Mumbai: Human trafficking not priority of general police, but special cells

Mumbai: The Director General of Police Satish Mathur announced recently that human trafficking would be brought under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and the Anti-human Trafficking units(AHTUs) would be further strengthened. The Free Press Journal took a reality check on the problems facing officers during rescue operations and repatriation of trafficked girls.

Speaking to the FPJ, Triveni Acharya, Director and Co-founder of Rescue Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation for rehabilitation of sex trafficked girls, said, “In the last three years, the police have been sensitised and have become techno savvy. Earlier, the local police stations were authorised to conduct raids. However, after the AHTUs have been formed, the intervention of local police stations has reduced. We directly send a message to the units along with the location of trafficked girls and within ten minutes, they are ready for the search operation.”

“Unlike terrorism, detection of human trafficking is not a priority for the police since they are busy with bandobast and detecting other crimes,” said a member of an NGO.

“Earlier, the local police had a hidden agenda and they would leak the information prior to the raids. Sometimes, the informers would leak it to get haftas from those involved in sex trafficking trade. At times, although the immigration officers are aware that the girl is being trafficked from India to abroad, they issue fake passports and visas and get all the documentation process cleared. Most of the girls are trafficked on work visas for menial jobs for a period of three months. Later they are abandoned by the perpetrators,” said Acharya.

Pratibha Ovhal, district women and child development officer of Mumbai Suburban, said, “Since cybercrimes are increasing, sex workers are now contacted through internet sites and mostly through WhatsApp. The latest trend is of girls being taken for a one-month vacation. An increasing number of housewives have been working as sex workers.”

“When the rescued girls are kept at Navjeevan home in Deonar, we carry out proper questioning in a sensitised manner. We ask them to contact the relatives in their native place and to keep the phone on speaker. If we have a doubt that it’s a pimp on the other end, we counsel the girls. The girls usually have a tendency to shield the pimps, agents and the owners of brothels. They have a sympathy factor towards the accused. In that case, we appeal to the court to pass an order that the girl be kept in our custody for a year,” said Ovhal.

Acharya states that a girl who was working at White House dance bar in Mira Road until 2014 is now working as a journalist. “I had received a phone call from her that she wanted to be rescued to transform her life. When I asked if she was trafficked or had joined as per her free will, she said she had willingly joined the trade. But, the fact is that most women are forced into this trade and even in the case of sex workers, they do not want any man to violate their bodies. Nobody is born a prostitute and they have all the rights to transform their lives,” said Acharya.

On July 29, the state government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with hotel owners to curb trafficking in hotels. “It is a good move. However, I am not sure how effective it would be to curb trafficking since it’s rampant in five-star hotels and police refuse to act upon it despite giving information at times,” said Acharya. “The customers should be booked for their acts under MCOCA,” added Ovhal.

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