Sunday, June 13, 2010

Human Trafficking : What Can I do ?

In the movie "The Verdict", Paul Newman plays am alcoholic down and out lawyer who has hardly any clients and is yet some how moved to take on the case of a woman who is paralysed and rendered comatose during surgery as a result of medical negligience. he takes on a very powerful medical and social establishment armed with powerful, well connected judges and lots of money. he fumbles , despairs and often is on the verge of giving up , but perseveres and wins the case and erven greater damages than what he had asked for.

Lawyers involved in cases dealing with human trafiicking , perhaps often feel the same way, puny pygmies fighting a powerful, well entrenched set up whose tentacles seemingly reach every where. And even the puny pygmies are few. In a field dominated by corporate law, taxation law, property law and criminal law and the incredible wealth associated with them, human rights lawyers are not easy to come by and the field itself can get immensely politicized with a lot of negative fallout for all concerned.

It is in that context that the judgment of the 3rd of May, 2010 in Kolkata where two men and one woman were sentenced to 10 years in prison for the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of three minor girls must be seen. The girls, 12, 14 and 16 years old, had been lured by traffickers from their rural villages in Nepal and West Bengal with the prospect of legitimate work in Kolkata. Instead, they were “sold” to the accused persons, who in turn forced them to provide sexual services to as many as 12 customers a day.

The numbers are important because convictions in instances of trafficking are few and far between thus discouraging investigators and agencies involved in anti trafficking work, work that is in any case, demanding, unrewarding and life threatening. According to an US State Department report released in late 2009, 1,970 traffickers had been arrested within the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal, resulting in just 30 convictions – a mere 1.5% of trafficking-related arrests.

Trafficking is not a priority for policing activity in most situations – short of manpower as well as equipment, the police are often required to deploy their limited resources according to the political priorities of the day – tackling terrorism, internal security issues and major economic offences are the big ticket concerns of the day. So anti human trafficking agencies often have to actively assist the police in arresting such traffickers, framing charges and making sure that adequate evidence is available for a conviction to occur. In the Kolkata cases, the agency involved was the International Justice Mission.

What can you and I do? Well a raid and rescue operations are complex processes and part of the reason that conviction rates are so low is that at the time of trial, very few witnesses are available and those that are usually turn hostile. church members as well as common citizens of integrity can come forward to accompany raiding parties and serve as credible witnesses when cases come up for trial. Although India has according to some estimates over a million lawyers and over 80,000 graduates every year, very few come forward to pursue careers in human rights law and trafficking related activities.

Then after the raids are over and done with, the long journey of rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims begins and there again there a dearth of resources and people. Counselors, half way homes, skilled wardens and care takers and a whole range of other professionals are needed. Of church congregations have an incredible amount of human resources avaailble in their pews , whch anti trafficking agencies like, IJM, Oasis and others could use. In all these areas more and more people are needed to be active and get involved and engaged and in the end, though the process is long and winding, persistence pays off as the Kolkata judgment proves.

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