There has been a shift in the nature of sex trafficking, especially of minors, from public establishments to more private networks in Kolkata, a study has found. The new findings were released on Thursday in a report by the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights for 2015-16 on “Commercial sexual exploitation of children in Kolkata”.
“It was extremely important that this study be done because it forms a base for future programs. It was also important to document this changing pattern of child sexual abuse. No study had been done for children or women so far. The trade is moving out of traditional brothels and shifting to private apartments — which makes exploitation so much more difficult to detect so we need to be even more vigilant,” said the commission’s chairperson, Ananya Chakrabarti, at the launch.
“In the public establishment study, 4.4% of establishments had minors available for commercial sexual exploitation.The estimated prevalence of minors in these hotspots, was 0.8%. This indicates that brothels and other public establishments have low exploitation of minors, but notably at least one quarter of the minors observed in these establishments openly reported being trafficked, sold, and forced into the trade. All minors observed were 16 and 17 years old, in Sonagachi and Kapasberia, and originally from mostly West Bengal, with the others from Bangladesh and other Indian states,” says the study.
The report states that Kolkata has always been a major source, destination and transit for “commercial sexual exploitation”. There are 29 red light areas in the city. Moreover, the state shares borders with Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, making it a prime location for trafficking. Though Sonagachi, arguably India’s largest red light district, exists in Kolkata, the trade is shifting, speculates the report, from traditional hotspots towards the “more hidden, privately-networked phenomenon’’.
“The more under-documented finding from this study was the seemingly high number of minors engaged in commercial sexual exploitation’’ through private networks. IJM documented 24 minors (aged between 15 to 17 and from West Bengal) being sold for sex out of a total of 131 commercial sex workers, though this was not a representative sample. These minors were observed mostly in private residences, predominantly in the “south” zone of Kolkata, says the study.
Contacts selling or leading to minors for sex in this private network are mostly women who are 16 to 58 years of age. Recruiters used the promise of good jobs to lure victims. In nearly half of the survivors’ experiences, there was a conditioning period involving threats, rape by the first customer, debt bondage etc. that crippled the survivor’s ability to refuse the manager, says the study.
The study team interviewed 18 survivors who were 18-27 years of age. These survivors, however, had entered the sex trade at ages 12-23 with all but two survivors entering as minors. Recruiters trafficked less than half (8 of 18) of the interviewed survivors from within India. The remaining 10 were trafficked from Bangladesh and Nepal. Seven of these survivors were then forced into the sex industry; and one escaped during the conditioning period and before her first customer. All eight suffered physical abuse during the conditioning period.
Pimps and “madams” operating in private networks face less interference from law enforcement or rights activists. Commercial sexual exploitation has evolved to become a “highly profitable” business, generating over 99 billion dollars in 2014. Within India, girls are mainly sourced from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and UP. Much of the purchasing of minors takes place in West Bengal and Maharashtra. According to the Nation Crime Records Bureau, human trafficking in 2015 increased by 38.7% from the previous year.
The study has found that managers requested between Rs 250 to Rs 3,300 for services from a 17-year-old, with an average of Rs 1,555. “It is unclear, however, how much the girls themselves would receive of this payment for services. For the three 16-year-olds (interviewed for the study), managers charged Rs 500, 800, and 3,200 in which the girls would receive less than half’’.