Maladies of victims of human trafficking: time for our public justice system to be awakened.

black chain
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on

Human trafficking is defined as

Whoever, for the purpose of exploitation, (a) recruits, (b) transports, (c) harbours, (d) transfers, or (e) receives, a person or persons, by—

  1. using threats, or
  2. using force, or any other form of coercion, or
  3. by abduction, or
  4. by practising fraud, or deception, or
  5. by abuse of power, or
  6. by inducement, including the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, in order to achieve the consent of any person having control over the person recruited, transported, harboured, transferred or received, commits the offence of trafficking.

However real life stories are more heinous and go beyond a simple definition.

Shivamma, along with her husband and family, was persuaded by someone she knew into taking a job making bricks in Kanakapura, just a two hour drive from Bangalore. It sounded like a good wage and fair employment, and she was willing to work hard. However, she soon found out that this ‘golden opportunity’ was actually too good to be true. A hopeful choice for a better life became the reason for their dark oppression. They were made to work for more than twelve hours every day and forced to make 1000 bricks per day. Each family was compensated just ₹1000 a week for their efforts. Be it heavy rains or the scorching heat, they had to work. If they were unwell, they were not allowed to rest. If they complained, they would be abused. If they tried to flee, they would be thrashed and threatened. They were told they would only be allowed to leave if they repaid the loan they had borrowed. The owner tricked them into believing that their current outstanding amount had escalated from a loan of ₹15,000to ₹140,000 with the accrued interests.

After spending almost five years working like this, Shivamma was rescued from the brick factory with her family. Two years and seven months later, justice was served as the perpetrator was convicted and given a ten year sentence! This was only because the Public Prosecutor was able to empower the victims to testify boldly in front of the Court. It is of such significant importance that courts adopt a victim-centric approach! We can see the great difference that this has made in Shivamma’s life – once a victim she is now empowered and free! Would it not be amazing to see more and more stories like hers?

Another girl, Fathima, was just 18 years old when she was rescued in Mumbai. Growing up, she had had only one sister as family and even lost her when she committed suicide. Fathima decided not give up her life. She had to give up her studies and decided to take up domestic work.

As the days went by, someone started noticing her and her whereabouts. This person (by name of Sonu) started to converse with her. Suddenly Fathima felt like someone cared for her, and she genuinely fell in love with Sonu in a couple of months. They decided to marry and Sonu promised her that if she came with him to Mumbai, they could live happily ever after. Little did she know about the sad fate that would unfold due to her decision.

Sonu took her to Mumbai and sold her off to a couple who ran sex trade. Sonu escaped immediately from there, never to be seen again. Fathima was left at a bar from morning to evening. She was physically abused by the couple and all in the bar including the owner, supervisor and customers. She was not paid a penny and left in complete agony. That sadly lasted for two years, until she was rescued by police officials in Mumbai. Today Fathima is doing her 12th standard and happily staying in a protective home, where she has experienced care.

Even after rescue, survivors such as Shivamma and Fathima need to fight the cruel world and stand up for their rights. Shivamma bravely fought her case in the court. A proactive prosecution and victim-centered Judge ensured that the trial was completed fast and the perpetrator is held accountable for the crimes committed. However in Fathima’s case, though Fathima strongly deposed in court, the court acquitted the Accused.

Human Trafficking, and the many forms with which this crime presents itself, is a widespread evil in this country. Every year, millions of men, women and children are moved from their homes by force or manipulation, only to face conditions of abuse, oppression and entrapment. When women are trafficked for sex, they are stripped of their dignity. This form of abuse is de-humanising for victims, who are often kept in cage-like confinements. When whole families, including children, are recruited and trafficked by way of an advance and false promises for bonded labour, freedom is lost. Perpetrators use the advance to force the labourers to forfeit their freedom and rights, often using physical violence and threats to control them. Unfortunately most of the time, evidence linked with the crime is less because the trafficker has good knowledge to evade leaving a trail.

This crime is particularly evil because it targets those who are most vulnerable in our society, including those from lowest castes and those stuck in the cycle of poverty. It is unsurprising that these people have little alternative than putting their trust in another human or a job opportunity that sounds too good to be true. Should we not be a people who protect our most vulnerable from these kinds of violence? Every day there are children working on our streets, women forced to work in our brothels and men labouring for no wages to create the bricks that build our homes.

Many victims of these crimes have no trust in the public justice system. Years of experience has told them that these systems will fail them. It is up to us to ensure that this is no longer the case. We need those from vulnerable communities to understand that justice is for them, not just for those with wealth and connections.

Perpetrators of human trafficking should be deterred from committing such social crimes. The need of the hour is a strong criminal justice system and sensitive executive system. Government must prioritise themselves as service providers for these survivors, ensuring justice and rehabilitation of these survivors. This can be achieved only when a concept of obligation to change dawns on them. The only system that can protect the poor and the vulnerable from violent forms of oppression is one with a strong government response and systems in place. An empowered community who revolutionises change can easily bring the needed changes in the way government also responds to such cases. Therefore solution lie in each citizens’ hands of broadening their thoughts and inculcating a system of response.

Ruth Thomas
An advocate tackling labour trafficking cases, training police officers, NGO members, Judicial Officers, lawyers, law students and prosecutors, and drafting policy documents.

Abigail Fedorovsky
Abigail works for an NGO on the issue of Human Trafficking, helping draft policies and conducting research.

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