Wednesday, August 12, 2020

OUR SELECTIVE SHRIEKS!


 

For the last one week the case of a child who was allegedly raped multiple times by a donor in an orphanage located in Hyderabad has bothered me and I have extensively used the social media platforms to express my pain and anger. 

 

This morning the child died.

And I am wondering whether she is in a better place now?

 

I am constantly disturbed by the apathy the community at large has about the rights of children. Somehow, they are not a priority. Most think that in any case in a few years they will become adults so why bother. Life just does not matter!

 

And that is why perhaps it absolutely does not make any big headlines that India is producing the highest content of child sexually abusive material in the world. This is as per the report of NICMEC a validated American organization that is involved in monitoring and reporting the online child sexually abusive material. Close to 2 million contents were reported from India which is over 11% of the total reports from all over the world. 

 

Why is this not bothering us? Why are we not shaken to know that thousands of our children are being sexually exploited and raped? 

 

While the suicide of an actor, daily investigation of smuggling case, political horse-trading and so many other ‘very important’ issues including making or breaking of religious structures  get supreme importance in both electronic and print media…and the journalists are scrambling to report it day in and day out… 9pm channels are filled with heated debates….a child dying of a systemic failure, a child being raped by those who pledged to protect her…a child being rejected by her family and the system just does not bother us!

 

Ohhh…I am sorry we do react…and we react strongly…. using our social media platforms…. press meets…candle lights…. protest marches….in selective cases that makes some sense to our needs.

 

So what are the cases that makes sense to us….we love brutality….so any brutal case will be a great priority, we are scared if it happens in our neighborhood or to somebody who belong to our own social strata or somebody we can economically relate to…so anybody belonging to our social strata we will start screaming our protests….we love political position so anything that relates to our vote bank is something we will definitely jump around. 

 

Interestingly there are political leaders in Hyderabad who will raise their voice to the highest pitch when a child is being raped in Jammu/Kashmir but they maintain perfect silence when a child is being raped just next door in Hyderabad.

  

Our state and system are also equally selective. Any case that gathers huge media momentum and political mileage, that case definitely will be fast tracked and not just compensation but all kind of financial support will be offered.

I am not saying that those cases don’t deserve that support, what I am saying is that every child/girl/woman who is sexually assaulted should also get equal access to all that support. 

 

After years of working on the issue of sex crime against children and providing a safe haven for hundreds of such children who face threat perception from their perpetrators, what I see is over 70% of cases are pending for last 4 years. Hardly 30% of the children have received small amounts of interim relief fund from the District Administration. And that too only when we have constituted a team whose only job is to follow up and ensure papers move. Not a single child got relief as a matter of right.   

 

I am angry about what is becoming of us….I am angry that we collectively fail as humanity….I am angry that we as a society feel helpless about our own inadequacies…I am  angry that the State response most often is only reactionary and does not put in place systemic processes that ensures equal access to justice for all…I am angry that we tolerate all this….I am angry that this incident will bother some of us but in a few seconds life will move with no remnants in our memory till the next incident happens…

 

I want to break our hypocrisy…I want to break our pseudo stands…I want to break the power mongers whose political position is the only real thing for them….and a child’s life matters only when it suits them.

 

I know I am raving and ranting. 

But all I want to reiterate- your inaction, your silence, your apathy, your self-centeredness and your indifference is not going to break my spirit

I will continue to fight, continue to flag these issues even if it makes me unpopular, continue to support those violated with a safe space and continue to be the voice of the voiceless…And you can rest assured that there will be many more like me here & elsewhere who will be bearing this torch now and for years to come…till every human being is respected with dignity and systems become really functional for all.

 

        

       

   

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

WHO IS ACCOUNTABLE FOR A CHILD'S LIFE?

Currently in between a case of a 14 year old orphan girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted repeatedly by a donor of an orphanage while the founder of the orphanage and her brother are abettors in the crime. As per the child's version the lady managing the orphanage had send her to this man(in the same building where the orphange is located) who drugged her and sexually assaulted her. This seems to have happened multiple times.  

The information came out when the child was sent back to her relatives during the Covid lockdown (as per Govt orders all Child Care Institutions were directed to send back children to any safe relative) on March 21st, 2020.


For 4 months she lived with her uncle whom she apparently had informed about the abuse. For reasons best known to the child & the family, the child was physically beaten up continuously by her uncles during the stay. Reliable information also points out that the uncle tried to leave the girl back to the same orphanage at least on three occasion but the home refused to take back the child citing Covid.

 

After four months the uncle decided to send the child to another aunt on July 28th, 2020. Seeing the physical condition of the child (she could hardly walk) the aunt was concerned and when she probed, the child once again described her plight.Alarmed by the information, the aunt rushed to the police and booked a case against the perpetrators on 29th July, 2020


While the police  did take the case promptly and the sexual assault was booked and the arrests were made but interestingly the abuse that had happened during the 4 months with the uncles was completely ignored.


Interacting with the legally competent bodies who dealt with the case,I have come to understand that the girl could hardly walk when she was taken to the police station or to other places. She was visibly sick, appeared severely malnourished and had deep fresh bruises all over her body mainly on her thighs.


The aunt deposed before Child Welfare Committee that she is unable to take responsibility so  finally the child was admitted in the Government Home. The officials in the home, seeing the dire health conditions of the child admitted her to the Government Nilofer Hospital for children after completing all the legal formalities including 

recording her statement and medical examination. 


Simultaneously another case was booked against the uncles on the intervention of CWC.


The child's condition after she was admitted in the hospital worsened inspite of all the care & attention. Multiple complications including a clot in the brain, septicimia,urinary infection etc. 

  

Right now the girl is battling for life with less than 1% chances of recovery, she is on ventilator support and her condition is critical. 


I am shattered...how have we so miserably failed our children? For many of us this will be another story...to feel sad...maybe get outraged...rave & rant about what is going wrong and move on....


But a life is on its way out...just 14years old....in that brief period she has experienced rejection, indignity, violation and betrayal...rape & physical abuse...you name it...she has experienced it.   


I am flooded and challenged with multiple questions...

-Who is accountable for this child's life?

-Should safe homes/orphanages/child care institution allow donors/visitors to have direct contact with the child?

-What are the non-intrusive means to monitor and track all safe homes/institutions?

-Should the licensing authorities also be taken to task for issuing registration/licensing for organisations who have questionable protocols?

-What is the fate of children whose family & institution are unsafe?

-How can we ensure that our children get at the minimum a safe place to live?


As I wait for the final updates of the child...a deep vacuum engulfs me....

 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

FUTILITY OF US GOVERNMENT'S TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS’ REPORT


As a focused and determined anti trafficking advocate, I have been a staunch admirer of the Government of United States for many years for the simple reason that this country has been a global leader and has rightly invested in its commitment to fight the global menace of human trafficking.  Individuals like me were recognized by the US Government as TIP Heroes way back in 2009 giving us the much-needed back-up and moral strength to continue our mission. 

The Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA), 2000 is perhaps one of the earliest comprehensive legislation to address trafficking in persons with a three-pronged approach of prevention, protection and prosecution.  Over the years several praiseworthy measures were taken by US both domestically and internationally including engaging with survivor advocates. 

Having said this, I also have been a consistent critic of the utility and relevance of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report that the US Government releases every year end June. This report is something like a Global ‘Report Card’ for over 187 countries on their efforts to end human trafficking. Based on certain indicators countries are placed in different Tiers. The countries placed in the lowest tier, Tier III face imposed with certain non-humanitarian and non-trade related sanctions by the United States Government. 

The intentions are noble, making Governments accountable to act and take proactive efforts to end human trafficking. But does it really have the same impact in all countries? 
I seriously doubt! Here are my reasons.

Firstly, no economically stable country including USA will like to have another country playing ‘headmaster’ to them. Some poorer countries have no voice whatsoever due to their economic conditions.

Secondly, now coming to the quality of the content.  By its own admission the report is prepared from information received from US Embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies and research trips to every region of the world. It is certainly not being impugned that the contents are false, but what I would definitely point out is that there are far too many ‘hearsay’ in the Report, without any substantial empirical evidence being quoted therein. 

For example, let us take the India report 2020.  It states that as per NGO estimates there are 8 million bonded labor in India. Is there a substantiated document that can validate how this figure was arrived? Not that I agree to the Government figures and all of us definitely know the numbers are always higher than what is quoted officially; but to give it a numerical value one definitely needs to have more evidence. Similarly, several anecdotal incidences are broadly generalized to reflect the country’s situation. For a large country like India which is more like a sub-continent in itself, this approach is grossly unjust. The reports for all the countries have a generous dose of inputs from well-intentioned NGOs, who perhaps genuinely want to change the situation. However, if the concerned Government does not even give the report a basic weightage largely due to its unsubstantiated claims -  Where do you expect the change to happen - in USA??? 

Thirdly, every sovereign, democratic country has their own domestic laws which defines how they will treat their adult or child victims. It is grossly unfair for one country to judge another country by their domestic standards and value systems.  

Fourthly the US Government decided to include United States with 186 countries almost 10 years after it first brought the TIP Report. Fair to say, this might be because of the large-scale vocal criticism from many including people like me who questioned whether US has the moral authority to comment about other countries when they have not done an evaluation of TIP about their own country!

But finally seeing the US country report - it was like, ‘you prepare the question paper, you give your own scores, and irrespective of the scores given, you place yourself on top of the class!!!’ Well US Government very happily places itself on Tier I
I can modestly say a few hundred anti-trafficking advocates working in US will have serious reservations regarding this assessment!   

Yesterday after I read the TIP Report I had tweeted and expressed my reservations. A friend asked me ‘how can you write like this, you work so closely with them’. All that I wanted to say in response was ‘this is how any Government might feel about the NGOs who work closely with them and also contribute information to US-TIP Report. 

Anti-trafficking work is done in collaboration and in partnership with civil society stakeholders. None of the stakeholders cannot work in silos. Imagine what one stakeholder will feel about the other if they have to deal with the fact that the other is reporting to some foreign country, of course, with the virtuous intention of correcting the former. 

Personally, I will feel very uncomfortable and would be wary of such partnership!

While the intentions are noble, definitely the impact is absolutely undesirable. If a report ends creating hostile environment for proactive work to happen then such reports are more a headache than a weapon one can use for advocacy. 

If one has to consider some impactful reports that has positively contributed to proactive action by the Governments of several countries including India, I would say the United Nations Office for Drugs & Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons has been a powerful report. The strength of the report comes from its neutral status, the way the contents are structured and the quality and authenticity of the information. While it does report about all countries, there are no sanctions imposed, no gradings done, the concerned stakeholder gets a clearer picture of the trends in their country, the gaps in intervention and possible solutions. Due to its unique position, UNODC is able to engage with the Government and influence them to look at the report proactively and thereafter also becomes a part of the solution. There is a sense of partnership at every level. Many civil society organizations will comfortably raise issues on the UNODC platform with 100% confidence that the concerns stated will reach the right authority and will be taken in the correct perspective. 

While I applaud the efforts of the US Government for their commitment and actions to end this modern slavery consistently for the last 20 years…but I do think after two decades it is a good time to reflect and evaluate whether this approach of bringing a Global TIP Report is having the desired impact.

Change will come when each country will have the courage to look inwards at themselves and recognize the magnitude and extent of the problem within their territories….change will come when each country will constitute independent bodies to bring out their own TIP Reports…change will come when each country will value all its citizens as precious human beings who should not come to any harm…change will come when the inner awakening compels you to pledge zero tolerance to any form of slavery or exploitation.  
                
  

Friday, August 23, 2019

WHATSAPP CALL THAT ENDED IN SEX SLAVERY


For Rahima(name changed to protect identity) 17yrs,a first year auto mechanic polytechnic student brought up in a conservative muslim family in Bangladesh it was fun to slyly take her father's mobile phone and randomly speak to her friends. In one such occasion she picked a WhatsApp call from a stranger who said his name was Moajjem. Slowly a friendship developed and soon her friend was desperate to see her in person.
With a lot of difficulty Rahima went to meet Moajjem. She took her 3yr nephew Norba also with her to avoid any suspicion. Moajjem turned out to be everything that she imagined in a man far away from a conservative world. When Moajjem professed his love for her, she was ready to go to any extent to be with her man. Moajjem was very clear, staying in Bangladesh would pose a lot of difficulty from her family and that is why India would be the best destination to start a new life.
Rahima eloped with Moajjem locking her sister and nephew in room. She was happy to be with Moajjem who took care of her with so much love and passion. She could wear what she wanted, she could eat what she wanted and most importantly she could see the world. Although illegally crossing the border posed quite a few challenges but she noted with pride that her boyfriend seem to be having a lot of influence with both the Bangladesh and India border police. Throughout the journey Moajjem did not touch her and treated her with great respect.
Entering the Indian border and reaching Kolkatta was uneventful and from there they immediately boarded a train to Hyderabad. While Rahima was curious why they did not stop at Kolkatta itself as it looked more familiar, Moajjem convinced her that they need to get away as far as possible.
When they reached Hyderabad, Rahima was kept in a nice flat with all amenities.
After two days, Moajjem said he has to leave to Bangladesh to get some important documents, he also said he needs to take divorce from his wife. Rahima was shocked and started crying. Moajjem held her and forced her to have sex and then told her 'now you are mine I will never let you go'. Moajjem took her to his best friends a couple named Viplob @ Sohel and Bisti. Who welcomed her to their family! They promised to take care of her unti Moajjem came back.

One day, Shujan another friend of the couple who was visiting them casually mentioned that she could 'dance' and earn some great money as she has not completed her polytechnic. Bored and lonely Rahima agreed. For two months she danced in bars and pubs. Shujan, Viplob and Bishti will continuously show her how much money she is earning and assured her that they were keeping it in safe keeping till Moajjem came back. The way they took care of her was incredible. She was not even allowed to wash her own clothes and there were days that Bishti would personally feed her. Biryani and rich food was daily diet.

One day during dance, Shujan introduced her to Sai who tole her come with him for another dance. With Shujan's encouragement, Rahima went with Sai who took her to a room. After raping her, he kept her in captivity for 8 months. Taking her escorted to several places in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka Rahima was forced into prostitution. His 'so called' mother Vijaya was his main supporter.

Then the news came to Viplob that Rahima's parents had filed a missing complaint and Moajjem was arrested. Immediately Viplob negotiated with Sai and brought back Rahima. The story that Rahima was fed is that Viplob was searching for Rahima for 8 months and finally after forcing Shujan, he found her. He paid a huge price to get free!!!

When Bangladesh Police called Viplob he immediately made them speak to Rahima who was so grateful to Viplob for saving her and told the same to Police. She also told that she voluntarily came with Moajjem and they should immediately release him.

Informed by our Bangladesh Parter,Justice & Care who works very closely with the Bangladesh Police regarding the suspicious nature of the case I immediately passed on all the information to our own Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat. Rest is history, in 10 days & nights the girl was rescued. Sold and resold five times by Moajjem,Viplob/Bishti, Shujan,Sai and back to Viplob@Sohel/Bishti and violated by thousands of men, Rahima still thinks Viplob & Bishti are her well-wishers. Throughout the night after the rescue she kept repeating they are her relatives and they live in Kolkatta!!!

All the five traffickers, three Indians and three Bangladeshi have been arrested by Telangana Police and Bangladesh Police respectively. Perhaps a unique case where arrests have been made from the source to the destination in a international case.

A lot of reflections when I was dealing with the case:
-How we as parents are dealing with the emotional deficit that our children go through?
-Do we realize that this can happen to any of our dear & near ones and for months together while being exploited she may not even realize what is going on?
-That grooming and emotional manipulation is the main modus operandi in most cases of sex trafficking!