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India: Bringing the curtain down on human trafficking

(UNODC) - A young boy pretends to fall in love with a school girl. He tells her that he will marry her and asks her to run away with him. The girl, madly in love does what is asked of her. The boy takes her to a nearby village and sells her.Meenu is trafficked at the age of five. She is forced to sleep with up to 20 men a day and by the age of twelve she is pregnant. She is ill treated by her clients and after years of exploitation, she is now in a state of psychotic depression.

 

 

These are stories from villages in West Bengal where numerous girls are trafficked daily. According to a news report 1, in the last one year 14,000 adults and children have disappeared from West Bengal - most of them believed to have been swallowed up by the human trafficking trade.

 

UNODC met with Ms Suravi Sarkar, Project Coordinator, Banglanatak.com. Ms Sarkar uses theatre as an instrument to spread awareness on important issues relating to rights and entitlement, health, safety and environment. In an interview, she shares her experiences on human trafficking while working with vulnerable communities around the Indo-Bangladesh border.

 

1. How does Banglanatak.com use theatre to educate communities?

 

We believe that theatre is a powerful tool. We use theatre based activities to sensitize all stakeholders including community workers, anganwadi workers (child care workers), panchayati raj institutions (village council) etc. Unemployment, poverty and lack of awareness make communities vulnerable to trafficking. We begin by identifying a vulnerable community and perform a base line study on the problems, myths and misconceptions in the community. Based on this study we produce a play that highlights the problem and suggests ways out of it. We also lead the audience to helpline numbers and other resources that can help them through these problems.The play features an ignorant person who is caught in the problem and an informed hero who brings about change. We try and keep the number of characters to a minimum and within a span of 15-20 minutes the message is conveyed clearly to the audience.After the play, we organize a quiz to assess how the community has grasped the message of the play. Those who give correct answers are given prizes.We then select a small group of enthusiastic members of the village and organize a discussion. The group discusses the issue in depth and tries to build a support system in the village.

 

 

2. What makes communities vulnerable to human trafficking?

 

There is a common misconception that only economically backward communities are vulnerable to human trafficking, but that is not the case. Everyone is vulnerable. The need and desire for a better life makes one vulnerable to human trafficking. Numerous uneducated and unaware people become ease prey for traffickers.

 

Apart from ignorance and illiteracy, I feel that there are two more reasons that make certain communities vulnerable to human trafficking. Firstly, many villages are poorly connected to the outside world. They hardly have motorable roads and phone lines are few and far between. Therefore, once they realize that their daughter has been trafficked, they don't know whom to turn to for help. The local Panchayats are not equipped to offer help and the local police station can be up to 30 km away. The family is unable to find help and support and thus resigns itself to the circumstances.

 

Secondly, village life has very little to offer by way of entertainment and education. Young girls feel restricted by strict social norms in the village. In order to escape they get involved with men, who in many cases turn out to be traffickers.

 

A mapping of villages in West Bengal was conducted and a few communities have been identified as vulnerable to human trafficking. For example: We identified vulnerable blocks in four districts in West Bengal, two in Jharkhand and two in Bihar. Blocks in Malda, Nadia, Murshidabad, North and South 24 Parganas have been identified as source points and sometimes transit points for victims coming from Bangladesh.

 

 

3. What is the role of the family in putting a stop to human trafficking?

 

In my experience there have been very few cases where girls were taken by force or abducted by traffickers. In the first stage of trafficking, the family is always involved - they either introduce them to the traffickers or openly sell their daughters to 'agents'. Therefore, families need to be sensitized and made aware of what their child goes through once she is sold to a trafficker.

 

Families also play a huge role in a victim's life during rehabilitation. In many cases, families don't accept the girl back and treat her like an outcast. Even if some families accept the victim back, the larger community boycotts the family. The family then finds it difficult to live in the village.

 

I feel that at present rehabilitation and re-integration of the victim into society is very difficult and it is only possible if the family and community step up and offer support.

 

Banglanatak.com is a social enterprise that uses theatre to educate people on social issues and promotes community led action. Their campaigns have covered more than 100,000 villages across 23 states of India.