Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The depths of deprivation and inhumanity - Child prostitution in India

As part of the Britain's push for exports in new markets I went out to meet UKTI officials in India to see how our local companies can take advantage of British export staff in India. It was very useful and the next step is to support businesses seeking export growth.

However there is a dark side to India. In Hydrabad the delegation of MP's were taken to child prostitution refuge. It was the depths of inhumanity.

For those that have seen the film 'Slumdog Millionaire' the poverty in India is sickening. In the refuge there where children as young as three who had been rescued from prostitution. Their lives as sex slaves would have meant meeting between 30-60 papaedophiles per day for as little as 15p per a visit. These children are seized from poor rural areas and trafficked across India. Their parents will never know where and the children to young to know where their home is. There are 1.2m child prostitutes. Nearly all have terribly diseases and those infected with AIDS at a young age frequently die in their teens as their bodies are too damaged. 
The delegation met Dr Sunitha Krishnan (sunithakrishnan.blogspot.com), the diminutive campaigner who had been attacked 14 times including pierced ear drum, smashed joints and who had a member of staff murdered on duty. She is a real hero. 
I know this has left all those who witnessed the refuge deeply disturbed and asking the questions 'How can humanity let this happen to these young helpless children snatched by child traffickers?' and 'Why does no-one care enough about children so young, their bodies and their minds be so vilely abused?'. It was simply disgusting and it was no comfort (though it made you proud to be British) that British aid was being used to keep illiterate girls in poor regions of India in School with a small bursary. It made you think long and hard about those who criticise UKAID to India.

Sunitha Krishnan Wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunitha_Krishnan
The Child prostitution refuge - http://www.prajwalaindia.com/

Below is 
  • short video is about our visit, 
  • an updated article on the successful refuge's activities and an 
  • article by Lord Harries of Pentregarth who was part of the delegation.


In a carefully planned series of operation in East Godavari and Mumbai based on missing complaints, Anti Human Trafficking Unit of Hyderabad in collaboration with Prajwala was able to apprehend 4 kingpin traffickers who were supplying girls from coastal Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka, TamilNadu and Maharashtra. 11 victims from both Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal were rescued.

Unlike most operation were small-time brokers and pimps are targeted and a large number of victims are rescued (the kingpins are rarely apprehended) , the uniqueness in this operation was that powerful and key traffickers who have strong inter-state linkages were arrested.

With effective inter-state collaboration between Maharashtra, TamilNadu and Karnataka and the support of pro-active judiciary if these cases reach their logical conclusion, truly it will act as a deterrent and trafficking routes will be plugged.

The leadership and extraordinary support given by Addl DG CID Shri Ramnamurthy,IPS has been key to the success of all these operations.

The entire AHTU team under the guidance of Shri Ajay,IPS,DIG,CID and Smt Kalpana Nayak, IPS, SP,WPC are still in the midst of steering the team to complete efforts in Mumbai and come back safely to Hyderabad.

We at Prajwala are hoping to create a data-base of sex-offenders and traffickers and expose them to the general public so that families can protect their daughters from these human predators.

Sunitha Krishnan

Making a difference by Lord Harries of Pentregarth

25,000 girls a year are victims of sexual trafficking in the state of Orissa in India. The difference between this form of trafficking and others, such as into bonded labour, is that when the girls are working as prostitutes they do not at that point see themselves as victims. So a remarkable lady, Sunitha Krishnan, trains ex-prostitutes to get alongside girls still working in the trade in order to gradually wean them away. On a recent visit to her organisation, Prajwala, as part of a group of MP’s and Peers meeting Indian Parliamentarians and looking at British Aid projects, we saw some of these girls engaged in welding, carpentry and printing on the way to making a new life for themselves. Some of them had been trafficked from as early as three years old. Many had AIDS. Sadly one third died before they left school.

Sunitha Krisnan has been beaten up fourteen times, her injuries including a broken arm and permanent deafness in one year. The organised gangs opposing her were also in a position to block her applications for planning permission for a permanent site for her work. When I asked her what kept her going she said “Anger and my spirituality.”

To that anger, I would want to add, near despair; and sheer admiration for her and people like her trying to do something. Despair first, for the sheer scale of India’s problems. 400 million people are still living on less than 80p a day. This is one third of the world’s poor and more than in the whole of Africa. The average income is one third of China’s. Only one in four people in the state of Bihar have access to a toilet. Since 1996 a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide. This is in a country that graduates two million students a year and provides two thirds of the world’s software engineers.

My second reason for despair is the politics. Good people on the ground can do little without political support. With 1.2 billion people India is the largest democracy in the world, and the fact that it works at all is a major achievement. But is the political will there to translate good work done locally over the whole country? One of the major issues in India is that although it has exemplary laws against discrimination and in favour of positive action on behalf of the disadvantaged groups, such as the Dalits (the former “untouchables”) their enforcement is very lacking. When I asked a member of Lok Sabha (the lower chamber) about this, he immediately launched into a defence of India’s human rights record. If even a member of the Communist party, which he was, would not acknowledge the issue, what hope is there? One problem is that although members of the State legislatures seem well aware of the problems, those at national level are cut off from the realities of life as lived by the vast majority. Apart from a rapid visit once every few years at election time they probably don’t go into the villages or urban slums. An interesting contrast was provided by the Northern MP’s in our group. When they returned to the hotel in the evening after a busy day visiting projects, they had literally hundreds of e-mail from constituents about welfare and immigration issues.

Against the despair I would put some wonderful work being done by a variety of aid agencies, including our own DFID, which continues to support India. On one visit some young Dalit girls travelled 12 hours to meet us. A small grant enables them to stay on at school, and the result was hugely encouraging. We were all struck by their dignity and confidence. Coming from a background of abject poverty and discrimination, with most of their fathers being day labourers, they now thought in terms of being teachers or doctors. Another meeting that lifted our spirits was the one with women from the self-help groups in the urban slums. Organised into groups of ten, each group elected a woman to represent them, who in turn elected women to represent larger groupings. These groups saved and invested money together, starting small businesses. The mutual support and strength that came from these groups was getting real results. Encouraging too were some of the business ventures started by Indians returning to their own country. One young couple who had been working in London decided that they wanted to put something back into their home state of Orissa, so they started a milk processing plant. As the average farmer only has one cow, it involves a widespread network of collecting points in each village, complete with testing apparatus and a quick system of getting the milk into cold storage. Working now with some 15,000 farmers, his aim was to involve more than 100, 000. We saw the milk being packed by the latest machinery, and excellent cheese being made. Another high powered couple who had worked in America, had returned to Hyderabad, where they now researched new vaccines and produced millions of doses for the Indian Government.

One man I spoke to highlighted three great social ills of India which he regarded as far worse than anywhere in the world, discrimination, foeticide and the treatment of women. The words of Gramsci came to the minds of both of us “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” For me the optimism comes even more from the sheer resilience and endurance of the Indian people, together with an extraordinary capacity, despite everything, to find some joy in life. But the balance between despair and hope is a very fine one. Indeed that is the theme of the great novel by Rohinton Mistry, called A Fine Balance, which depicts the heartbreaking political and social evils of India from the years 1975-85. Some improvements have been made since then, but sadly the India described there is still all too recognisable.

Richard Harries

Lord Harries of Pentregarth in an Honorary Professor of Theology at King’s College, London. He is the author of Faith in Politics? (DLT)