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January 14, 2015

Indian activists push to free survivors of human trafficking


In India, one of the world’s epicenters for the sex trade, one organization is going door-to-door to free the survivors of human trafficking.

Apne App (On Our Own) runs a shelter for women and girls rescued from brothels, and they push police to go after traffickers.

But several cultural and societal factors in India make it easier for human traffickers to continue the practice, according to Ruchira Gupta, the organization’s founder.

The caste system puts lower-caste women at a social and economic disadvantage, making them more likely to turn to the sex trade for income. Some women who were trafficked go on to participate as traffickers themselves, Gupta said.

By one estimate, there are approximately three million prostitutes working in India, and 40 percent of those are minors. In 2004, half of all children who entered the sex trade—half a million—were from India, according to the UN Children’s fund. In some cases, traffickers lure young women with the promise of other jobs; other women elect to enter the trade for other reasons, such as to alleviate poverty.

India’s Parliament toughened laws against human trafficking and sexual violence in 2013, but critics say those laws are unenforceable in practice. In reality, preventing human trafficking must involve the cooperation of the police, some of whom turn a blind eye, Gupta said.

“The police is part of our society, and if the entire society believes that a girl is of less value, a low-caste girl is of even less value. So unless their mind-set changes, they don’t even try to enforce the law,” she said.

Warm up questions
  1. India is the second most populated country in the world with more than 1 billion people. What part of the world is India located?
  2. What is human trafficking? Which groups, in terms of age and gender, do you think are targeted most by traffickers and why?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Organized crime is typically carried out by men and men make up 90 percent of the prison population worldwide. However, when it comes to trafficking, women make up anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of those convicted. Why do you think women make up a higher percentage of criminals when it comes to trafficking compared to other types of crime?
  2. How does poverty play a role in human trafficking?
  3. “The lack of specific and/or adequate legislation on trafficking in persons at the national level is one of the major obstacles in the fight against trafficking. There is an urgent need to harmonize legal definitions, procedures and cooperation at the national and regional levels in accordance with international standards.”  – Extract from the Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings, United Nations, 2006.
    • Why is it important to have laws that specifically criminalize trafficking?
    • In the story, Ruchira Gupta makes a strong case for why the police must arrest traffickers rather than the prostitutes. Why is this important? Why might the police in India hesitate to do this?
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