One More Reason for Revolution: Sex Trade in South Asia
Posted by hetty7 on February 1, 2011
“In cross border trafficking, India is a sending, receiving and transit nation. Receiving children from Bangladesh and Nepal and sending women and children to Middle Eastern nations is a daily occurrence.”
“There are more than 400,000 child prostitutes in India.”
“About 5,000-7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked to India every day. 100,000-160,000 Nepalese girls are prostituted in brothels in India. About 45,000 Nepalese girls are in the brothels of Mumbai and 40,000 in Kolkata. Many of the girls are barely 9 or 10 years old.
“Around 200,000 to 250,000 Nepalese women and girls are already in Indian brothels. The girls are sold by poor parents, tricked into fraudulent marriages, or promised employment in towns finally to end up in Indian brothels. They’re locked up for days, starved, beaten and burned with cigarettes until they learn how to serve up to 25 clients a day.”
Trafficking in Asia accounts for a large share of the global volume of trafficked women and children. In the last two decades, the number of trafficked women and children in Asia has increased alarmingly.
South Asia is considered the most vulnerable region for trafficking because of its large population, large-scale rural-urban migration, bitter poverty and recurrent natural disasters causing widespread desperation.
Women and children are sold, traded, exchanged for sexual slavery and prostitution, and bonded labour across borders, such as from Bangladesh to India, Pakistan, and the Middle East; from Nepal to India; from Burma to Thailand; from Vietnam to Kampuchea; and from the Philippines to Japan.
This article was published by Bangladesh Online Weeklyblitz.net.
South Asian Women and Children in Danger
by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
According to regional media, 27,000 Bangladeshi women and children have been forced into prostitution in Indian brothels only during 1997. Bangladesh and Nepal are the main sources of trafficked children in south Asia, while women from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are regularly trafficked to Indian and Arab brothels.
More than 200,000 Bangladeshi women were trafficked from 1990 to 1997, with 6,000 children trafficked, abducted or reported missing during that time. Children were mostly used as jockeys of camel races of United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries, while women ended in various brothels in those nations as well as brothels located in Mumbai, Madras, Kolkata and Delhi in India. Bangladeshi police estimate that more than 15,000 women and children are smuggled out of the country every year
About 300.000 women and children have been trafficked to the Middle East in the last 10 years. Different human rights activists and agencies estimate 200-400 young women and children are smuggled out every month, most of them from Bangladesh to Pakistan. A women lawyers’ association estimates that on an average, 4500 women and children from Bangladesh are being trafficked to Pakistan each year and at least 200,000 women have been trafficked to Pakistan over the last 10 years.
The Indian Social Welfare Board estimates that there are 500,000 foreign sex workers in India – 2.7% of sex workers in Kolkata alone are from Bangladesh. Trafficked girls are sold to Indian Brothels for US$ 150-300 each while children are sold for US$ 100-120 each. Later some of them (and most of the children) are trafficked to Middle East and sold to brothels or to Arab sheikhs for US$ 1000-3000 for each girl while US$ 700-1000 for a boy. It is alleged that Arabs not only use the minor boys as jockeys of camel races, but sexually abuse them on a regular basis as well.
In cross border trafficking, India is a sending, receiving and transit nation. Receiving children from Bangladesh and Nepal and sending women and children to Middle Eastern nations is a daily occurrence.
On the other hand, India, along with Thailand and the Philippines, has 1.3 million children in its sex-trade centers. The children come from relatively poorer areas and are trafficked to relatively richer ones. In India, Karnataka, Andha Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu are considered “high supply zones” for women in prostitution. Bijapur, Belgaum and Kolhapur are common districts from which women migrate to the big cities, as part of an organised trafficking network. Districts bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka, known as the “devadasi belt,” (Slaves of god belt) have trafficking structures operating at various levels. The women here are in prostitution either because their husbands have deserted them, or they are trafficked through coercion and deception. Many are devadasi (slaves of god) dedicated into prostitution for the goddess. In one Karnataka brothel, all 15 girls are devadasi.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Bangladeshi women and children are held in foreign prisons, jails, shelters and detention centers awaiting repatriation. Many have been held for years. In India, 26 women, 27 girls, 71 boys and 13 children of unknown gender are held in Lilua Shelter, Calcutta; Sheha Shelter, Calcutta; Anando Ashram, calcutta; Alipur Children’s Home, Delhi; Nirmal Chaya Children’s Home, Delhi; Prayas Observation House for Boys, Delhi; Tihar Jail, Delhi; Udavam Kalanger, Bangalore; Umar Khadi, Bangaore; Kishalay, West Bengal; Kuehbihar, West Bengal, and Baharampur, West Bengal. Kolkata (Calcutta) is one of the key transit points for the traffickers for Mumbai (Bombay) and to Pakistan. Approximately 99 per cent women are trafficked out of Bangladesh through land routes along the border areas of Bangladesh and India, such as Jessore, Satkhira, and Rajshahi districts (southern part of the country).
About 5,000-7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked to India every day. 100,000-160,000 Nepalese girls are prostituted in brothels in India. About 45,000 Nepalese girls are in the brothels of Mumbai and 40,000 in Kolkata. Many of the girls are barely 9 or 10 years old. Around 200,000 to 250,000 Nepalese women and girls are already in Indian brothels. The girls are sold by poor parents, tricked into fraudulent marriages, or promised employment in towns finally to end up in Indian brothels. They’re locked up for days, starved, beaten and burned with cigarettes until they learn how to serve up to 25 clients a day. Some girls go through ‘training’ before being initiated into prostitution, which can include constant exposure to pornographic films, tutorials in how to ‘please’ customers, repeated rapes etc.
Trafficking in women and girls is easy along the 1,740 mile-long open border between India and Nepal. Trafficking in Nepalese women and girls is less risky than smuggling narcotics and electronic equipment into India. Traffickers ferry large groups of girls at a time without the hassle of paperwork or threats of police checks. The procurer-pimp-police network makes the process even smoother. Bought for as little as US$ 70, girls have been known to fetch up to US$ 800 in later transactions. Police are paid by brothel owners to ignore the situation. Girls may not leave the brothels until they have repaid their debt. Most of them get infected to HIV, tuberculosis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, many of them bear children from prostitution.
The areas used by traffickers to procure women and girls are the isolated districts of Sindhupalchow, Makwanpur, Dhading and Khavre in Nepal where the population is largely illiterate.
Women and children are sent to nations of the Middle East daily. Girls in prostitution and domestic service in India, Pakistan and the Middle East are tortured, held in virtual imprisonment, sexually abused, and raped.
In Indian city of Mumbai, girl children as young as 9 are bought for up to US$ 2,000 at auctions where Arabs bid against Indian men who believe sleeping with a virgin cures gonorrhea, syphilis and other sexual diseases.
According to various reports, there are approximately 10 million sex workers in India, while alone in Mumbai, the number is above 100,000. Mumbai has turned into a favorite place of Arab sheikhs. There are more than 400,000 child prostitutes in India. In Mumbai, 95% of the children of sex workers finally enter the sex trade.
The red light district in Mumbia generates at least US$ 700 million a year in revenue, with 100,000 prostitutes serving men 24/7 a year, averaging 6 customers a day, at US$ 3 each. The largest red light district in India, perhaps in the world, is the Falkland Road Kamatipura area in Mumbai.
There are many dhabhas, or small-scale brothels, along the Solapur-Hyderabad highway in India, which provide women as an “additional service” to truck drivers and motorists. The women and girls in the dhabhas, or brothels along the Solapur-Hyderabad highway, are threatened, harassed, forced to serve men, or local thugs, freely and beaten by men and police. Local farmers also sexually abuse them on a regular basis. Police do not register any complaints of assault.
Eunuch Lane in Mumbai has more than 2,000 eunuchs in prostitution. The eunuchs have deep religious roots in Hinduism. As young boys they are abandoned or sold by their families to a sex ring and taken into the jungle, where the priest cuts off their genitals in a ceremony. The priest then folds back a strip of flesh to create an artificial vagina. Some Indian men believe they can’t contact HIV from the eunuch.
Although prostitution is legal in India, running brothel, soliciting or seducing for the purposes of prostitution are all punishable offenses. There are severe penalties for child prostitution and trafficking of women.
The devadasi (Slave of god) tradition, still prevalent in many parts of India, continues to legitimise child prostitution. A devadasi is a girl married to a god, and hence at all times believed to be blessed. As such, she becomes the concubine of the influential members of the community or even the priest.
50 million girls and women are missing from India’s population, the result of systematic sex discrimination, such as abortion of female fetuses, which is officially banned. In 2007, more than 75 widows were burnt alive when their husbands’ bodies were cremated in a ritual in a ritual known as “sati” (virgin) based on the belief that a Hindu woman has no existence independent of her husband.
Although dowry is legally banned, at least 5,000 women are victims of “dowry murders” in which they are killed by their husband or his family members because of “insufficient” dowries. At least 12 women “die” every day from bazzier kitchen fires, which are typically concealed dowry murders. The dowry system has also led to an inflating female infanticide, especially among very poor families. Few of these cases are ever brought to trial.
In India a very large percentage of marriages are arranged. The custom of arranged marriage is a legitimized institution. In a majority of cases the bride has little or no say. She and the bridegroom are virtual strangers. In many rural communities the bridegroom does not even attend his own wedding. The sex act (between the two) is nothing but a rape. The Indian woman’s acceptance of the inevitable has, sanctified this abhorrent practice, and subsequently legitimized it.
Prostitution in Bangladesh is shrouded in mystery. The law treats the woman as a victim, and the pimps and customers face a possibility of a death sentence. Thus, the law is beautiful, but when it comes to implementation, the women are picked up for soliciting, which is a penal offense enacted during the days of the British colonial period in 1860. According to another law, the Suppression of the Immoral Traffic Act of 1933, the earnings of prostitutes, if spent on pimps is illegal. Unfortunately, this law is not in force, although there are lawyers who believe the law is operative. The act is not enforced, yet some lawyers believe it is enforced. This contradiction exists because prostitution is a topic that is not discussed in decent society.
There are cultural and socioeconomic factors or practices in Bangladesh that encourage or lead to prostitution. In Bangladesh, Muslims believe that unless the parents and guardians marry off their daughters and wards they can’t go to heaven. Girls become vulnerable to any person who desire the girls without any accompanying demand. Under the Sharia law (Islamic religious law), it says that a marriage is legal with a proposal and acceptance in the presence of two witnesses. For the peasants this is more powerful than a simple legal document.
Often, without much ado, the girl is married to the man. In more than one case, such males are flesh traders who dupe these innocent girls into false marriages. Soon, the “brides” find themselves in brothels or sold into prostitution.
Under religious laws there are no requirements for registration of marriages (though Bangladeshi municipal law decrees otherwise), so most people ignore the legal requirement and opt for the marriage to be performed under the religious law. As the religious laws are also a part of Bangladesh’s municipal law , it creates legal contradictions conflicting with the Constitution and which has led women activists to demand a secular common law for all citizens irrespective of religion. The activists hope that this secular law will benefit the citizens and in particular the women in acheiving their rights and remove discrimination against women on grounds of religious and cultural differences.
Under these conditions, a girl is married off to a total stranger and finds herself in a brothel the next day. Or she can be trafficked against international borders. Girls are trafficked to Pakistan, using all the travel routes, namely air, sea and mostly land routes. In the latter case, India becomes the transit country, and on many occasions the receiving country. Pakistan is both a receiving country and a transit country for the Middle East, especially The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Pakistan has visible slave markets where these trafficked women are paraded and buyers choose the ones they fancy. The minimum price is US$ 70. The fairer, taller, and prettier they are, the more desirable they are, the higher the price. The maximum price is put on virgins. In Pakistan, Bangladeshi women and children rate higher than those of other countries for the purpose of prostitution and sexual slavery. The Sri Lankans and Filipinos rate higher as domestic help. It is quite common to find the Pakistani males obtain sexual favors from their female household helps with impunity while their wives and other family members turn a blind eye. They don’t see anything wrong with such activities.
Bangladeshi girls face two kinds of problems if they are caught in Pakistan. Pakistan has amended its Foreigner’s Act to raise punishment for illegal entry into the country to life in prison. Even a ten year old girl can languish in jail, while facing a trial, which might sentence her to life imprisonment because she has been smuggled into Pakistan and caught as an illegal entry.
Another serious issue is that after being sold for US$ 800, and being ‘enjoyed’ by Pakistani men in a village outside the capital city, the girl faces Islamic law, if she is caught. Under the Hadood Law, the penalty for fornication outside of marriage is being stoned to death. This is the fate of every Bangladeshi girl who gets caught in Pakistan.
In Bangladesh there is a special law names, The Cruetly to Women and Children (Special Provisions) Act, 1995, which prescribes death or life imprisonment for trafficking in women and children for any purpose, including sexual purposes. But the more stringent the law, the more loopholes through which the traffickers and customers manage to escape. In most cases, rather the law penalizes the women, but allows the man to go free.
Custodial rapes of women are rampant in Bangladesh as well as South Asian society. Custodial rapes include rapes by employers, guardians and law enforcing agencies. Local laws do not contemplate any independent/special definition of rape as custodial rape though Bangladeshi law has provided for rape of wives below the age of 16 years to constitute rape. In a proposal for amending the earlier mentioned special law, it was demanded inclusion of custodial rape as an offence, as well as to make the principal officer equally liable for the offence committed by his subordinates, even if he was not present at the time of commission of the offence.
In one case, a Hindu girl fell in love with a Muslim boy, and they married in a shrine, under Sharia law. The police intercepted them and arrested the girl claiming she was being trafficked. They separated the girl and the boy. They said they had to do a blood test to determine her age. The girl, names Shima, was locked in the office of the Officer in Charge of the Police Station for the night. She was raped the whole nightlong. In the morning she was found bleeding very badly, and she died. When she died they burned her, cremated her, destroying all the evidence. Many NGOs demonstrated about this crime. Police said she died of natural causes.
Rights groups filed a case against the investigating officer for destroying/tampering evidence. After the news leaked out, women and human rights organizations pressured the police to initiate criminal actions against the perpetuators of the offence. As expected in this case, the accused persons were acquitted for “lack of evidence” and they got the “benefit of doubt.” It is quite speculated that the Shima murder case will never see justice.
According to statistics, there are roughly 150,00 sex workers in Bangladesh. Most of the Islamist groups are demanding immediate ban on prostitution and eviction of brothels. They in fact evicted a number of brothels in Bangladesh, few years back. But all such evictions finally forced the sex workers in coming on streets for bagging or becoming floating sex workers. Bangladesh has a rehabilitation center for sex workers. But, in most cases, the sex workers sheltered in the rehabilitation centers are regularly raped or sexually abused by the male employees. There are even instances of trafficking of these women to various foreign destinations through organized racket.
A report published with USAID assistance said, “Most reports reviewed suggest that in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of Bangladeshi children and women being trafficked into India and other countries. The causes of trafficking and the factors leading to this apparent increase are multiple and complicated. These factors are embedded within the socioeconomic structure of the country and require in-depth analysis.
However, for the present purpose the factors have been categorized into two groups. The ‘push’ factors, the first group: there are the conditions in the environment of the ‘sending’ communities or countries that ensure a supply of people for trafficking. These factors include low employment opportunities, low social status of women, economic and social vulnerability of women and children, urbanization, migration,etc. The second group refers to the set of ‘pull’ factors that support the demand for trafficking activities. These include wage employment and bonded labour, labour migration and prostitution, and cultural myths. All these factors have been explained in this report.
“Traffickers adopt different strategies and tricks to allure and enroll children and women (and their families) into the trafficking process. The procurement process for trafficking in women in the sex industry in Bangladesh involves the entrapment of women to be sold to brothels nationally or to neighboring countries, especially in India. Inside Bangladesh, the procurers’ places of hunting are the river ports, especially the Sadar Ghat area of Dhaka, bus stations, and the railway stations across the country. The traffickers at these locations look for migrants who come from rural areas for jobs or poor young people abandoned by their families; they allure them with false promises of wealth and better prospects. The victims from these spots are usually sold to Bangladeshi brothels. Procurement of victims from villages and town in the border areas of the country is more frequently associated with the purpose of supplying sex workers for the sex industry of India or Myanmar. Several case studies in this report explain the trafficking and procurement process.”
Describing trafficking routes, the report said, “Review of different literature showed that some 18 transit points along the India-Bangladesh border are used for smuggling children and women out of the country. The border areas of Khulna, Jessore, Satkhira, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Comilla, Brahmanbaria and Sylhet are frequently used as land routes for trafficking.
“In the northern region, the districts of Kurigram, Latmonirhat, Nilphamari, Panchagarh, Thakurgoan, Dinajpur, Naogoan, Chapai, Nawabganj, and Rajshahi, and in the south, Jessore, and Satkhira are the areas in which women and children are most susceptible to trafficking. Cox’s Bazaar is also a common site for recruitment of children and women to be trafficked, because there are three Muslim Rohinga refugee camps in this district from where the traffickers collect victims. Usually, the traffickers use different routes at different times to avoid police and other law-enforcing agencies. However, for entering India through Kolkata, the two most common routes are the Benapol borders in Jessore through which almost 50% of the trafficking take place and Satkhira.
Trafficking of persons into bonded sweatshop labour, forced marriage, forced prostitutions, domestic servitude, and other kinds of work is a global phenomenon that takes place within countries and regions and on a transcontinental scale. Trafficking in women is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world with an estimated one to two million young women being trafficked annually for the purpose of forced labour, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that, in 1995 alone, about 500,000 women were trafficked to the countries of the European Union from poorer regions of the world. So, it is not a problem of developing countries alone.
Although the concept of trafficking is often used for describing kidnapping and enslavement of women for the commercial sex industry, different government and international agencies have adopted much broader definitions of the term to include other forms of trafficking and affected groups, such as children trafficked for child labour and organ donation. The problem is usually under-reported because of the difficulties involved in tracking such clandestine activities. In recent years, the issues relating to trafficking have become more prominent and are being discussed more openly.
There are more efforts also to understand the underlying dynamics of trafficking of women and children. This may be related to increased awareness and concerns about human rights, violence against women, and about the role of commercial sex in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related epidemics. The question of trafficking has figured prominently in the agenda of recent international meetings, such as International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, World Summit for Social Development in 1995, and Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing in 1995. Accordingly, there is also a growing interest among the policy-makers and programme managers to identify effective options for preventing such exploitation of women and children and in designing appropriate interventions for them.
Trafficking in Asia accounts for a large share of the global volume of trafficked women and children. In the last two decades, the number of trafficked women and children in Asia has increased alarmingly. South Asia is considered the most vulnerable region for trafficking because of its large population, large-scale rural-urban migration, large populations living in conditions of chronic poverty, and recurrent natural disasters.
Women and children are sold, traded, exchanged for sexual slavery and prostitution, and bonded labour across borders, such as from Bangladesh to India, Pakistan, and the Middle East; from Nepal to India; from Burma to Thailiand; from Vietnam to Kampuchea; and from the Philippines to Japan. Amongst Asian nations, Japan hosts the biggest sex industry market for Asian women, and many of them are Filipinos and Thais. The sex industry accounts for 1% of the GNP, and equals the defense budget of the country.
Bangladesh, like other neighboring countries, is at risk of entering into the HIV/AIDS era. Prostitution of Bangladeshi girls in foreign countries, with a background of trafficking, is one of the major reasons for a threat of this pandemic disease in the country. The association between trafficking and the threat of HIV/AIDS conjures up a picture of a looming disaster that can affect the whole direction of development in such a less-developed country, like Bangladesh, and can have a significant impact on economic and social structure. Labor-intensive work will be affected due to the shortage of a healthy and productive workforce. A study in Africa found that, in areas with a high prevalence of HIV, crop yield is less. Soil fertility is declining. Pest and plant disease is spreading which results in a lower yield. Crops of low-nutritional value are replacing labour-intensive traditional crop. Support systems will falter with growing high demands, overburden of caregivers will aggravate the situation, and the society will have to bear the economic burden of caring for orphans.
Trafficking also deprives the trafficked population of the opportunity to pursue education and develop socially and psychologically to achieve their full potential. Thus, it deprives a nation of vital human resources for development and contributes to the persistence of a vicious circle of exploitation and poverty that generates a mal-distribution of wealth and results in the feminization of poverty.
Most studies outline the health consequences of trafficking and the physical and emotional aspects of violence, human rights abuse, and sexual exploitation. Further research on morbidity and mortality effects of trafficking and its impact on the overall national productivity is needed. There is also very limited and inconclusive information on the consequences of organ transplant and employment of children in sports, such as camel races.
The situation is already volatile. Every conscious citizen of the world should focus on this important issue. We have common obligation of saving those women and children from being trapped into horrible life.
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