21 Sep 2023  |   04:16am IST

Where art thou?

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. It is modern-day slavery, but it is truly an indictment on contemporary society that outwardly frowns upon slavery but remains silent on human trafficking
Where art thou?

Peter Fernandes

The movie ‘Sound of Freedom’ tries to awaken the consciousness in society about an unimaginable injustice inflicted on millions of innocent children around the world who are subjugated to unthinkable pain, loss of human dignity, and freedom through human trafficking, mainly for sex trade. 

The movie is about an incredible true story that shines a light on even the darkest of places. A former government agent turned vigilante who embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue hundreds of children from sex traffickers is an indictment on contemporary society that boasts about advanced civilization with science and technology. The shadow world of the powerful is dangerous, immoral, unjust, and inhuman, yet it thrives in every country around the world with the help of modern advancements. Humans have not learned the lesson from the first crime recorded in the Bible, but instead, they continue to walk the path of crime and injustice. When asked, humans provide a similar answer: Afterward, the Lord asked Cain, where is your brother? Where is Abel? I don’t know, Cain responded. Am I my brother’s guardian?

Human trafficking – violation of human rights: Human trafficking is not a myth but a vicious and treacherous act that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labour or commercial sex. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. It is modern-day slavery, but it is truly an indictment on contemporary society that outwardly frowns upon slavery but remains silent on human trafficking. What hypocrisy!  Although it is illegal under the Indian Constitution (“Trafficking in human goods or persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23(1)”), yet it is growing rampantly and is a daily phenomenon. Human trafficking has been identified as the third largest source of profit for organised crime, following arms and drug trafficking, generating billions of dollars annually at the global level. Who will understand the plight of the victims of human trafficking? Those affected are reduced to shadow existence or like dead people walking. Kahlil Gibran says, “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Reducing humans to the state of animals through the form of bonded labourers and forced sex workers bespeaks of the inhumanity of modern society. And therefore, who hears their cry? Should their cry be heard? “Where art thou?”

Human trafficking is a global pandemic: Human trafficking is a global pandemic, and India contributes a big chunk to the tally, mainly due to poverty, illiteracy, and caste dominance. While half of those affected by modern slavery are in forced labour, the second most prevalent type of trafficking is sex trafficking. The majority of the victims of sex trafficking are women and girls. Although sex outside marriage is considered taboo in India, rape and molestation are daily occurrences. In the recent past, some gruesome crimes against young girls in India came to light, and the whole world took notice of them. Yet, the ratio with regards to sexual crimes against the so-called weaker sex has not reduced. A glaring example of a shameful parading of naked young girls in Manipur that was kept unwrapped for over two months by the ruling dispensation, is an indicator of the mindset of the nation. Otherwise, how does one explain the high rate of crimes against young girls and women and how perpetrators go unpunished? And the victims cry out, “Where art thou?”

Major cities and tourist destinations are sexual hotspots 

The sexual hotspots are everywhere, but the tourist destinations and major cities are weaved with underworld syndicates that go mostly unnoticed. It is a terrible and diabolic system controlled by national and international mafias. The victims are mostly hijacked from war zones, natural disasters, and other calamity areas. Recently, it was reported that over 2000 children have gone missing from Maui, Hawaii, after a fire devastated the town. Sadly, for those caught up in their web, escape is merely impossible, and for those subjugated, they are reduced to a mere shadow existence of pain, sorrow, isolation, and lamentation that no one wants to listen to. And yet, the echo reverberates: “Where art thou?” 

The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956 is the only legislation that specifically addresses trafficking and is currently pending amendment. It penalises the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation. Does the government care about human trafficking, which results in bonded labourers and sexual exploitation of underage girls and women, or is the government more interested in flying kisses? 

Amazing grace is a saving grace

John Newton was a slave trader who had a life-changing experience that he attributes to “Amazing Grace”, which changed him from being a wretched human being to a soldier of peace and freedom. Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel Prize winner, & social reformer campaigned against child labour in India and elsewhere and advocated the universal right to education. There are millions who are waiting to be rescued. There are millions of parents crying for their children, but will their cry evoke consciousness for righteousness in this dark world? Yes, indeed, the drum beat for “Sound of Freedom” against human trafficking has to gain momentum of consciousness in order to produce many more like Tim Ballard, Kailash Satyarthi and John Newton. 

Human trafficking is a grave institutional sin, and this blot ought to be wiped out of our civilization for all to enjoy peace, justice, equality, fraternity, and liberty. Let there be no more crying: “Where art thou?” 

(Peter Fernandes is a Priest based at Pilar, Goa)


Idhar Udhar