After riots, girls fall prey to sex trade in Kandhamal

March 22nd, 2012 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Kandhamal (Odisha), March 22 (IANS) Abject poverty is pushing many young girls from Odisha’s Kandhamal district, that witnessed terrible communal riots in August 2008, into the sex trade. Girls from Kandhamal have been rescued from the sex trade in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and even as far off as Kerala, activists say.

“The riots left hundreds of families homeless, forcing them to move into relief camps. There were many families which were left broken. As it is, the social economy of this place was not good…the violence brought about more unemployment, pushing people to the brink,” Hari Shankar Rout, a social activist working in Kandhamal, told IANS.

“In the face of abject poverty, a number of young girls are falling prey to sex trade, even in the (relief) camps. And the biggest tragedy is that the parents’ of these girls are in the know, but are helpless,” he added.

Kandhamal district, about 200 km from state capital of Bhubaneshwar, witnessed widespread violence following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram in August 2008.

At least 38 people were killed and more than 25,000 Christians were forced to flee after their houses were attacked by mobs that held Christians responsible for Saraswati’s killing, although the police blamed the Maoists.

According to Rout, most of the women moving into sex trade are in the age group of 15-30.

“The agent, or middleman, offers to pay the girl anywhere between Rs.8,000-20,000 for a period of 45 days. In the face of poverty and hunger, while the families may not voice their consent, they remain quiet,” he said.

A number of girls are taken out of Odisha, to the nearby states of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, for sex trade, activists say. Cases of trafficking are also on the rise.

A 2010 status report on the effects of the riot on the children of Kandhamal by child rights organisation HAQ said: “There is a lack of a protective umbrella on these children, making them easy prey to trade and trafficking.”

“Some of these children have already been forced to adulthood by migrating to work outside the state, and cases of trafficking, especially among young girls, are emerging everyday.”

“Criminal elements have started preying on the helpless women and girls of the district (Kandhamal). The rescue of several such girls from places as far as Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh just reaffirms our fear that there is a rise in such cases,” Ajaya Kumar Singh, a social worker in Bhubaneshwar, told IANS.

Rituparna Das, another activist, further claimed that there has been a rise in cases of sex trafficking of young girls from Kandhamal.

Meanwhile, there is a similar story unfolding in the nearby district of Rayagada - a Maoist affected area.

According to social activists working here, young girls are being knowingly let into the sex trade by their parents - both because of poverty, and harassment in the hands of the Maoists.

“Poverty is an over reigning issue. But in Rayagada, families are also scared that their child may be forced into Naxal activities, or be sexually harassed by them. Hence, in a large number of cases, the parents feel that it’s better that they get into the sex trade and go out of the state,” Prabhat Kumar Satpathy of the NGO, Universal Service Organisation, told IANS.

“Around 80 percent of these girls are in the age group of 14-20, and most of such cases are from the tribal dominated areas like Chandrapur, Muniguda and Gurari,” he added.

The girls are offered a contract of 40 days - which includes 30 working days, one holiday and time off during their menstrual cycle. They are paid around Rs.6,000, with ‘perks’ like a new set of clothes and a trip to the movies.

“The girls have to entertain at least 10 clients a day. This has become a cause of grave concern for us, and there is a constant risk of high HIV prevalence,” Satpathy said.

More employment opportunities and an overall improvement in the socio-economic status of the people in these places is the only way to save them, activists conclude.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.rahman@gmail.com)

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