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Girls go missing in West Bengal

June 09, 2011 EP Admin 0 Comments

Many girls get ‘lost’ while grazing cattle in the border region
Rinku Mondal dropped out of school when she was 10, to rolls bidis with her mother. She was trying to help augment her family’s meager income, but after four years of living hand-to-mouth, she decided to leave her village along the Indo-Bangla border, to look for work in Mumbai.

Swapna Majumdar/WFS

“I told her not to go and that we would manage with the money that we were earning,” says Rinku’s mother, Rekha. “I warned her that Mumbai was not a good place and bad things happened to girls there. But she didn’t listen to me.”

A few months later, Rinku returned home with sindoor in her hair, claiming that she was working in a house and had married a man who had helped her get a job. Her family was angry that Rinku had married without informing them, but asked her not to go back to Mumbai. “I pleaded with her not to go but she said she had to earn more money so that we could lead a better life. When she gave me Rs 9,000 [approximately 140 USD], I knew something was wrong,” says Rekha.

Rekha’s worst fears came true when Rinku called her last year saying that she had been caught in a police raid on a brothel. Since then, Rekha has been working a child protection NGO to try to get Rinku released.

9,000 missing children

Rinku is just one of the approximately 9,000 children who’ve gone missing from poor communities along the border with India and Bangladesh. It’s common for young girls to ‘vanish’ or ‘go missing after marriage’ or get ‘lost’ from villages in West Bengal, along the 2,000 kilometre Indo-Bangla border.

“There is a demand for young girls in prostitution,” says Roop Sen of Sanjog, a Kolkata-based resource organization working on anti-trafficking and safeguarding child rights. “Going by the numbers of girls rescued from the red light areas of Mumbai, Pune and Delh, the situation is alarming. In 2009, Rescue Foundation - an NGO in Mumbai - rescued 176 girls from the red light area in Mumbai. The youngest of them were 16.”

Children living along the border between India and Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to being wooed or snatched from their homes because of poverty, the threat of early marriage, and poor education. Although border agents in the area are tasked with preventing trafficking, locals say the agents spend more time harassing and assaulting locals, in the name of searching for illegal migrants.

The porous Indo-Bangla border makes locals girls more vulnerable
The porous Indo-Bangla border makes locals girls more vulnerable

Hard life along the border

A 2009 survey by the National Commission for Women revealed that the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation took place in 378 districts in India. West Bengal, with its porous border regions, emerged as a prime site. A 2010 report from the border district found that widespread food scarcity, gender inequality and poverty makes women and girls easy targets for traffickers.

According to Sanjog researcher, Paramita Banerjee, adolescent girls want a different life than their parents. “It is to escape semi-starvation, multiple pregnancies and domestic violence that they succumb to inducements like income-earning opportunities outside their villages,” she says. They often end up in brothels across India; finding and freeing them is very difficult.

The state has tried to address the problem, but there’s a lack of political will and the various implementing bodies have failed to work together. This is a tragic situation for the health and well-being of communities living near the border, who continue losing their daughters to forces beyond their control. Source