Michael, his wife Shanti and their three-year-old son Krishna enjoy the sun and surf on the beaches of Goa. They have returned after a five-year stay away. Michael and his family have come back to their roots where the offshoots of their small family sprouted.
Michael is a Belgium citizen. Shanti traces her roots to the southern state of Karnataka
and was until five years ago a sex worker in the red light district of Baina in the port town of Vasco in the state of Goa. But her life took a new twist when her last customer in the course of time became her husband.
Shanti has been fortunate. Others have been less fortunate. Many of Shanti’s former colleagues continue to be exploited and to lead a life of misery.
Human trafficking has been a cause of concern throughout the world. India
figures among the 39 countries placed on a special watch list that demands attention from the concerned countries under a 2003 United States (US) law.
Goa was one of the beneficiaries of a two-year US government funded program by the United Nations Office on drugs and crime. Similar programs took place in the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal
and Andhra Pradesh.
The program sensitises the police and the other law enforcement agencies in dealing with the problem of human trafficking.
Five years earlier, Shanti used to earn anything between 100 and 500 Indian rupees a day as a commercial sex worker. She endured and wishes to reach out to some of her old friends. She was on a visit to her old place of business.
A host of changes had taken place in the city. In 2004, the state government had demolished the illegal cubicles where Shanti and her colleagues operated on Baina Beach.
Some of her colleagues had been deported back to their home states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Others have eluded the police and continue to operate in the port town. Some have even been successfully rehabilitated back into society. There are those who have died due to aids. And there are those who are carrying the HIV virus.
During her visit, she met Gauri. Gauri, like many others in the trade, has no choice about whether her customer must use a condom or not. Numerous workshops have passed the message to the sex workers in the state, but they are in precarious situation. If they insist that the customer use a condom, they run the risk of losing the business.
A 2004 behavioural surveillance survey at Baina found out that only 69 per cent of the customers used condoms regularly while having sex with commercial sex workers. Educating the commercial sex workers has focussed on free condom distribution and creating awareness of the dangers of having unprotected sex with customers.
They know they are at risk when a customer does not use a condom, but that is a peril of the trade. Gauri’s plight started when she was dedicated to the Goddess Yellama in the southern state of Karnataka; having attained puberty, she was trafficked to Baina for prostitution.
Prakash Kanekar, project director for the Goa
State AIDS Control Society (GSACS), is a concerned man. With the demolition of the Baina cubicles, his task has been rendered more difficult.
The commercial sex workers have moved all over the state and are not just confined to one area. He admits that the trade has gone where tourists arrive in large numbers.
“It is now extremely difficult to identify a commercial sex worker,” Kanekar said.
That explains the plight of the state. Girls are constantly trafficked to meet the demand created by a flourishing tourism industry and the numerous ships that anchor in the port city of Baina.
The 2004 Goa Children’s Act set up a children’s court in response to an increase in child abuse. The law underwent an amendment in 2005 to categorise sexual abuses -- grave sexual assault, sexual assault and incest.
Grave sexual assault includes offenses such as making children pose for pornographic films, making children have sex with each other and deliberately causing injury to the sexual organs of a child.
Since the court was set up, the state has registered 140 cases -- 132 involved sexual abuse.
Goa first made headlines in 1991 when the first case of a pedophile racket was cracked by the police. Freddy Peats, a 71-year-old Eurasian, was arrested and subsequently sentenced for his role -- he ran a racket under the guise of a home for destitute children.