Traffickers turn to northeast India for sex trade

Biswajyoti Das

Human traffickers are increasingly turning to India's poor and insurgency-wracked northeastern states in their search for young girls to work in big city brothels, police and activists say.

Over the past five years there has been a rise in reports of missing girls from the remote region of eight states, an increase which authorities believe is due to trafficking.

Police say at least 700 girls from the region have been reported missing over the last five years, 300 of whom disappeared in 2005 alone.

But activists estimate thousands of northeastern girls disappear every year - most of whom are not reported by families due to the stigma associated with being part of the sex trade.

"Substantial trafficking of girls is taking place from the region. People in the northeast have recently realised what human trafficking is," said Ajit Joy of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi.

Traffickers are mostly women, often well-known in their respective villages, who promise poor, rural families good jobs for their daughters, most of whom are between 12 and 16.

But in reality, they sell the girls to brothel owners in towns and cities like New Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata, earning between 20,000 ($440) and 40,000 rupees for each girl.

Police estimate that around 20 percent of the girls in India's big city brothels come from the northeast.

At least one million Indian girls and women work in India's sex industry which is estimated to be worth around 400 billion rupees ($9 billion) annually, according to the UNODC.

The rise in the number of girls disappearing from states like Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh is partly due to tighter surveillance on India's northeastern border with Nepal, where most girls were being trafficked from before.

Authorities say increased security along the border to curb Maoist insurgencies in both countries has deterred many traffickers, and the number of Nepali girls being brought into India annually has halved from around 10,000 three or four years ago.

Police, who are more used to fighting rebels in the troubled region, are now receiving training on issues ranging from dealing with traumatised victims to the legal complexities of investigating the crime.

"The police were not aware of such things earlier, they are still a little raw in dealing in dealing with such cases," said T Pachuau, director of the Northeast Police Academy. "We are training them to get better and investigate with full authority." Twenty-year-old Jaya Basumatary from the northern Assam district of Udalguri, was rescued after a raid on a Delhi brothel last year.

At the age of 16, she was taken by traffickers who promised her impoverished family that they would get her a job as a domestic maid.

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