Trafficking in persons has emerged as a major crime in Assam, one that has assumed alarming proportions in certain districts spread across the State. A front-page news-story in this newspaper on Monday has said that as much as 80 per cent of the victims is women and children, most of them below twenty years of age. Six districts – Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Morigaon, Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Karbi Anglong – have been identified as the worst-affected, while the fact remains that Udalguri, Chirang, Golaghat, Baska, Dima Hasao and Barpeta too are no less affected by this menace. In 2015, Assam accounted for a little over 22 per cent of all the child trafficking cases registered in the country, and occupied the top position among all States, a distinction for which the government should be ashamed of. Though no official statistics have been released for the subsequent years, the trend must be still the same, if not more intense. That the Government of Assam has not been able to claim improvement of the situation is enough to suspect that things are only worsening every passing year. While poverty and economic backwardness are said to be the two major reasons that drive people into traps laid by traffickers, the increasing trend of trafficking only prove wrong the government’s tall claims of development happening in the State. What is most disturbing is that prevention of trafficking in persons is not a priority issue on the agenda of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, his Government and his party. Sonowal or any of his Ministers, including the Social Welfare Minister, is hardly heard talking about the problem of trafficking. Thus, the MLAs and MPs of the State also do not talk about trafficking in persons. There is no denying the fact that the crime of human trafficking affects women, men and children – both girls and boys – in every country and comprises many forms of exploitation. These include sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, and other practices that are similar to slavery.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – UNODC – some 72 per cent of the detected trafficked victims across the globe are women and girls, who together represent the vast majority of the detected victims for sexual exploitation and account for 35 per cent of the detected victims for forced labour. Child victims continue to be identified in greater numbers, and this is evident from the number of children going missing across Assam every year. In Assam, the Railway Protection Force has a major role to play because the traffickers use trains to take the victims out of Assam. It is appreciable that in 2018, the RPF had apprehended 20 human traffickers by carrying out special drives in trains and in certain railway stations. It was in May this year that the RPF had arrested two human traffickers, one of them a woman, from the Guwahati Railway Station. Three minor girls were rescued from their clutches even as they were being taken out to Delhi. Interestingly, while there is a general perception that the traffickers come from Haryana, Siliguri, Delhi and Mumbai, the fact remains that most of them are from the State itself. In the May incident, two of the three traffickers apprehended by the RPF hailed from Sivasagar and Tinsukia. The Assam Police had a few years ago created ‘Anti-Human Trafficking Units’ in all districts of the State to effectively combat crimes related to trafficking in persons. But then, though 10 of these 35 Anti-Human Trafficking Units have been funded by the Ministry of Home Affairs, these have not been successful in really checking the traffickers and bringing trafficking to an end. The Assam Police, in its website, claims to have a number of NGOs, apart from government departments like Social Welfare, Labour and Health on board, apart from the Village Defence Organization. Officials of these departments and NGOs are supposed to be working at tandem for gathering intelligence and run campaigns to make the people aware of trafficking. The panchayat officials are also required to generate awareness and keep an eye on unscrupulous elements including strangers as well as local conduits who are out to lure young women in the name of jobs and better life. But in reality, most of the panchayat members and officials are simply unaware of what trafficking is all about and what role they are required to play. Readers of this newspaper must be noticing how frequently advertisements are issued by the Police department, especially of Udalguri and a few other districts, about missing persons – most of whom are young women – who are definitely none else but victims of trafficking.