Sex Trafficking in India and Why Dignified Employment Matters: Kolkata

As Dawn visits with sewing centers and potential partners in six different cities during the next three weeks, we'll be talking about each city in more detail on the blog. As it's National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month in the US in January, it's a good time to learn more about what those words mean.

Why are some places hubs for trafficking? What makes people vulnerable to trafficking? How are women viewed here? These are some of the questions we'll explore to see why each of these cities needs more opportunities for dignified employment.

Sex trafficking in India looks different than it does in Thailand, Cambodia, or the United States. Makes sense, right? Different place, different issues, and different systems of oppression. The basic issue is the same, but what leads to its prevalence differs.

Kolkata, the city Dawn will fly into today, has the 5th highest population density out of all of India. Kolkata is home to over four and a half million people, about 24,000 per square kilometer.

Recent news reports show that around two-thirds of the entire population of India earns less than $2 per day, which means that around 750 million people are living on much less than a living wage.

In the same HuffPost article that talks about these low wages, a graph compares official minimum wages across the globe; India ranks at $.28, compared with $7.25 in the United States and $16.88 in Australia. The author says that India's economy rests on the shoulders of underpaid workers, meaning that if these people did not work at a deprivation wage, the entire system would collapse. A common mindset in India is that if people are earning poverty-level wages, it's better than making no money at all.

How does wage earning connect with sex trafficking in India? With four and a half million people in 185 square kilometers, competition for jobs is stiff. When someone is desperate for a job, any offer seems viable and acceptable, even if it is a low wage with long hours and an abusive or coercive boss. 

The TIP report says the most common strategy traffickers use in India is to promise a job in another area, only to enslave the woman or child. People need work in order to live, even if it means leaving home and earning a low wage. Because there is such a low level of awareness about the immense amount of sex trafficking in India, people have less reason to suspect that their loved ones are headed into a life of bondage rather than employment.

The devaluation of women and girl children plays a key role in trafficking in Kolkata, which is located in the West Bengal region of India (think opposite of Mumbai, bordering Bangladesh, in the middle of the east side of the country). Not only in the red light district, Sonagachhi, reportedly the second largest in all of Asia, but throughout the villages surrounding the city, traffickers find vulnerable people to trick into slavery. The villages of West Bengal are commonly called "source villages" for this reason, as the women and children coming out of it are considered a resource, something to be used rather than employed.

Sex trafficking in India looks different in each city. As Dawn travels to Bangalore later this week, we'll talk more about the way women are viewed there and in India in general and what makes them vulnerable to traffickers.