South Asia has emerged as a leading region for sex trafficking. As the trend increases, dedicated efforts are required to eradicate this heinous practice. Human trafficking is the world’s third largest illicit profit-making industry and South Asia remains the second largest region that harbors this practice. A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health showed an estimated 150,000 girls and women were trafficked each year across the region. Human trafficking refers to forceful transportation, recruitment or harboring of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation. On most occasions, these trafficked victims are used for forced labor, organ removal, marriage or adoption.
Internal displacement due to conflict, poverty or lack of employment opportunities allows the vulnerable to be trafficked, thereby making cross-border trafficking commonplace in South Asia. Bangladesh, poverty stricken and overpopulated, provides a ready ground for traffickers in rural areas. In Nepal, statistics reveal that on average 12,000 Nepali women and minors are trafficked every year for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Most of these women are infected with HIV/AIDS and also tuberculosis.
On the other hand, most of India’s sex trafficking is internal; with states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and the Northeast leading the trend. Speaking at a South Asia Regional Conference in 2007, Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Labor and Employment stated, “Trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, is a heinous crime that violates all tenets of human rights and dignity.” Nearly three million sex workers exist in India where 40 per cent of them are children. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health, also released in 2007, shows that women sex-trafficked from Nepal to India were nearly 40 percent HIV-positive. The figure rose beyond 60 percent among younger girls who were sex trafficked prior to the age of 15.
According to UNODC7, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan are ranked at the top in the countries that traffic women and children, making commercial sexual exploitation common in the region.
Existing legislation against human trafficking within South Asia has also been insufficient due to limited awareness. Although the will to speak out against trafficking has increased immensely in the past five years, the movement remains at negligible levels. According to a recent survey by the National Human Rights Commission, in India only 7 percent of the police personnel have received any kind of training until now. The number of registered cases and the percentage of traffickers’ convictions are low. The victims are often ‘re-victimized’ when they are brought in contact with the law and are arrested on charges of soliciting.
On a positive note, South Asia has proven that with modest amounts of funding, focused advocacy targeting law enforcement and the political establishment, remarkable changes can take place. In 2007, New Delhi witnessed a series of brainstorming discussions that deemed sex trafficking a severe crime that must be treated with a holistic approach by the national governments as well as international agencies. Furthermore, local activists, the media and, most importantly, the youth were identified as the leading agents of greater awareness against the crime of sex trafficking in not only their respective countries, but in the region at large.