Updated Dec 16, 2013
While the world keeps its eye on India and the plight of many women who face violence and harassment every day, India’s less talked about sexual exploitation has already seen positive change since the New Delphi rape shocked the nation into action one year ago.
Sex trafficking is another name for commercial rape. It exploits a society’s poorest and most disenfranchised women.
Considered a major victory for the women’s movement in India, the country passed a watershed Anti-Rape bill in March, which includes a section that criminalizes the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation and imposes strict punishment on customers and traffickers themselves – a first for the world’s largest democracy.
The human flesh trade has been a thriving industry in India since British times and before this year there was no law that targeted the offenders. Before independence the British had the Contagious Diseases Act, which gave licenses to brothels based on the condition that owners would ensure their prostitutes were disease-free. After gaining its freedom, India did not create new laws that prevented the exploitation of these women. Instead it punished the victims themselves for soliciting in public places.
What many people do not realize is that the trafficking of women in India is closely related to the skewed sex ratio that exists between men and women. There are an estimated 37 million less women than men, according to a 2011 census.
In many cases the flesh trade is internal. Indian states like Haryana where the gender ratio is more skewed than others are experiencing a growing demand for women and girls which is met by the poorer states. Women from states like Kerala or Bengal are eventually sold or coerced into forced marriages, according to a 2013 US State Department report.
The general preference given to males, the neglect of girls, and violence against women form the driving force behind India’s troubling statistics.
The problem was most notably highlighted by economist Amartya Sen in 1991 when he stated that Asia and North Africa was missing more than 100 million women due to gender selection and the mistreatment of women.
The topic of India’s would-be women has been discussed at length by academics and the media with relation to the abortion of female fetuses (illegal), the killing of women over dowry disputes, domestic violence and basic neglect.
India’s ‘missing’ women are not a coincidence.
They are the direct result of the deliberate persecution of one human being (gender) by another.
“Femicide.” That is what women’s rights advocate Ruchira Gupta calls it.
Founder of Apna Aap World Wide, Gupta has been working with victims of the commercial sex trade for over a decade and has been fighting to get the international community to recognize the issue. The organization played an important role in the first anti-trafficking legislation in the United States.
Apne Aap’s hard work, along with that of collaborating women’s organizations and individuals, finally paid off when trafficking was made a penal offense for the first time in India's history. It includes severe punishment for recruiters, transporters, agents, pimps, brothel managers and owners, landlords, financiers and clients.
In a Google Hang-out conversation with Carbonated.TV in August, the multi-award winning Gupta spoke about the flesh trade, the passage to the new anti-rape bill, and what the punishment for the Dec 16 rape perpetrators will mean for India.
For more information on what is being done to help eradicate the sexual exploitation of India’s poor women and girls, visit the foundation’s website.