* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Recently someone asked me how is inter-generational prostitution akin to trafficking. There is consent involved as girls grow up seeing their mothers and aunts in prostitution, and they are initiated into it by their own family. I was conducting a session on human trafficking with a group of Panchayati Raj Institution members from West Bengal, and one of them posed this question. For many who don't know that there is something like inter-generational prostitution, let me tell you that I work with this anti-sex trafficking organisation called Apne Aap Women Worldwide (www.apneaap.org) which works with prostituted, marginalised and at-risk of being trafficked women and girls from red light areas as well as certain caste communities in Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal in India which suffer from 'inter-generational prostitution'. That is, for these caste communities, 'inter-generational prostitution' is a form of livelihood. But, at Apne Aap, we look at it as a case of trafficking.
The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Traffikcing in Persons, Especially Women and Children (adopted in 2000 as part of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime) defines human trafficking as, ‘Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the 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 the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs... The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth [above] shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth [above] have been used.’ And this is well reflected in Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code in India, which was introduced in March 2013.
Hence, by this definition, inter-generational prostitution does amount to trafficking. Because the girl child is 'harboured' by the family to contribute to family income through prostituion later on. But even as we are aware of this at Apne Aap, we have also seen from our experiences on the ground how the caste communities trapped in inter-generational prostitution are actually victims of systemic violence and lack of choice. Most of these communities are freed/denotified tribes (DNTs) who were labelled as hereditary criminals by the colonial Bristish administration with a series of Acts, starting 1871. As India became independent, the new government 'denotified' these communities but the stigma has persisted. With a history of no education, no government jobs or any other job, no networks of support, no government benefits, no government documents, etc., prostitution becomes the last resort (which might mistakenly look like the first choice) for many of them. The men of the family get the clients and keep the money as the women take on bodily invasion to feed mouths.
In the communities that we work, we have tried to bring more choices to the vulnerable women and girls by empowering them with certain assets like education, confidence, livelihood linkages, government certificates and benefits, social support networks, etc. And we have seen how that can make a difference. We have shut down about 57 home-based brothels in Munshiganj, West Bengal; about 30 home-based brothels in Forbesganj, Bihar; and over the years, we have touched more than 20,000 lives directly and indirectly.
While talking of trafficking, though it may affect any one, it is important to ask the question, where is trafficking mostly happening? Which are the social groups or caste communities where it is at high numbers? And as we introspect, we will realise that 'vulnerability' is a key player in these cases. Socio-cultural vulnerability. Economic vulnerability. Political vulnerability. Which is why, at Apne Aap, we have been urging governments through our advocacy programmes to invest more on empowering these communities, especially the women and girls, so they can have a number of choices available to live their lives.
Everytime we think of the girls of prostituted mothers whom we have put in schools and hostels, we feel proud. They want to grow up to be teachers, journalists, police, professional singers, professional dancers, etc. And even their mothers don't want them to fill their shoes. This is only possible when governments and civil society will invest in letting these girls know that they can dream of lives different from where they come, and help them in realisng it.
In this regard, we oppose the Child Labour Act which has been passed a few days ago in India for it will continue to most adversely affect children from all socially, economically and politically disadvantegeous caste communities. This Act cannot prevent trafficking of children for labour, prostitution, etc. To learn more about the Act, please visit https://www.change.org/p/school-not-work-give-back-our-childhood