Whilst most international attention focusses on women trafficked across borders there is a hidden epidemic in countries like India and Thailand of women trafficked within countries.
Much of the attention on human trafficking focuses on the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people — about 80 percent of them women or girls — who are trafficked across international borders every year, and, in many cases, forced to work as prostitutes or virtual slaves who perform menial tasks. But those numbers don’t include victims trafficked within their own countries.
The problem, part of modern-day slavery, is that women and children are tricked, kidnapped or forced into travel, sometimes on the pretext of legitimate work opportunities and end up forced into sex work. In India:
The government estimates there are 3 million sex workers in India, at least 40 percent of them children. And thousands of them are believed to have been unwittingly lured into the work by traffickers, rights activists say.
In 2005 only 13 traffickers were arrested in Dehli, the largest centre of sex work in India, and the numbers elsewhere are similar or lower. Here is the story of one trafficked child:
Meena’s childhood was filled with long days of domestic work in the rural eastern state of Jharkhand. She received little or no pay, she said, but “I was so poor, I could not leave.” At the urging of her mother, she moved to Calcutta for what she was told would be a paid maid’s position. The 12-year-old was working as a domestic servant in Calcutta when the homeowner told her about a good-paying job at his sister’s house in India’s capital.
But instead, she was sold to a brothel owner and forced into prostitution for little more than a place to sleep and the occasional meal. Meena discovered she had been sold by her boss while riding in an auto-rickshaw headed to New Delhi’s red-light district. Meena never found out the price she brought on the human trafficking market.
Her ordeal lasted four years and Meena, now 21, says it left her “a very angry person. The anger comes suddenly,” says Meena. She was rescued from the brothel by STOP, an anti-trafficking group founded in 1998. She lives in the group’s shelter on the western edge of New Delhi, a large two-story white house with long hallways situated amid the farm fields that spread out from the city’s edge. There are vegetable gardens, and the women who live there embroider and cook for each other.
Subsequent problems for trafficked women include stigmatisation, HIV and STI infection, unwanted pregnancy, health and psychological impacts.