West Bengal: The epicentre of India's child trafficking crisis

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward and words by Sanjay Jha, ITV News, Sundarbans,  India

The pandemic in India has increased child trafficking and the east Indian state of  West Bengal has become a hub from where girls are trafficked into the commercial sex trade across the country.

The area has registered an astonishingly high number of trafficking cases.

The hundreds of unsuspecting young girls and women who left their homes were promised a better future by traffickers, posing as well-wishers.

A significant number of these girls were almost certainly sold to brothels.

Lured by new boyfriends, strangers, and sometimes even family members, these girls are sold to brothels across India.

Most of the girls who are trafficked fall for promises of employment or marriage because they’re desperate to flee the grinding toil of their everyday life.

This mother is still waiting for news of her 17-year-old daughter who is believed to have been taken by traffickers:

First they are tricked into marrying traffickers, and then taken to one of India's big city on the pretext of getting employment - there they are sold to brothels.

"We are witnessing a spike in cases of trafficking in impoverished regions like the Sunderbans delta - which is battling the twin blows of the pandemic and the Amphan cyclone," said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini - a Delhi-based NGO which  has rescued hundreds of  women from brothels.

“Girls as young as 14 are going missing overnight... these girls will land up in brothels in cities like Mumbai and Delhi."

The Sundarbans are a collection of densely populated islands in India’s sprawling Ganges Delta.

This remote region, on the Indian-Bangladesh border, has always been vulnerable to the malice of human traffickers.

The devastating effects of climate change related natural disasters, like cyclone Amphan, often exacerbate the vulnerability of individuals.

The impoverished families are often forced to send their young children, as young as 14-years-old, to work in factories or small shops in order to earn.

Rishi Kant - who has rescued hundreds of girls from prostitution - says the traffickers often deceive young girls and families with fake promises of marriage or employment.

The girls are then abducted and sold into prostitution or are made to work as domestic workers, sometimes even as far away as the middle-east.

These girls are never able to come back to their families. 

He says that traffickers have found a new modus operandi to target the vulnerable.

They lurk around mobile recharge shops where these girls, mostly school going, go to get their cell phones recharged, and copy their numbers from the register.

Though a lot of luring is done in the form of marriage proposals, traffickers are finding traps beyond this. They also peddle the idea of well-paying jobs in big metro cities.

It starts with missed calls, WhatsApp messages, and even the gifting of new mobile phones.

A few weeks later, once the woman's confidence has been won, the trafficker will tell her that he has got a job in Delhi and his parents are likely to get him married.

Volunteers from Rishi Kant’s organisation work with police officers and regularly visit schools and colleges and urge girls not to respond to missed calls from unknown numbers.