malati to work as domestic helps a week ago.

Like her, hundreds of farmers in Aila-hit Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj, Gosaba, Pathar Pratima deltas have been pushed to force their minor children to work in cities.

Pradhan or head of Manipur gram panchayat (council of villages), Bhagyadhar Mondal, says the traffickers have taken advantage of the wretched condition of the villagers to send young boys and girls to New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

"I am terribly tensed. Every third house in the villages have sent children outside," he says as things unfold in the villages he represents.

"Normally, six months rice stock come from farming. The wage earnings during paddy cultivation and harvest run the rest of the year. By turning the fields saline, the cyclone and sea surge have robbed us of the opportunities," Renubala says, with tears in eyes.

Village council head Mondal says, "Mostly girls are being trafficked in the name of giving jobs of domestic help exposing them to physical and psychological torture.

Girls are forced into sex trade too. Their earnings never reach the parents. The agents and traffickers pocket it."

Although aware of the traumatic they may be undergoing parents still pushing children to go out for petty work.

"There will be no farming, better they go to work outside. We will not be able to feed them and there is no scope for earning in the villages," says Santosh Das who wants his daughter Malina, a class IX student, to go to work.

His son Arun Das, a BA student of Basirhat College, too was forced to work in construction site in Kolkata to continue studies.

Like Malina, pressure has been mounting on minor girls like Karuna Sardar, Sadhabi Ranjit, Asthami Sardar and Saptami Sardar.

After getting reports of traffickers roaming the villages, the village council head approached the parents to dissuade them from sending the children.

"Could you provide them a square meal daily?" people asked me, Mondal says.

Angry Mondal and locals like Rabin Das, Amit Maity caught an agent and handed him over to the police. He was not arrested for "want of evidence".

Impoverished villages of Sandeshkhali and Gosaba blocks in Sundarbans are notorious for trafficking of girls in the name of providing work of domestic helps, construction worker. Cyclone Aila has only added to the misery of the villages.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently told the assembly that 30,000 women and children were trafficked from the state in the past three years. Out of them 22,353 remains untraced and 5325 traffickers were arrested, he had said.

"The police in plainclothes maintain vigil at bus terminus and railway stations to curb trafficking of women and children," he said.

"In every village, an average of six girls would be found missing for four-five years. The parents approach me when they lose touch with the children," Mondal says, sounding helpless.

Parents like Anju Sardar, Tarapada Sardar of Sankardaha Gangpara village say that they have not heard from their daughters for the past five years.

Locally known as 'agents' and 'contractors', the traffickers target vulnerable families by paying money and hand over the girls to placement agencies.

"The good looking girls are sold to city brothels, music bars. Rest are given as domestic workers or sold as brides to the states with lower sex ratio. Boys are sold for camel jockeying or bonded labourer in small manufacturing units in UP or New Delhi," a survey in Sundarbans deltas in 2007 by West Bengal Women, Child Development, Social Welfare department and Save the Children, an international NGO, in Sandeshkhali and Pathar Pratima deltas.

Two hundred and seventy-one out of 3429 children who went to work were found missing during the survey.

"It's unique in the Sundarban delta where children are trafficked with the lure of work. Eighty-three per cent of them left homes for work, while 11 per cent were lured with the pretext of marriage," Biswarup Banerjee, programme coordinator of Save the Children, says.

A research coordinator of School of Women's Studies, Nandita Dhawan says the demand for domestic helps in cities have gone up with more women going to work in offices.

"Alternative income generation, crackdown on traffickers and knowledge on gender discrimination could help to curb the problem," she says.

Meanwhile, village council head Mondal says the lure of regular square meal to children prompts parents here after cyclone to hand over their children to the traffickers.

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