|Rubina's emotional reunion with her beloved grandmother/Fjona Hill|
India is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women, right after Afghanistan, DRC and Pakistan, according to a newly released global survey by the Thompson Reuters Foundation (I wrote a blogpost about the report a couple of weeks ago). This unexpected distinction for the world’s largest democracy is due largely to the high numbers of women and girls trafficked in the country every year.
It is estimated that 100 million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in trafficking in India in 2009 alone, according to the report. Across the world, some of 1.2 million children are trafficked every year into prostitution, forced labour, child marriage, begging and other slavery-like conditions.
Rubina is one of them. She was just ten when her father took her away from their small rural village in India’s Andhra Pradesh and sold her as a domestic slave in nearby Bangalore.
Photographer Fjona Hill followed her return home, after the little girl ran away and was taken to a Government’s Girls Home. There, Oasis, an NGO working with trafficked children, gave her counselling, traced her parents and brought her home.
Although Rubina was luckier than most trafficked children, her story is fairly typical.
She lived with her parents, two young sisters and an elder bother in Chinampalle, a small Muslim village of 500 mud huts, where people eke out a meagre living off farming and stone mining.
Her father, a stone miner, could only find work two or three days a week, while her mother worked as a coolie (carrier) and toiled in the fields. The family often went without food, and was in debt. Rubina frequently bunked school and her father was convinced she was mentally unstable.
|Rubina arrives at her village and looks for her family/ Fjona Hill|
Like most trafficked victims, Rubina had no idea what awaited her in Bangalore. Her father had told her he was taking her to an Islamic school, but sold her to a lady as a domestic servant instead.
In her case, the “dalal”, as recruiters are known in India, was her father – and that is not uncommon. Many children from poor families are sold by parents and relatives, who might not grasp the full implication of their actions. Dalals can also be friends, neighbours, people who have been trafficked themselves, as well as corrupt police officers, passport officials and taxi/rickshaw drivers. They haunt bus stops, railway stations and streets of deprived areas looking for potential victims, and use drugs, abduction, kidnapping, persuasion and deception to catch them.
|Rubina kneels at her mother's feet as she explains where she had been taken by her father. A woman from the village looks on/Fjona Hill|
Rubina managed to escape, something few achieve, and was welcomed back into her village. The village elders disciplined the father. If she had been trafficked as a sex worker instead of a domestic servant, she might have been rejected by her family or her family would have been forced to leave their village because of the stigma and shame brought onto the household.
Oasis workers have been visiting Rubina recently. “She is now doing well and going to school, and the whole village are keeping an eye on her,” says Anita Kanaiya, Oasis executive director.