Evidence of meeting #68 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was india.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dipesh Tank  Project Director, Rescue Foundation
Joshy Jose  Senior Director, Implementation, Breakthrough Trust

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Good afternoon, everyone. We're going to call to order this 68th meeting of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. We are continuing our study on human trafficking in South Asia.

We have two witnesses joining us today from quite a distance. First, we have Mr. Joshy Jose, the director of implementation for Breakthrough Trust, joining us from New Delhi. In the trust's own words, “Breakthrough seeks to make discrimination and violence against women and girls unacceptable everywhere and in all its forms, including domestic violence, sexual harassment in public spaces, early marriage, and gender-biased sex selection.”

We also have Mr. Dipesh Tank, the project director for the Rescue Foundation, a non-governmental organization, who is joining us today from Mumbai. The Rescue Foundation's key activities revolve around the rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation of victims of commercial sexual exploitation in India, those who are trafficked within India, or from Bangladesh or Nepal. Specifically, the Rescue Foundation investigates reports of missing girls who may have been trafficked, rescues victims with the help of local police, rehabilitates those rescued by providing food, shelter, health care, vocational training, and legal aid, and repatriates these girls to their families or to other NGOs.

Again, I want to thank you both for being here to provide testimony to us for our ongoing study. With that, if I can give you both seven minutes each for opening remarks, then we will open the floor to questions from members of the committee.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Tank, please begin.

1:05 p.m.

Dipesh Tank Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Thank you very much, everybody. My warm regards from India.

Rescue Foundation is a non-profit that works primarily in rescue missions. For the last 20 years we have been rescuing young girls, especially girls who are minors, from brothels, red light areas, guest houses, and various other such places across the country. With about 150 spies around the country, we deal with and get sensitive information from them. Our primary job is to get the girls out of the brothels and those places where they are being exploited. Then we bring them to our shelter home and fight a massive legal battle; post the legal battle part, we give them the ability to bounce back in society.

The primary reason that most of these girls are pushed into prostitution is poverty. The number one state in India where human trafficking happens is West Bengal, and the number one state in India where minor girls are being pushed into prostitution is Rajasthan.

One of the primary reasons in West Bengal is poverty. There is a lack of opportunities in that region, so often young girls, orphaned girls, are fooled by traffickers and pimps in the hope getting a better job and livelihood. They have been brought to larger, metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and other places, and sold into brothels.

Unfortunately, because of the social stigma around the whole idea of red light areas and brothels, no sane person travels through them to hear their voices when they're screaming, when they've just been brought to the brothels and realize they have been pushed into prostitution. After a point they give up; then the whole unfairness and exploitation starts.

The Rescue Foundation works closely with the police and security agencies to raid these places, rescue them, and bring them back. In our shelter we give them basic education in English and Hindi and vocational training, and we teach them how they can go back and earn a livelihood with dignity. That's what Rescue Foundation does.

That's about it.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much.

Mr. Jose.

1:05 p.m.

Joshy Jose Senior Director, Implementation, Breakthrough Trust

Hello.

Breakthrough Trust is a human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Breakthrough's intervention in India addresses the issue of gender-biased sex selection, or the practice of girls not being allowed to be born. Domestic violence, which makes homes one of the most vulnerable places for women, is another issue we address. We've been running a campaign called Ring the Bell, or Bell Bajao, which addresses domestic violence.

In early marriage, a girl is forced to be married before the age of 18 against her own wishes. She completely loses her childhood and faces severe forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.

Most of Breakthrough's interventions are designed to empower adults and girls from vulnerable communities. Breakthrough works in around 4,000 villages in the states of U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, and Delhi. Many of these villages are ruled by upper-caste men. The caste system is very much prevalent in India, and caste-based atrocities are quite common.

Many of the villages are in geographically vulnerable areas. The eastern U.P., where we work, is just adjacent to the Nepal border, where trafficking of boys and girls is quite prevalent both to and from Nepal. These are villages where we work in India.

Most of the villages where we work are ruled by panchayat and are mostly governed by customary law. Customary laws are the laws of these villages, their own laws, which are based on norms. They are more powerful than the constitutional rights of the vulnerable communities, namely the minorities, the girls, the tribals, the women, and the invalids.

I'll give you an example of how customary laws differ from the law of the land. Suppose a girl gets raped, especially if she is from a village community. By customary law, the panchayat, the chiefs of the villages, come together and justice is decided in line with the perpetrator. They feel that justice is done if the perpetrator can marry the girl. In our eyes, this is not the justice we look for. Again, if she is from a village community, then her being alone is questioned. Instead of the perpetrator being punished, she and her family will be punished for her getting raped.

Girls are considered a burden as per the village norms, and since their safety is closely associated with the family's honour, their mobility is restricted, as well as access to critical services like health services. Education and skills are not considered a priority, compared to the safety concerns. According to this perception of girls, once they achieve puberty and are groomed to be married, they drop out of school and get malnourished and anemic. Since she is not aware of her rights and was taught early on to be silent and guard the honour of the family, the violence she faces at home and with her relatives is never spoken about. It doesn't come out.

Once she gets married, she doesn't have agency. With little negotiation skills, she faces huge domestic violence, physical and mental, but doesn't even realize this is violence.

In Haryana, where we work and where the practice of gender-biased sex selection is prevalent, in many of the villages there are 40-year-old men who are not married because there are no women in the villages. Instead of seeing that as something they need to change, they actually bring women from the other states, say from Jharkhand, where early marriage is quite prevalent. They literally buy them. Bride-buying is a practice that is being followed in Haryana, with brides from Jharkhand and other vulnerable states where tribals and different other minorities stay. They buy girls and bring them back to Haryana.

So this is one practice. For us this is very close to trafficking, so these girls are trafficked, and in many parts of India this practice is there.

In the districts where we work, closer to Nepal, the children, including boys and girls, are used as conduits to traffic goods, [Inaudible--Editor], petrol, and sometimes drugs across the border to Nepal, and from Nepal girls are trafficked to India. This happens in three stages. One group is trafficked to the border, and from the border to the nearest transit city, which is Gorakpur, or Gaya. From there, they are trafficked to the bigger cities like Mumbai and Delhi.

It's something that work on at Breakthrough to try to address the issue that emanates from poverty and lack of agency among girls. The girls can be rescued. The girls can be empowered so that they understand their rights and can escape trafficking.

I will stop here.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much to you both.

We'll move right along to questions, and we'll begin with MP Anderson.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank our witnesses for being with us here today.

Mr. Jose, I'd particularly like to acknowledge you and thank you for the work you're doing on gender-based sex selection. Unfortunately, it's a topic that our Parliament hasn't had the courage to deal with.

To both of you, I would like to talk about the return to the community of these young ladies. We've heard both in this study and in others of the challenges that face women if they go back to their community, particularly after they've been trafficked or involved in sexploitation.

I'm just wondering how successful are you at reintegrating young women back to their families and to their communities. Or, do you have to find alternative communities for them in many places so they can then begin a new life removed from the old one?

Can you talk a little bit to us about that? I think, Mr. Tank, you talked specifically about trying to do that. If either of you have comment on that, I'd like to hear it.

Let's hear from Mr. Tank first.

1:15 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

There are different scenarios in this. When a girl gets trafficked and she's into prostitution, there's a huge social stigma for the families connected or associated with her, because the family does not know that she's been pushed into prostitution. The trafficker tells the family that he's going to take her daughter or his daughter to a better job opportunity and then brings her to metropolitan cities and pushes her into the sex trade.

When the girl stays there for about a year, two years, or three years and then, when we rescue her and bring her to our shelter home, there is a legal process until that is is done, depending upon her age. If the girl is a minor, then she cannot leave our shelter home until she is 18, and she's allowed to make a decision on her own and of her choice.

Until then she is in our shelter home, but if she is an adult, above 18, then we do the proper home verification. It's important for us to understand under what circumstances that girl left that place, so we will send our people to any corner of the country to find out through the neighbours and through the communities in that area how that girl was sent from that place.

Depending upon that, her repatriation orders are placed because that particular report will be submitted to the court, to the police, and to the child welfare committee in India if she is a minor. Based on that, they will decide whether they want to send her back home or to keep her in our shelter home.

Many times the girls are really embarrassed and feel that something terrible has happened to them, and because of that, they can't go back to their village. Then we try to bring her opportunities within the city.

We have a group home scheme whereby we hire a place, a small place in Mumbai for about two or three girls, and they all stay together and work for themselves. That's how they've been working. But also in India, ultimately, the social rehabilitation is when you get them married.

As a non-profit, we find grooms who are willing to marry our girls, and there are proper steps and procedures for that. They have to give x amount of money that is kept in her name. There are certain laws and regulations that you have to follow once they get married. There are so many things that we do, and we get them married also, if she wants to.

At times girls come to us or our president and ask if we can help get them married, so we find the right people, and while she is living there we ensure, by making surprise visits, that she is fine and safe, and there are no problems for her.

We've been very successful on that front. It totally depends on the girl and what she wants to do.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

I want to ask a little bit about caste discrimination and whether that's a factor in this as well. Some of our information indicated that up to 62% of women in the commercial sex traffic belong to the scheduled castes. I'm wondering if you can talk a bit about that.

I assume that you have different challenges in trying to reintegrate those young ladies, as well as some of the other caste groups in the society.

1:15 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

Yes.

There are communities in India, which I don't want to name, where they sell their own daughters into prostitution. Unfortunately, it's a tradition where there is a process called nath-utarna, which means the nose ring. When a girl reaches puberty, the age of 13 or 14, she has been sold to one of the brothels or some man for x amount of money.

Unfortunately, that's the culture and it has been predominantly so. A lot of girls have been pushed from Rajasthan to various parts of the country. When a girl child is born, they rejoice, they celebrate.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

First of all, I'd like to ask about the U.N. Do you find them to be a help or a hindrance to you? There are lots of places where they've had a poor reputation around issues of sexploitation. Are they of assistance to you? Do you have much to do with them, or are you working with other NGOs? What NGOs are you working with?

1:15 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

We don't interact with the U.N. schemes or any such things. Unfortunately, we don't know how much impact that is having. I'm sure there is some. I don't want to contradict that.

We work with a lot of other non-profits near the Bay of Bengal in south India, and in north India.

We have three shelter homes across the country and across the state of Maharashtra. The fourth one is being set up in Delhi. One is in Mumbai; another is 150 kilometres from Mumbai. There is one in Pune, is about 250 kilometres from Mumbai. And one is being made in Delhi. Strategically, it's very important for us to have a shelter home in Delhi because a lot of repatriation and a lot of work happens with the Ministry of External Affairs. A lot of times, there are girls who are not from our country and have been trafficked here, so we have to deal with them. Hence, we have these four offices and shelter homes.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

What are the challenges around corruption?

Maybe both of you can answer that. Do you face them, or are you able basically to avoid having to deal with those issues?

1:20 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

Our job is very vulnerable. We have over 150 spies. These spies are not saints. He could be a criminal, she could be a criminal, or she could be a trafficker. We take benefit of who [Technical difficulty--Editor]. We will try to reach out to brothel owners and ask if they can give us information about the other brothel owners. Our job is so tough, and it cannot be done in the most saintly way.

When you talk about the police informers, or about any bigger agency informers, you have to get into the drain to clean the drain. It's not possible for you to remain clean. Unfortunately, we have to do this job for the larger good of the girls. At times, the trafficker will pay more money to the police and ask them to release a girl. We tell them that we'll give them more money than the trafficker if they give her to us. The only difference is that he will take her back to the brothel and we will take her to our shelter home and take care of her.

The challenges are massive. It's not easy to work with the kind of systems that are there, but we are very hopeful that things are changing. Thankfully, there is something called an anti-human trafficking cell in the state of Maharashtra that has been created. We work closely with them. I wish it were an ideal situation.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to MP Khalid, please.

June 13th, 2017 / 1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen, for the great work you're doing in the grassroots communities in India in helping such a vulnerable population.

I want to talk a little about the business of sex trafficking. You're in a very good place to understand who the perpetrators are. Are we talking about very complex, very big corporation-like operations that are in the business of making money from a commodity, which, in this instance, is women and girls? Or are we talking about something like a small-to-medium-sized enterprise, a small business?

Can you tell us about the people who are taking the women and girls and making money from them?

1:20 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

Thank you.

It's definitely a huge nexus. It's not an easy thing. Recently, just last year, because of one of our raids, one of the biggest traffickers in Delhi was caught. That man was worth millions of rupees. He had fancy cars, and that man and his wife were using them to traffic more than 5,000 minor girls across the country.

This whole nexus works and, unfortunately, they get away because of the loopholes in the law. There is something called investigating. For example, if I rescue a girl in Mumbai and I know that I can catch the brothel owner, I can catch the local trafficker. The local trafficker is this one point of contact for three to four other traffickers, which are on the route.

For example, if a girl has been trafficked from West Bengal, she has been trafficked by one guy who brings her to Delhi. From Delhi they will bring her to Pune. From Pune they will bring her to Mumbai.

There are multiple people playing this role, and the most unfortunate part is that there is nothing called an interstate investigation. When an inquiry has been lodged in Mumbai, the police do not have the power to go and investigate the matter in West Bengal or in Delhi or any other state outside the state of Maharashtra.

It becomes very difficult for us to catch the real perpetrators; hence, the trafficking never stops. We are working towards that point. Also, we will soon be filing a petition in the court to hold governments and security agencies responsible for this job and say that they should be going to different states and they should be doing investigations.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

With respect to the new legislation that India has put in place trying to combat human trafficking, what do you think are the challenges that India faces in enforcing those laws?

1:25 p.m.

Project Director, Rescue Foundation

Dipesh Tank

I think there are big challenges. One of the biggest challenges is manpower. I'm saying that it's the job of the police, but they are so understaffed. They are working in their own best way.

It gets very difficult to do that. Also, one of the biggest stigmas in this country, and we are working towards this, is that a lot of people are being misguided and misled by people saying they do it by choice.

Understand that there is this understanding in our country that red light areas and brothels are our need. If you go on the street to find out, they will tell you, yes, it's important because apparently it keeps the sexually frustrated men calm, so that they can go to the brothels and satisfy themselves. That's the biggest myth because I don't know how that is helping to keep the sexual offences low in this country.

There is a massive sensitization program that has been needed to ask why you want to sacrifice someone's daughter for somebody else's sexual frustration. We feel really unfortunate and we find the biggest challenge in fighting this, because at every step, whether it's a donor or whether it's the police or whether it's government officials, it's just difficult to make them understand that it's not fair to let any girl get exploited.

I don't understand this choice, because there are girls who are nine years old and 10 years old who have been bought at brothels. I don't understand. At the age of 18 when she becomes an adult, she's not going to choose to become an air force pilot.

It is because she is living in those conditions that she will choose to be that. It's not a fair choice. As a society we have failed to create that choice for her.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Jose, you spoke a little bit about the panchayat. I want to ask you—

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Ms. Khalid, I think we had lost Mr. Jose and then we got him back. I saw him briefly, but he appears to be gone again.

Oh, you're there?

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Are you there? Hello.

Mr. Jose, can you hear us?

1:25 p.m.

Senior Director, Implementation, Breakthrough Trust

Joshy Jose

I'm here.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Fantastic. You spoke a little bit about the panchayat and the enforcement of customary laws within villages. I wanted to ask you if panchayats work with local law enforcement in terms of education or raising awareness or working on social issues within a community, or is it more caste based and very conservative thinking that's implemented through the panchayat in small communities?

1:25 p.m.

Senior Director, Implementation, Breakthrough Trust

Joshy Jose

If you look at the panchayat, you'll see it has a dual role.

Can you hear me?