• 12-year old Laxmi* was lured by her classmates to travel to Kolkata (capital of West Bengal, a state in India) for a picnic and later sold in the train.
  • 10-year old Sneha* accompanied her 16 year-old sister Surya* to the dream city Mumbai in search of a job. Surya works as a domestic help while Sneha is hired for zari / embroidery work.
  • Ramesh*, a 15-year old rag-picker is missing. His neighbours say they saw him being chatting with a drug-addict. * names changed to protect identity

Young children go missing from the small towns and villages in India. Some run-away on being lured by the dreams of the big city, while others are carried away to be sold for meager gains…

The birth of a child (read male) in India meant celebration. Sweets are distributed and the atmosphere is one of merriment. Neighbours and relatives greet the parents and the new born baby is showered with blessings and gifts. Children are considered as God’s gift to the family. While this is true and relevant in many parts of India and the world at large, a stark reality hits us when we read the newspapers and are informed about the alarming rate at which children go missing from their homes and the increasing number of child labourers found in every sector of employment.

A child is one of the worst marginalized sections in the societal spectrum. Children are found in most realms of institutions, and more so in places they are not supposed to be. Child soldiers, child sex workers, child labourers, bonded labourers, child brides, rag pickers, beggars, manual scavengers, domestic workers, camel jockeys in dangerous races etc.

Statistics show that children make up almost half the number of people trafficked each year, at least 1.2 million or one every thirty seconds in the world.

Who is a child?

Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a person under eighteen years of age. The Preamble to the 1989 Convention reminds us, that the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child states that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection.” Children are dependent on the adults around them to satisfy their fundamental needs. The parents are responsible for the development of the child’s personalities, talents and abilities.

Children by nature are vulnerable and more particularly vulnerable to trafficking and other illegal activities.

What is trafficking?

Following the definition of the UN-Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), trafficking is considered to be: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons for the purpose of exploiting them by intimidation or the use of violence or other forms of force, by abduction, deception, fraud, the misuse of power or a position of vulnerability or by giving or receiving money or favours to obtain the consent of a person who holds control over another person.

Traffickers do not generally function in isolation. At the source areas one can broadly divide traffickers into three categories i.e. individuals, small groups/gangs or syndicates.

At the initial stage a trafficker may use a wide range of methods and means to procure or induce or coerce a person. These methods vary from drugging, blackmailing, confining, abducting, kidnapping, rape, varying degrees of assault, hurt or even grievous hurt. The more inconspicuous and popular method is the slow and consistent luring of a victim through a process of friendship and love. Then there are those traffickers who offer to barter a person’s body in return for medical care for loved ones. Traffickers also circle natural disaster sites, such as after the Asian Tsunami, looking for orphans.

The economics of trafficking…

Trafficking is a very financially profitable business today fueled by the increased demand for prostitutes generated by tourism and the ever-flourishing world of business. Traffickers are supported by buyers, financiers, corrupt officials and consumers. This illegal trade of victimized persons also finds high economic gains through employers indulging in bonded labour or camel jockeying, illegal businesses dealing in organ transplantation, groups selling young girls as brides in areas where unequal sex ratios exist, for developing pornographic material, for promoting sex tourism, for sexual exploitation under the facade of bar tending, massage parlours etc, or even for exploitative labour where sexual abuse may or may not coexist.

Trafficking is a process and commercial sexual exploitation is the result. The ‘demand’ in commercial sexual exploitation generates, promotes and perpetuates trafficking. This is a vicious cycle.

Child trafficking…

The Goa Children’s Act 2003 provides a detailed definition of child trafficking. Under section 2 (z), “child trafficking” means “the procurement, recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, legally or illegally, within or across borders, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for monetary gain or otherwise”.

Child trafficking is an urgent human rights and developmental concern. It requires investigative research, multi-dimensional policy making and aggressive operational responses. It destroys the lives of hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys all over the world.

Child trafficking is of much concern in these recent times because this problem is analysed to be more complex and the repercussions more precarious than a single act of wrongdoing. Child trafficking is structural in nature and reflects on and has implications for the social, economic and organizational conditions in society. It eats into the delicate fibre of society. Hence it is of much concern for the progressive countries.

For the child, it is an extreme and threatening violation of rights. The victims of trafficking are deprived of their basic and fundamental rights as human persons.

Child trafficking can be for the following purposes:

  • Exploitation through illegal activities (incl. begging and drug trafficking);
  • Adoption trade
  • Marriage brokering
  • Exploitation through work (incl. slave labour and bonded labour);
  • Sexual exploitation (incl. prostitution and pornography)
  • Camel Jockeying

Trafficking: a malicious worm

Trafficking of persons is the second largest illegal trade after arms sale. In 1997 according to U.N calculations, the procurers, smugglers, and corrupt public officials involved in the international trade in human beings, extracted $ 7 billion in profits from their cargo. There are no accurate statistics of how many people are involved, but it is estimated that in the last 30 years, trafficking in women and children in Asia for sexual exploitation alone has victimized over 30 million people. Everyday about 200 girls and women in India enter prostitution and 80% of them against their will. At the current rate of growth by 2025, one out of every five Indian girl children will be a child prostitute.

Human Trafficking has become highly lucrative and increasingly worthwhile as women and children are considered commodities which can be “sold” several times over. With the porous borders and the advancement of technology, child trafficking has expanded around the globe where the routes for trafficking children, alter according to local conditions or supply and demand factors. It is no longer adequate to say that victims are trafficked from poor to the wealthier ones. Couple this with the terrible incidents at Nithari village where children went missing for the last two years, which many have described as a case of child trafficking and India has a big problem at hand as far as the little ones are concerned.

And it’s not just Nithari. Every year lakhs of children go missing throughout India and the world at large. A number of children are lured away from their homes and suffer abuse and torture.

Human trafficking is a growing organized crime that exploits and profits of its victims. India serves as a source, transit and destination country in the global context on human trafficking. A research study done in 2001 states, that 300,000 to 400,000 children in India are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.  According to the U.S. Department of State there were an estimated 500,000 child prostitutes” in India in 2004. Global statistics indicate that out of the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors.”

The 3 Ts: Torment, torture and thump…

The victims of human trafficking suffer a range of atrocities committed on them while being trafficked. Many are gang raped or have to endure sadistic forms of sexual abuse, confinement, identity theft and finally being forced to labourAll forms of trafficking be it for drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, bonded labour, camel jockeying or organ trading, inflict pain not only on the bodies of the victims but also on their mind. This tactic to ‘break’ the victim is employed to over power the victims, rip them of their self-worth and deny them self-respect. They are reduced to mere objects for pleasure, labour and greed and are no more considered as human beings. in an exploitative field.

Human trafficking syndicates have significant influence and financial advantage over their operations and victims.

Advantages of the human trafficking syndicates

The human trafficking syndicates are often able to access the best possible legal advice; it’s not uncommon for prosecutors in cases of human trafficking to be facing some of the finest legal minds during every stage of the case. The human trafficking syndicates also have a high success rate in tampering with victims once they are rescued by the police and they also demonstrate significant ability to tamper with the evidence in the case. An attempt to tamper takes place at every stage of the criminal justice system in cases of human trafficking.

The influx…

Human trafficking is a constantly changing and evolving field. In Interventions conducted by the Mumbai police between 2002-2005 it was recorded that children and women rescued in Mumbai were trafficked from Nepal, Bangladesh, some Eastern European countries, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Nepal, Tamil Nadu, North East India, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab and other parts of Maharashtra.

The way ahead…

There is no bigger crime on earth, other than betrayal of the dependence of innocent children. To force a child or a woman into this ignominy, without his / her consent is something that deserves our strictest censure.

Children, who escape the harrowing by-lanes of a prostitution den, find themselves sucked in, in a vortex of crime and drugs. A few work in sub-human conditions in debilitated small-scale industries, a few fall menace to the begging mafia and have their body parts mutilated, some fall prey to middle-class home helps and the remaining die on the streets -unseen, unwept and uncared.

Children are born innocent… their innocence is fragile and easily tainted. They are simply born with an innocence that allows adults to mould them into whatever they feel fit. Children who are made victims of any kind of exploitation begin to believe that they are not worthy of any love, compassion, or gentleness. They clearly hate the trade for violence, shame and guilt that it imposes on them, however somewhere they are also feel dependant on it for it gives them a sense of worth. Exploitation in any form and sexual exploitation in particular results in sexualized, depressed, emotionally numb, aggressive, fatalistic and mistrusting child, plagued by disease and low self esteem.

If we will, we can make a difference…

The traffickers and exploiters have an easy job since many people are not aware of child trafficking and are less suspicious of the traffickers.

The civil society has yet to wake up to the alarming rate of trafficking in children. It is important that the society (you and me) take responsibility for the growing menace of trafficking and do our bit to combat trafficking in persons at the local, national and global levels.

In light of the gravity of the socio-criminal problem we face it’s important that we join all relevant agencies in the Government and Private sector to work together to combat this crime through a multi-disciplinary and holistic perspective.

The victims of child trafficking should be considered as children in need of care and protection and efforts should be made for their rehabilitation and re-integration.

The police officials and judiciary who deal with cases related to child trafficking in specific and human trafficking at large should be sensitized to handle these cases and to interact with the victims in a more humane way.

Stringent legislative measures should be adopted to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and severely punished. This will act as a major deterrent and send a loud message to the society in terms of curbing human trafficking.

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These children need some love.

Some one who would respect them,

Some one who would treat them as human persons

Let us reach out to them,

and help them unlearn and forget

the horror of their victimized lives

Let us reach out to them,

and encourage them

to begin life anew.


1) Child Trafficking – The Recent Emergence of the Global Issue by Puan Sri Datin Seri n. Saraswathy Devi, President, international federation of women lawyers (FIDA)

2) Child Trafficking – issues and concerns by Mr. Pravin Patkar & Mrs. Priti Patkar

3) 30.01.2007 money control

4) Indian Catholic – New site of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India. Jan 26, 2007

5) The other side of childhood – A research by Sahil.

6) Reporting Trafficking in Persons – A Media Handbook by HDRN & UNDP TAHA.

7) The National Human Rights Commission’s Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children in India 2002 -2003.

8) Trafficking of persons: Global patterns, April, 2006, UNODC

9) Dr. Gracy Fernandes and S.C. Ray (2001)

10) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004 – India Country Report, United States Department of State, February 28, 2005, retrieved on October 1, 2005 at

11) United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, June 3, 2005, p. 6.



Aileen S. Marques, B.A., LL.B., is a practicing Advocate of the High Court, Bombay, India. She has been a student leader at the national level and traveled far and wide throughout India. She has been the Member of the Editorial Board for two years of monthly publication – the Rally, a magazine considered the voice of the National AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation).

She is in the forefront to defend the human rights of the marginalised sections of society and believes that the career one chooses decides not only the course of one’s life but also becomes an instrument of service to the community.

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