A study conducted to understand the trafficking of sex workers from West Bengal to Mumbai has found that a majority of these girls are sent off to the city by uneducated fathers, who are misled to believe that their daughters will get employment or prospective grooms.
The study by Mumbai-based consultancy company Final Mile was conducted on 200 people in West Bengal’s 24 South Parganas district, among the regions that witness significant trafficking of girls, and in Mumbai, where demand for sex workers is high.
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As part of the study, about 80 economically disadvantaged men and 20 women, mostly belonging to Scheduled Tribes and all having teenage daughters, were interviewed in West Bengal. Another 100 migrants, aged between 20 and 30 years, were interviewed in Mumbai.
The study found that the lure often comes in the form of no dowry, funding of marriage ceremony or free education and job for uneducated fathers who are already under a financial crisis.
“The system of traffickers is efficient. Agents have their local informants. They approach a family at the most vulnerable time, say during a crop failure or when someone is ill,” said Saransh Sharma, part of the research team in Final Mile.
The study has now won the Paper of The Year award by ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research) Excellence Award.
The five-month-long study estimated that there are 20 million commercial sex workers in India ,of which 16 million are victims of trafficking. Of these, 40 per cent are children and adolescents aged 10 to 14 years.
“In most cases, there is no communication with the girl after she’s trafficked, until she escapes or is rescued,” it observed.
According to Sharma, every person they interviewed in West Bengal had had a close brush with sex trafficking, either in their family or neighbours.
In Mumbai, migrants were found to be drawn towards the sex trade as a relief from high-stress jobs and difficult lives. Living alone was another factor that gave them a sense of freedom, the study found.
“With this study, we mapped most trafficking-prone villages and created a Safe Village Programme where fathers and daughters are taught about trafficking and the methods agents commonly use,” said Elca Grobler, founder, My Choices Foundation, which commissioned the research and works to prevent sex trafficking in four states in India.
According to her, the family never realises their daughter is trafficked for sex work as contact is lost with her departure. “We realised sensitising them is the best way to prevent sex trafficking,” she said.
West Bengal accounts for 78 per cent of total girls sold for commercial sexual exploitation in the country. The worst-affected districts are Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Malda, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas.
Between January and September, My Choices Foundation received 4,204 calls from girls or parents for help against sex trafficking. It has reached out to over 3 lakh for sensitisation in high-risk villages of four states, including West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
The Safe Village Programme runs for three days in a village where schools, teachers, parents and children are all counselled. Children are given comic books on sex trafficking to understand the trade. “We are training NGOs to reach out to villagers and teach them about trafficking. If the problem is solved at source, the chain will no longer exist,” Grobler said.
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