Extreme poverty, lack of awareness and hunger made me so stubborn that I decided to run away from home, just to earn money and feel independent. It was a big mistake. I trusted a stranger over my family members. It taught me a great lesson! Today, when I look back, I feel I was among very few lucky girls who could escape from being trafficked, and I got saved,”- says Kamalini (name changed), a human trafficking survivor.
Kamalini was born in 2003 in a tribal villagein the Kandhamal District in Odisha. Her parents worked as marginalized farmers, owning a small piece of land, with their farming entirely dependent on monsoon. The family’s monthly income was around Rupees 1500 – such was the extent of the poverty they were mired in. While in school, Kamalini worked on the farm along with her parents. She had the additional responsibility of taking care of her two younger sisters and doing household chores. Since her childhood, she always questioned her parents about why she has to take up so many responsibilities. She wanted to be independent and earn her own money. She suppressed all these feelings but when until she turned 15. It was then that due to financial constraints, she had to drop out of school after class 9.
Kamalini reached out to her extended family members, relatives, and villagers to look for employment opportunities in cities. She used to watch movies and developed an interest in working in a big company.Eventually, she came in contact with a woman who was offering jobs to young girls. Kamalini got excited about this job offer that involved working in an office. Her excitement was more than enough for the woman to make use of this opportunity to take advantage of Kamalini. Shepromised her a good salary also gave her some money as advance. Kamalini couldn’t stop herself from taking up such a “lucrative”offer. She felt as if her dreams were about tocome true. By this time, Kamalini was under the influence of this woman, the trafficker and started following her blindly.
Everything happened so fast and within three days of her interaction with the woman, Kamalini left home, leaving behind her parents and siblings. The woman took her to the nearest bus stop, ‘Balliguda’ and from there to Muniguda railway station where she were to board a train. Once she was on the train, she met five other adolescent girls from her neighbouring villages. It was their first train journey. Everything seemed perfect so far. Six of them were sitting in one compartment, whereas the trafficker travelled in the next one. The sitting arrangement was made like this to avoid unnecessary attention from people. During the journey, the lady kept coming in between to the girls’ compartment to keep an eye on them. While interacting with other girls, Kamalini got to know that they were heading to Kerala, whereas she was told that her job was in an office in Bangalore.And this was the beginning of confusion in her mind.
Kamalini went to the woman to clarify her doubts. She was very rude while talking to Kamalini and told her that they were headed to Bangalore and not Kerala. Her rude behaviour started ringing alarm bells in Kamalini’s mind and she started observing her more closely. Most of the time, the woman was on the phone. Kamalini managed to eavesdrop and hear her conversation with someone as she talked about how the girls were on their way. Kamalini was not familiar with any other language except her native language, and initially, she was a bit hesitant to ask for help from her fellow passengers.
It has now started turning into an ordeal for Kamalini. Suddenly, the woman instructed all six girls to get off at the next station. By now, Kamalini had had enough! She stood up to the trafficker and also stopped other girls from getting off the train. Kamalini got into an argument the woman and her voice became louder, which caught the attention of fellow passengers.
In this whole melee, Kamalini rushed to the Ticket Checker on the train and narrated the entire situation. The trafficker got down at the next station and disappeared within seconds. Kamalini was taken to the Railway Police in Andhra Pradesh, where she narrated the incident in her native language. One fellow passenger helped in Hindi translation.
Kamalini says that the confidence to do all this came from the few Save the Children’s ‘Life Skill Education’ training sessions she had attended in the past. She had also participated in our ‘Lalita & Babu’ sessions in her village and was also a discussion Leader. Her courage to confront the trafficker and reach out to the Ticket Checker and then to the police by taking support from her fellow passengers came from what she learned during Save the Children’s life skillssessions.
The Railway Police rescued all six girls and contacted the Superintendent of Police, of Kandhamal for their repatriation. To ensure their safety, the girls were kept for five days in Andhra Pradesh Police until a police representative came from Kandhamal to take them back. This story came to light in September 2019. Within three months, the local police busted the trafficking racket. The woman who lured Kamalini into this was identified and convicted. The police did a thorough investigation of this episode and found out about a certain sex racket. These teenagers were to be sold for flesh trade in Chennai.
Kamalini is not alone. Every year, numerous children, especially girls, get trafficked.These girls come from the hinterlands of India and tempted with fake opportunities of making it big in metro cities. Many of them are sold as domestic workers, some are abused and some even sexually exploited.
Today, Kamali says, “It was a mistake on my part that I didn’t even discuss anything with my parents and I thought I was mature enough to decide for myself. Thanks to Save the Children, which taught me how to deal with any crisis through life-skills education sessions, I got saved. I will never forget my five days stay in police custody. With such experience, I have become a safety net for other teenagers in my area, so that they don’t commit the same mistake which I did.”
July 30th will be observed as World Day against Trafficking in Persons. This year’s theme will focusing on the first responders to human trafficking.