Beneficiary Coverage: 10,000
Project Description: Due to its strategic location in India, the State of West Bengal, in which our project is situated, is a source, destination and a region of transit for internally trafficked persons. International trafficking is an additional problem to intrastate and interstate trafficking as the state shares three international borders including Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The accessibility of the area, the network of railways, roadways, airways and waterways offer easy transit points, promoting a nexus between smugglers of goods and traffickers of human beings. According to the UNODC India Country Assessment Report (2013), Current Status of Victim Service Providers and Criminal Justice Actors in India on Anti Human Trafficking, the districts of North and South 24 Parganas in West Bengal where our partner organization Halderchak Chetana Welfare Society (HCWS) operates, are ‘two of the most significant source areas for trafficking in the state’ of West Bengal. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime’s (UNODC) report Anti Human Trafficking (2013), reported that 19,000 women and children went missing in West Bengal in 2011, of which only 6,000 could be traced. There is a strong pattern of children and women who regularly go missing annually, either through kidnapping, forceful disassociation or through false marriage proposals. Traffickers deceive potential victims with the promise of job opportunities in major cities and then use them for sexual exploitation and / or forced child labour. The custom of arranging dowry in these areas is common when a marriage takes place. Dowries can be a significant financial burden on below poverty-line families and so it is convenient when a marriage without a dowry can be arranged. Lucrative offers often come from men in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh to marry a girl and instead of providing dowry payments, provide money to disadvantaged parents. Once the brides are taken to the groom’s home, connection with family is often permanently lost. District administration rarely holds data on missing or untraced persons. In many cases girls are sold again after marriage, making it even more difficult to trace. The lack of awareness in rural communities allows trafficking in the name of false hope of marriage and employment opportunities, ultimately making the poor girls more susceptible to such violations of their human rights. Trafficked girls from North & South 24 Parganas, if found, are often in Indian metropolitan cities. The project operates in two districts of West Bengal; South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas. In the South there is Kakdwip Block and Namkhana Block and in the North, Swarupnagar Block and Gaighata Block. Under each block there are a number of Gram Panchayat (local self-governed organizations). The lucrative trafficking business in North and South Parganas emerged as a result of extreme poverty, desperation and lack of support and opportunities. The coastal area of the South 24 Parganas is continuously subject to erosion and flooded by salt water, raising the soil salinity; a barrier to harvests of profitable yield. The practice of cultivating single varieties of crop makes livelihoods season-dependent. In the process, employment opportunities become limited and consequently villagers migrate to other towns and cities in search of jobs. According to Hope's Management Information System, girls between the ages of 12 – 16 years old were found to be most vulnerable. Our data analysis demonstrates that adolescent girls from marginalized families are those most affected by trafficking operations. The Hope Foundation (THF) with Haldar Chawk Chetana Welfare Society has been implementing Community Based Anti Trafficking Project in 56 villages of 2 Districts (North and South 24 Parganas).
The project has established 14 Watch Groups at the gram panchayat (community) level which are local government at village or small town level in India (the Irish equivalents of parishes). Till date 137 persons have been rescued; out of them, 10 were male and the rest female; 78 were minor (below 18 years). The Watch Groups have been trained to generate awareness on trafficking in their respective local communities, identify cases of trafficking and identify those at risk. They are able to negotiate with local administration, including police, and help to reintegrate any victim of trafficking back into the community.
The 14 Watch Groups are represented by the formation of a Block Level Pressure Group in each of the 4 blocks the gram panchayats are located in. These higher level groups consist of 30 members comprised of 20 parents of trafficked victims, five government civil servants (from relevant departments such as the police, council, health and ministry for children etc), four watch group members and one NGO worker. Their responsibility is to advocate at the local government level for measures to prevent trafficking, increase prosecutions and insure social and economic security for victims of trafficking. The purpose of setting and strengthening these groups is to empower the community to take initiatives to combat trafficking/missing at the local level. 46 cases of trafficking were reported by these groups and they have mobilised the community and parents to create pressure on block administration and police for rescue of trafficked victims.
As a part of reintegration, the community group members are putting pressure on local schools to re-enrol the students, who were trafficked, after rescue. For successful rehabilitation and reintegration it is essential to link the victims and their family with different social and financial security schemes which are often available from the Government. The project conducts awareness at village level to ensure that the villagers accept the victims and their families. The project makes sure that victims are allowed to join the local level meetings conducted by village administration to make sure they are not stigmatised and encourage decentralised participatory planning. Victims or their families have been linked with different Housing Scheme, health scheme, vocational trainings, and livestock farming. Victims are given sewing machines and financial assistance for income generation.