South Asia is thought to be the second largest region for trafficking. Here, growing numbers of women and girls are taken for sexual exploitation. According to UNICEF, in the Mekong region, surveys suggest over a third of sex workers are aged between 12 and 17 years. In India, around 700,000 women are registered as sex workers. However, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, estimates there are over 1.2 million women working in the sex industry, with many hundreds of thousands going unregistered because they are too young or have been drawn into the industry against their will.
TrustLaw reports a growing concern in India over the numbers of girls now being trafficked into prostitution. A magistrate in Mumbai, Swati Chauhan, has called for more specialist courts to address the situation. Currently, India only has one court (in Mumbai) which deals with cases brought under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. To prevent the practice of trafficking and oversee the rehabilitation of more women and girls, the Mumbai magistrate would like to see similar courts set up in cities such as Delhi, Goa, Pune and Kolkata.
Kolkata has a large prostitution sector. Girls from rural areas of India, and from countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, are lured to the city with the promise of jobs as maids or nannies. Once they reach Kolkata, the reality is often very different. Locked in a room, many are forced to have sex with multiple partners. Once part of the sex industry, they are lucky to be offered a way out by police or non-governmental organisations (NGO). Specialist courts like the one in Mumbai would not only help to prosecute trafficking offenders, they also oversee rehabilitation programmes where the girls can be offered vocational training.
One NGO working in this area is Freeset. Located in the Kolkata red district, the organisation estimates there are around 10,000 young girls and women working as sex workers in the region, many who haven’t chosen the profession. It is not uncommon for the organisation to come into contact with girls who left their homes lured by false promises or were sold into the trade by poverty-stricken parents, often as young as twelve or thirteen. Freeset offers the girls employment making jute bags and organic t-shirts, work they can undertake while still living inside a brothel. This alternative approach has been shown to provide the women with a sense of security while they ensure that they can make a living from alternative work. As more girls become trapped into prostitution in the cities of India, they need as many routes out of the trade - whether through courts or specialist NGOs – as possible.