Human Trafficking – The Stakeholders’ Perspective – Edited by Veerendra Mishra, Assistant Inspector General of Police (CID), Madhya Pradesh, India, in an exclusive interview with Mark Ulyseas Published by Sage Publications
Would bonded labourers in India be considered victims of human trafficking or are they categorised under slavery?
There is no doubt that bonded labourers are victims of human trafficking. Slavery is a term mostly used in the West. It was interesting to hear US President Obama speaking at Clinton Global Foundation reiterating and officially stamping human trafficking as ‘modern day slavery’. By synonymising slavery and human trafficking western protagonists have tried to emphatically underline the degree of exploitation in trafficking.
However, I personally feel that by generalizing the act of human trafficking as slavery, more harm is done than good. The less knowledgeable service providers and law enforcers have started measuring degree of exploitation against their perception of overt exploitation of slaves, which they have gained by reading history books, films or stories heard. This ultimately restricts them in understanding the subtle and hidden exploitative mechanisms involved in highly complicated present day human trafficking. Eventually, they fail to address the problem resulting in its growth.
Human trafficking is a highly specialized and complicated issue and generalization of the term for publicity will confuse and jeopardize the specialized intervention. This must be avoided as far as possible.
It is claimed that human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking in the world in terms of revenue. Is this true?
It is very true. There are many reasons to believe this claim.
What we know about human trafficking is actually the tip of the iceberg. I know this would invite a lot of flak from international agencies, which have been shooting estimates convincingly on the basis of scientific evaluation. I have my own reservation about their estimates and those are based on my personal research and experience in the field from various parts of globe, and my opinion will find many takers cutting across borders.
To highlight a few points: We overlook exploitation of children and other members for labour, sex, organ, adoption, forced marriage etc. when there is parent’s (guardian’s) consent. For example, in India we have almost completely overlooked the labour trafficking of human beings in the agriculture sector. A study estimated that more than fifty percent of child labour is in agriculture, which is an outcome of family involvement. There are hundred of thousands of children across the country that are recruited as domestic help living in exploitative conditions with no time off. These figures do not feature in the ‘estimates’.
Similarly, the trafficking of children for labour in Africa as traditional skill enhancement, forced as child soldiers etc. do not make it into estimates, and whatever numbers pop up are conservative speculations. In the US thousands of girls are runaways and a study says that a trafficker contacts them within 48 hours. No government report would include them as victims unless they have evidence of exploitation and due to failure of proper victim identification mechanism it would remain a far cry. In Europe, with dissolution of borders traffickers are having a field day and they recruit victims from vulnerable areas for exploitation. We are still struggling to measure the extent of exploitation in disturbed areas and war torn countries. There are reports of human trafficking in UN Mission areas but there are fewer attempts to unearth the degree of exploitation.
Moreover, due to lack of understanding of subject, variance in accepted definition of human trafficking and gaps in considering all facets of human trafficking, like adoption, bride trafficking, medical trafficking etc. ‘n’ number of trafficking cases are neglected or go unreported.
It is high time that the UN revisit its Palermo protocol definition of human trafficking and make it more inclusive and far reaching. A decade has passed since the definition was conceived and understanding on the subject has grown manifold, bringing to fore the shortcomings of the definition.
Have you had hands on experience in tackling human trafficking and if so, could you kindly give us details of a case in point?
Yes, I did.
Currently, I am working on a very peculiar form of human trafficking i.e. community based sexual exploitation (CBSE) in some communities in India.
Community based sexual exploitation of Bedia and Bachda community is more than a century old. It started as survival and protection sex to ward off the atrocities of landlords, a cost paid for stability to a nomadic tribe. The compulsive survival instinct became a tradition and the exploitation became normalized over the years.
Bedia and Bachda community is spread over four states in India with a population of more than one lakh (hundred thousand) community members. In 1913, during British rule the Bedia and Bachda community were notified as criminal tribes under the Criminal Tribe Act (1871). After independence CT Act was repealed in 1952 and these communities were de-notified and currently are recognised as scheduled caste (castes identified in Indian constitution wanting special privileges). They are in double jeopardy, one for carrying the stigma of being community of prostitutes and second for being treated at the lowest rung of caste hierarchy.
Community based sexual exploitation is a peculiar form of sex trafficking. A community accepts prostitution as part of their culture and it is practiced in society, dwelling with other communities. It varies from sexual exploitation in brothels mainly in three ways: The sexual exploitation is of members of one particular community; second, they do not have to dislocate from their home for exploitation, it happens in the place of their living “ their Homes”, in villages and thirdly, the exploitation is accepted within and by outside society as traditional norm and is passed on to generations as tradition. The normalization of exploitation leads to negligence by service providers.
There is debate on if traditionally accepted, culturally sanctioned prostitution should be tagged as sexual exploitation or sex trafficking. There should be no doubt or any conflict that the exploitation of the girls/women of Bedia and Bachda community comes under the purview of human trafficking.
UN Convention on Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol) clearly mentions that the consent of a child has no validity. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as any person less than eighteen years of age. India has ratified both these conventions.
Both these UN Conventions read and applied together proves beyond doubt as to how the exploitation of Bedia and Bachda community is human trafficking.
Girls of these communities are forced into sexual exploitation at the age of 13-14 years. Obviously it becomes trafficking and not a case of willing prostitution. Secondly, when they grow up and mature in age as adult, they are left with no choice but to be perpetually exploited. The customary societal tradition does not allow them to get married once they are sexually exploited. The community believes in chaste wives and one once prostituted has to live and die as a prostitute. Only relationship allowed is concubinage relationship, which in itself is an exploitative relationship where the women have no conjugal rights.
In association with an organisation that works with the Bedia community, I am working to change the age-old customary exploitative mindset. We have achieved great success and work has spread from one village to four villages and two enclaves. Children are enrolled in schools and one of the girls of a CSE mother has scored extremely well. For the first time in the history of the village one boy has graduated from school and started attending college. More than 30 students are enrolled in schools with the organization’s support. Similarly, women are being trained to start their own enterprises. We are working on sustainable development so that the community members, particularly children have more options to explore.
In some countries/cultures human trafficking is considered a legitimate business. How can the international community embark upon changing this cultural distortion/mindset?
Above example is a case to prove the point. The problem lies in the failure of social policies. There is a gap in access to justice and the social justice system has failed to deliver.
Mindset of a community is cultural impression developed over years. To change mindset through external intervention is fraught with danger of backlash. The only possibility is through inclusive social justice mechanism, which would comprise participatory advocacy, providing of alternate opportunities and equal access to justice. Values should not be imposed; instead change should be brought through consistent participatory effort. Efforts should be towards making change attempts by instilling in them the confidence of inclusiveness and ownership.
You advocate a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach to combating human trafficking. Could you kindly explain this in some detail?
Most of the time combating human trafficking is looked upon as a problem of law enforcers. Effectively combating human trafficking is possible only through participation of all stakeholders, which can be construed as multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach. Combating human trafficking would involve prevention, prosecution and protection. Human trafficking has three spatial phases – recruitment at origin, transit and destination.
Let us understand the importance of multi-agency approach for one aspect of combating trafficking, say prevention. To prevent human trafficking at origin level there is need to check fresh recruitment and re-recruitment of rescued victims. This will require creating an environment negating the vulnerability of potential victims and that is possible only if the factors causing vulnerability are addressed. Those factors have roots in socio-cultural, economic and political situation of the place they live in.
The role of the government agencies entrusted with development, civil society organizations, community based organizations and other stakeholders become important. Similarly, prevention by countering demand at destination would require many agencies to collaborate. Law enforcement agencies are responsible to partner in the whole process as one of the stakeholders and not as the only one.
This reasoning holds for prosecution and protection as well.
To further clarify let me give you an example of multi agency and multi disciplinary approach through a case study of a girl trafficked from Bangladesh to India. She was being transported to Mumbai after crossing the border in West Bengal. She was rescued by railway police from train on the tip off of other co-passengers close to district Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. After rescue she found shelter in protection home run by State Department of Women and Child. Medical practitioners looked after her health aspect. Police coordinated her repatriation in coordination with Ministry of External Affairs. All through social workers from local NGO helped in communication as she spoke Bengali dialect. The lady trafficker who was arrested during rescue was prosecuted with the help of prosecutors and judgement, of course, passed by a judge.
Now if we look at this incident we find many agencies coordinating and collaborating in rescuing and rehabilitating the victim and arresting and prosecuting the offender.
In your opinion what is the root cause of human trafficking?
It is not possible to pinpoint one cause as the root cause of human trafficking. Many factors may interplay facilitating victimization.
To generalize we can always say that potential victims vulnerability is the root cause of human trafficking, however the challenge is to figure out the causes behind vulnerability. They can be socio-cultural, economic, political or environmental factors or all together having their share in exacerbating the situation enabling traffickers to exploit. On further analysis these factors could be categorised as pull and push factors. Push factors are those factors that make the victims vulnerable at place of origin (recruitment), and Pull factors are alluring factors that create an illusion to salvage from push factors at place of destination, but actually leave them exposed to exploitation.
And if I were asked how could it be addressed, I would say spreading awareness aggressively could certainly bring some desired change.
Please give us an overview of your book, Human Trafficking – The Stakeholders’ Perspective?
Human Trafficking-The Stakeholders’ Perspective is unique because of mainly three reasons. One it covers different dimensions of human trafficking; second it includes diverse opinions, which introduces the readers to different schools of thought on same issues and thirdly it covers the viewpoint of academicians, field activists, state agencies and legal practitioners enabling holistic view of the subject.
This book is an attempt to exhaustively cover the subject of human trafficking and will be very useful to readers from different sections of society.
Why did you join the police?
Policing is one of the most challenging jobs in India. The potential to serve people through policing is immense and I wanted to capitalize on that opportunity. Practically, police has some role to play in every walk of life, particularly in developing countries, and its service providing capacity is unmatched. I found in police a window to understand the socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics of society from close quarters and that helped me over the years to grow professionally and personally.
I always had the desire to interact with community members, understand them and envisage mechanism to increase reach of social justice. Working as a police officer helped me fulfil the desire to a great extent. In countries like India the role of police in ensuring justice is phenomenal. The influence that law enforcers wield in society is significant and they can be role models. In the true sense policing provides an opportunity to understand social structure and comprehend human behaviour governed by this construction. The factual perception prepares one on how to address the societal problems more pragmatically.
I am a strong propagator of community policing. I call it as policing for the community, with the community and by the community; Through community policing by ensuring partnership and participation the widening gap between police and community can be bridged and eventually become an effective and efficient police system. I used my community-policing model to increase partnership between the community and police in India, during UN Mission in Bosnia (as trainer), in Kosovo (as regional chief of community policing) and East Timor (my book – Community Policing: Misnomer or Fact? Sage Publications, 2011)
My passion to work in the field of human trafficking also came from my experiences as police officer, which provided me with opportunity to explore and also give back to the community.
What was your role in UN Missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor?
I served in UN Missions as CIVPOL (Civilian Police Officer). Disturbance and conflict exposes the citizens to vagaries of exploitation and escalates vulnerability. I had great opportunity to understand the societal dynamics in war torn areas. In fact, to a great extent, my passion to work in the field of human trafficking was reinforced while serving in United Nation Missions.
In Bosnia and Kosovo the Gypsies, Romas’, were trafficked. These areas were also conduit for eastern Europeans to be trafficked to Western Europe and also the locals suffered at the hands of local and external traffickers. Though I was not directly involved in anti-human trafficking, I grabbed opportunities to discuss and engage with concerned officers. In East Timor I was a visitor and studied human trafficking there. I also created my own action plan to combat human trafficking and shared with IOM, unofficially. I do not know the fate of the draft plan. I also pro-bono created the training module on community policing training to community members for Asia Foundation. In fact, I am writing a novel on my experience of a case of child sex trafficking, which I would be glad to share with the world readers. I am looking for a good publisher for the book.
Could you share with us a glimpse of your life and works?
I am married to my batch mate who is also a police officer. We have two sons, 15 and 8 years old. I have two brothers and both are in police, one at higher management level and other at middle management level. I currently live in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. I am passionate about working on the subject of human trafficking with intention to contribute at international level.
I joined police service in January 1995. Since then I am working in the organization. I got an opportunity to serve in two UN Missions (Bosnia and Kosovo) and visited UN Mission area in East Timor as a visitor to my wife who was serving as CIVPOL with the UN Mission.
I did my masters in Sociology and PhD in Psychology by a couple of human rights courses from Indira Gandhi National Open University and HREA (Human Rights Education Associates).
I was a Humphrey fellow (Fullbright scholarship) to USA 2012-2013 and area of focus was Human Trafficking. I was associated with University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and George Mason University, Virginia (Washington DC). I also had a chance to affiliate with reputed organizations like Ramsey county’s Attorney’s office, St Paul (twin cities), Advocates for Human Rights, Minneapolis, National District Attorneys Association, Alexandria, Virginia (Washington DC).
I taught as Co-instructor for six weeks – HREA (Human Rights Education Associates) online Course E07513: Human Trafficking and Smuggling LINK
My first book was a women centric short story book ‘Cracking of Dawn’ (Selective and Scientific Books: 2009). The stories dramatized version of real stories picked from experience as police officer. My second book was ‘Community Policing: Misnomer or Fact?’ (Sage Publications: 2011). I was co-editor in my third book ‘Human Trafficking in India’ (Women’s Studies Department, Barkatullah University, Bhopal, 2012) and this book ‘Human Trafficking: The Stakeholders Perspective’ is my latest effort (Sage Publication, 2013).
My wife and I created a documentary ‘Do I Have A Choice: A Saga of Socially Sanctioned Sexual Servitude’. This documentary film reflects the plight of the Bedia community, which is victim of CBSE (Community Based Sexual Exploitation). http://www.youtube.com/watch
I intermittently write on various issues on my blog LINK
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on CBSE with the Bedia community. With a highly motivated group we are trying to make a dent on the exploitative mindset of the community and provide options for progress. Attempt is also to engage other stakeholders to facilitate the process of social justice through inclusive method. www.samvednaindia.org
In a team we are working for education of children, livelihood programs for the adults (women and male both as they create equal pressure for exploitation of children), advocacy, increase the reach of justice and empower them to claim their rights and entitlement.
I am also writing two books on Human Trafficking. One is co-authored with my wife on the CBSE. The second book will reflect on the subject of human trafficking from a totally different perspective. It will look into trafficking from social justice angle. This book will also question and challenge many of the approaches that are adopted globally and acclaimed as successful models.
I am sure the forthcoming books will force us to rethink on our strategy to combat human trafficking.
If I get support I would like to make another documentary on trafficking for labour from Tribal districts in State of Madhya Pradesh. This is a problem – victimization of thousands of naïve young tribal girls and boys, which needs immediate attention.
In the capacity as police officer my immediate attention would be on child rights issues with special focus on child trafficking.
Veerendra Mishra is currently posted as Assistant Inspector General (CID) with Madhya Pradesh police. He did his PhD on ‘Changing Image of Police: An Empirical Study’ from Barkatullah University, Bhopal in 2004. Dr Mishra has extensively studied the workings of police—both local police bodies and international bodies such as the United Nations Police (UNPOL). He has been awarded the prestigious Hubert Humphrey Fellowship under Fulbright Scholarship on the subject of HT. He served in two UN Missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. He stayed in East Timor for five months and was instrumental in preparing training module for community policing training to community members of the country, as pro-bono consultant of Asia Foundation. Mishra was nominated for the Indira Gandhi Communal Harmony Award in 2008. He writes on varied subjects, fiction and professional. He has published a short story book, stories in “Chicken Soup Soul” series and a book entitled, Community Policing: Misnomer or Fact.
About the book:
Trafficking of persons is a modern-day form of slavery, threatening the dignity and security of millions of people throughout the world. Virtually every country in the world and every state of India is affected by this crime as a place of origin, transit or destination for victims. This book is an attempt to discuss various issues of human trafficking, including perspectives of various stakeholders. The book argues that crime cannot be dealt with only by applying piecemeal tactics. Instead, it will require an organised professional, multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach, calling for concerted, collaborative and participatory efforts of all stakeholders. All the essays included in this book are original works delving deeply into various forms of human trafficking. They are organised into different themes such as sexual exploitation, child trafficking, trafficking outside India, legal aspects, state experiences and case studies.
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