Teenage girls are victims of one of the fastest growing industries in the world – sex traffic. India’s north east is famed for its tea estates and Himalayan views. It’s the ancient crossroad of trading routes between Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh, and the town of Siliguri has always been at the heart of international trade.
According to the UN’s figures, about 30,000 children are traffickedinto Calcutta and a lot of them come through Siliguri. Some are local girls abducted from their families. Buruka, a self-help group, is fighting to rescue the children from the slave traders, but the trafficking problem is getting worse mainly because the people don’t understand the problem.
The na├»ve villagers, often illiterate, hand over their girls into marriage or are taken away to work, and they are simply traded in the big cities as prostitutes. In poor families, girls are often seen as a burden that will need a dowry when they marry. It can sometimes make sense to send them away to work but many don’t come back. The poor are easy prey for the traffickers, and the victims and their parents suffer an unending agony.
It’s not just local children at risk. The trade is international. Worldwide traffickers add three million women and children to an ocean of sex slaves each year. A quarter of a million are smuggled through South Asia. Siliguri’s border police struggle to stem the tide. Girls are lured into slavery with promises of jobs in the big city, forced, kidnapped and lost to their families. But sometimes a family fights back.
Calcutta might look pretty chaotic at the beginning, but it is the center of India’s economic boom and that’s fueling a consumer boom in all kinds of things. Among the products widely sold on the streets of Calcutta’s Red Light District are children.
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