CHILD sex-trafficking has become the latest scourge of the Commonwealth Games.
There are reports of an alarming rise in the number of under-aged girls being lured to Delhi for work, only to be sold into prostitution.
The Indian Home Ministry issued an alert this month expressing “deep concern” at increasing reports that girls from some of India’s poorest tribal states, such as West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand, were being lured to Delhi with false promises of work at the Commonwealth Games.
The departmental advisory, issued to seven state governments and obtained by The Australian, says: “The victims are mostly those who are promised work in Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games by fraudulent placement agencies but instead are likely to be trafficked. Minor girls are the main target. Strict action is urgently required against those involved in such trafficking, both in the source, transit and destination areas.”
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Hundreds of young girls from poverty-stricken rural states are believed to have been successfully trafficked into the city’s burgeoning number of brothels, massage parlours and escort agencies.
Kailash Pathak fears his daughter is among them.
The Australian accompanied the frantic father from rural West Bengal this week as he searched seedy GB Road red-light-district brothels for any sign of 13-year-old Khushbu, while the trafficker who confessed to taking his daughter but denied she left against her will, languished in a police cell 200m away.
Known as Pappu Bagel, he confessed to The Australian that he had accompanied Khushbu out of the state, but said she had gone willingly. He no longer knew where she was.
Mr Pathak said he had tracked down and reported to police Pappu Bagel, who had been visiting a neighbour in his West Bengal village and had left at the time his daughter disappeared. “I rang him and said, ‘Have you taken my girl?’ And he said, ‘What if I have? What can you do about it?’
“I am absolutely helpless. I have no clue about how she’s being kept, what has been done to her. I have been on the (police) search team from one corner to the other and she’s not here.”
Delhi’s illegal but thriving prostitution racket has been gearing up for several months for the Commonwealth Games. Several establishments have reportedly been running basic English classes for their workers and renovating premises for foreign visitors.
Inside one GB Road brothel, The Australian saw a large flat-screen television fitted to the wall. “It’s so we can watch the Commonwealth Games,”a middle-aged female worker explained as two men worked on renovations in one of the adjacent tiled and toilet-sized rooms in which women ply their trade.
The woman said she had no under-aged workers in the brothel and did not tolerate traffickers peddling young girls.
Outside another nearby brothel, where a 16-year-old girl trafficked from Nepal was rescued by police just two days earlier, The Australian counted more than 100 men in the space of just 10 minutes descending the dingy, narrow stairs in packs of 20 or more.
One exiting client said the brothel had been renovated and was “first-class”.
Delhi police have raided a number of the city’s notorious GB Road red-light district in recent weeks. Under-aged girls from poor Indian states and as far away as Nepal – a notorious trafficking source country – have been placed under government care until they can be repatriated.
A police superintendent from one inner-city district said about 80 young girls had been seized from brothels and traffickers in the past six months.
Last month, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram called a meeting of police and officials from the tourism, labour and women’s ministries on the rise in trafficking – for prostitution and forced labour – before India’s largest sporting event.
Nishi Kant, from Delhi-based anti-trafficking network Shakhti Vahini, said his organisation had rescued 54 under-aged girls from the red-light district and the nearby New Delhi railway station in the past six weeks.
“The traffickers tell the girls and their families that they can get them good jobs in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, but once they land here they’re trafficked to various suburbs of Delhi and forced into prostitution,” he said.
“The Commonwealth Games has become a disaster in the context of child-trafficking because we’re seeing a clear rise in the number of cases.
“The poverty in these rural states makes them so vulnerable to trafficking of children. Everybody thinks that if you come to Delhi you will get a job, and these Games are rubbing salt in the wound.”
A spokeswoman for anti-trafficking organisation Apne Aap said there had been a huge rise in the number of classified ads in the weekend papers for brothels, escorts and massage parlours, compared with last year.