By Mehru Jaffer
Lucknow, India, Jan 28 2022 – Friends Ajay and Durgesh were lured from the same village in the remote and poverty-stricken countryside of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) in January 2021.
Friends Ajay and Durgesh were lured from the same village in the remote and poverty-stricken countryside of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) in January 2021.
The boys, aged 16, were whisked away from their homes, transported, and sold as bonded labour to a garment factory in Rajkot in the western state of Gujarat. Rajkot is some 2000 km from Ajay and Durgesh’s village in UP.
Along with two other boys from the same village, Sanjay (15) and Pavan (14), Ajay and Durgesh were befriended by a man, only identified as Gulab, and promised an eight-hour a day job, with a salary of Rs 7500 (about US 100 dollars) per month at a garment factory. The boys accepted the offer immediately because Gulab was from the same village and had known them since childhood.
“At the factory, the boys were thrown in with dozens of other children who were never paid. They were woken at 7 am and forced to work till 11 pm. The factory owner threatened to kill them if they stepped out of the factory,” Dalsinghar told IPS speaking from Lucknow. “The children were abused and kicked when the supervisor felt that they were not working fast enough. None of the children was given enough to eat.”
Dalsinghar, who goes by his surname, is a trade union leader and head of the UP office of the All India Bonded Labour Liberation Front. With ActionAid India, Dalsinghar helped to rescue the four boys in August 2021. The boys are now finishing their studies in their village.
These boys are lucky to have escaped the clutches of traffickers. Ajay found a mobile phone one day and quickly called his family. He told them the exact location of the factory in faraway Gujarat.
The family got in touch with Raju, a volunteer with ActionAid India, who lived near their village. With the help of Dalsinghar, Raju and the district administrations of Kushinagar in UP and Rajkot in Gujarat, the boys were rescued, and their eight-month ordeal at the hands of the garment factory owner ended.
There are numerous incidents of victims being deceived by people they know.
Take Gulab as an example. Gulab came from the same village as the four teenagers he trapped and sold to a garment factory owner.
In the hope of avoiding deprivation and starvation in difficult economic times, the teenagers took up Gulab’s offer. They trusted him and fell for his lies because it did not occur to them that he would betray them.
ActionAid quotes other instances when a loved one has tricked victims. When that happens, the victim often does not fight back.
Sita was sold to traffickers by her alcoholic father in a West Bengal village as a bride. She was taken from place to place until she found shelter in an ashram in a city in UP. The police were informed, and she returned to her village in West Bengal.
Frequently missing children and adults cases include abduction and trafficking. Most of the time, missing people are not reported to the police, and if reported, the reports are not registered.
Children from the poorest of low-income families are most vulnerable. They are the main target of traffickers as poor and illiterate families are most likely not to approach authorities for help. There are instances of children and adults leaving home searching for glamour and fortune in big cities like Mumbai. Once there, touts find them and force them to beg or work as sex slaves without remuneration or concern for their health.
ActionAid India continues to work in villages providing support to survivors of trafficking and violence with medical, psycho-social and legal support.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that times are extremely challenging for communities. Schools closures and work opportunities in most villages have shrunk, which means that social activists like Dalsinghar need to be more vigilant today than ever before.
Nobel Peace Prize winners Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai have rescued thousands of children from the worst form of child labour and trafficking.
Satyarthi has led a Bharat Yatra, a nationwide march in India to demand legislation against child rape, child sexual abuse and trafficking.
The Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation conducted a study in 2020 that concluded there was a high likelihood of an increase in human trafficking in the post-lockdown period for labour.
About 89 per cent of NGOs surveyed said that trafficking of both adults and children for labour would be one of the biggest threats in the post-lockdown period as household incomes of the most vulnerable deplete.
There is concern that the desperate and vulnerable populations of unorganised workers, who are in no position to negotiate wages or their rights, will be a massive pool for cheap labour. Many of these labourers could be children, forced out of school and forced to earn a living.
The fear is that thousands of children will likely be trafficked across the country to work in manufacturing units where they will be paid meagre to no wages and will most likely face extreme physical, mental and sexual violence.
Thousands of children like Ajay, Durgesh, Sanjay and Pavan are easy targets for an organised crime network of human trafficking. It is feared that many more children will be enslaved during the pandemic by those looking for cheap labour when many economic activities have come to a standstill.
“It is tragic when people betray the trust of children,” concludes Dalsinghar.
This article is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Airways Aviation Group.
The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ) http://gsngoal8.com/ is pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 8 with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7, which ‘takes immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms’.
The origins of the GSN come from the endeavours of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on 2 December 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths gathered to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against the extreme forms of the globalization of indifference, such as exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking”.