In a third grade classroom full of laughing kids, only the teacher knew Tara was a victim of human trafficking.
“Instead of helping me, he asked me if I had any girlfriends my age in the village so that she could work in his house. I declined,” said Tara, who asked to use a pseudonym because she didn't want it. During a recent phone interview with VOA, she used her real name for security reasons.
After Tara returned from school to the house where she lived and worked, she would sometimes disappear onto the patio when no one was looking. She said she watches cars driving through Ranchi, the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, and wishes they would pick her up; It didn't matter where they were going.
“I was eight years old when a woman, Jonha, came to our village and told my mother that if I went to live with her family in Ranchi, she would pay for my education,” said Tara, a member of India's Munda tribe . “My parents were poor and had three other children, so they readily agreed.”
According to India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), over 6,500 victims of human trafficking were identified in the country in 2022 – 60% of them women and girls. Experts assume that the actual numbers are significantly higher due to the acute underreporting.
Anurag Gupta, director-general of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) in Jharkhand, declined VOA's request for comment on the targeted trafficking of tribal girls, citing a lack of statistical data on the subject.
But Gupta said it was standard practice for Jharkhand police to presume any missing child case to be kidnapping or human trafficking, according to a 2013 Supreme Court order.
“We have also set up anti-trafficking units in different districts of Jharkhand,” Gupta told VOA. “We often refer human trafficking cases to the law enforcement agency responsible for handling money laundering cases and confiscating traffickers' property.”
victims of human trafficking
Ruchira Gupta is an anti-human trafficking activist and journalist and the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an organization that empowers girls and women to oppose sex trafficking. She said the majority of trafficking victims in India are girls from oppressed castes and marginalized tribal communities.
“Traffickers take advantage [[tribal women and girls’]]vulnerabilities such as food insecurity, housing instability and lack of legal protections intersect to seduce, trick and coerce them,” Gupta told VOA.
With a tribal population of nearly 9 million and the highest proportion of outbound migrants in the country, Jharkhand is one of the top targets in India targeted by human traffickers, according to the 2017 Economic Survey of India and the NCRB.
Like many other victims of human trafficking, Tara, who was eight years old at the time of the trafficking, had no idea what to expect when she entered a city for the first time in her life.
Her parents were told that Tara had to “help out with some chores,” which didn't seem unusual to them at the time.
“I got up at 6 a.m., cleaned the house, did the laundry, and cooked meals for everyone in their family before I went to school,” said Tara, who is now 18.
“I couldn't concentrate in school because they practically starved me. When I came back they had eaten everything I had cooked and left me the utensils to wash up. Then I had to cook dinner and take care of their toddlers,” she said. “I felt so hurt that I locked myself in the bathroom to cry. They would cry if I shed a tear in front of them.”
Rashmi Tiwary, founder of the Aahan Foundation, an NGO working to prevent human trafficking in Jharkhand, told VOA that over 60% of domestic workers employed in New Delhi are from Jharkhand.
“Several of these are women and girls who are victims of human trafficking. Intergenerational domestic slavery is now almost a socially accepted norm in the Jharkhand tribes — many trafficked girls have mothers who suffered the same fate,” she said.
Betrayed by their own
Most of these victims are trafficked into cities by “recruitment agencies” — a euphemism for organized trafficking groups.
Rishi Kant, co-founder of Shakti Vahini, a New Delhi-based NGO involved in human trafficking bailouts nationwide, told VOA that India urgently needs a “conciliation agency law” to protect vulnerable groups like tribal migrants and bring their exploiters legally to be held accountable.
“These ‘agencies' lure tribal girls from remote parts of India with promises of a better life. They sexually exploit these girls before forcing them into domestic slavery in a stranger's home with little or no pay. Sometimes their last resort is suicide.” ,” he said.
Vinod Kumar of the Shri Ram Placement Service, a New Delhi-based placement agency, told VOA that it is aware of the role multiple placement agencies play in human trafficking to vulnerable communities.
“We ensure that we do not give employment to any victims of human trafficking by contacting at least three family members of every person we employ,” Kumar said. “Furthermore, we have refused employment to girls under the age of 18 who came to us to look for work. We are also registered with the District Court in Saket, South Delhi.”
Tribal girls and women are usually trafficked by other members of their own tribe who have already settled in cities – people they trust implicitly, Kant and Tiwary said. They added that in most cases these victims do not have the means to tell anyone about the abuse they are being subjected to.
“They don't speak the local language, have never been to a big city and are often told that these traffickers paid their families a huge sum for them,” activist Gupta said. “They feel that they must allow themselves to be exploited to pay off their families' loans.”
laws in place
Bhopal-based Indian Police Officer Veerendra Mishra told VOA that a decade ago, Indian law enforcement's attention was not focused on human trafficking as much as it is today.
“Previously, the Bureau of Police Research and Development's anti-trafficking training was limited to those police forces directly involved in the investigation,” Mishra said.
“Now, a much wider range of criminal justice and social justice professionals are receiving intensive training, recognizing that human trafficking occurs in areas beyond those covered by the traditional definition, including adoption trafficking and trafficking in clinical drug trials. ‘ said Mishra.
He is the founder of the Research, Advocacy and Capacity Building Against Exploitation (RACE) Lab, India's first anti-trafficking laboratory. The lab produces evidence-based research on human trafficking and advocates for political and systemic change in India.
CID's Gupta said the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) Act is a boon in cases of sexual abuse by victims of child trafficking.
“The POCSO law ensures severe punishment of offenders. In fact, the Jharkhand High Court monitors every POCSO case very closely,” he told VOA.
Kant of Shakti Vahini said: “Recent interventions by Jharkhand Police in human trafficking cases have been successful. … However, the ‘suicide' cases in particular need to be investigated more thoroughly, rather than being swayed in favor of the economically privileged.”
At the age of 11, Tara returned to her village in Jharkhand for the summer holidays and found new hope in a children's rights education workshop at the Aahan Foundation.
Tara convinced her reluctant parents to let her stay at home, breaking a rigid generational cycle. Now an Aahan Foundation Youth Fellow, she loves Bollywood singer Shreya Ghoshal and wants to preserve the traditional Sahadri dialect through her own singing.
The new high school graduate said: “To anyone reading my story, don't send your daughters to a new place without knowing exactly how they will be treated there. I don't want anyone else to experience the loneliness.” I felt.”