17 Sep 2023  |   05:31am IST

Menace of human trafficking continues unabated in Goa defying all laws

The Anjuna Police recently busted an international sex trafficking ring, operating between Kenya and India and arrested two Kenyans. The police also rescued five victims from Kenya. A Nigerian national who is involved in the racket, who was absconding, has been arrested. The rescued women have been lodged in the Protective Home at Merces. This incident is a grim reminder of the fact that Goa continues to be a major destination for sex trafficking. There are traffickers who are both from the country and internationally who are operating with absolute nonchalance, which is totally baffling. What is critical here is that there seems to be a complete lack of coordination between different law and order agencies to prevent trafficking. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA delves into this serious issue to find out the implications of human trafficking in Goa and the possible means to stop this menace
Menace of human trafficking continues unabated in Goa defying all laws

Human trafficking is not just a social problem in Goa but across the whole world. One of the most disgraceful crimes, it takes away the dignity of the victim, especially children and young women. It affects the lives of millions of people and it is important that the young students are made aware of this crime.

Goa is undoubtedly a beautiful state of India with its rich flora and fauna and its buzzing nightlife that attracts tourists from all over the world to this favourite tourist destination. However, beneath the shiny lights, there is a dark shameful truth. With its status of a thriving tourist destination, there are vices that also follow very closely.

The millions of tourists flocking to Goa every year are beneficial to the economy of the State and are the source of livelihood of many Goans but another ugly truth is that it has also led to one of the most shameful crimes in the world, human trafficking.

Women and girls are trafficked to Goa from different parts of India and even from other countries. Goa is not only a destination state but girls and women from Goa have also been victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Sex Trafficking is a criminal offense under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention (IPC) Act 1956 and Indian Penal Code (IPL) for minor victims (POCSO) Act 2012.

Human trafficking has ruined the lives of many people, especially women and children, who are being trafficked from many Indian states into Goa for sexual exploitation, labour etc. This is a well organised crime, and the numbers of those being trafficked are increasing every year.

It is done through deception by taking people away from their safety net, transported to an unsafe environment so they can be exploited. Millions of people are trafficked because they are poor and vulnerable. The traffickers prey on their vulnerability by offering them a good job, good salary, better living etc. Sadly, they never get that but fall into the trap of exploitation.

The recent incident where an international sex trafficking ring, operating between Kenya and India was busted by the police with the help of NGO Anyay Rahit Zindagi (ARZ) shows that this social evil of human trafficking continues to flourish and tarnish the image of Goa.

There are many questions that need to be answered, for example are there gaps in inter-agency coordination, do the different laws and institutions created for the prevention of sex trafficking actually work or not and most importantly, are the assurances given to tackle sex trafficking just a lip service and is the infrastructure only on paper?

The answers to these questions are necessary to know as ultimately on ground, the vulnerable sections of the society, mainly women and minor girls, are being subjected to a situation like this.

Speaking about the recent busting of a sex trafficking in Anjuna, Arun Pandey, Director, ARZ said, “We got a tip off from a NGO in Bengaluru and about a sex trafficking racket operating in Goa and they also informed that one of the girls was an African national who had managed to escape from the clutches of the trafficker and was hiding.”

“They shared with us her number. We contacted her. It was not so easy to build confidence in her to meet us, but fortunately our counsellor talked to her and convinced her to meet us. We met her, heard her and then we convinced her to meet the police,” Pandey said.

Initially she was hesitant. But she agreed and we took her to meet the Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) and informed she was being exploited. Then the girl reposed her faith in the police and she registered a complaint.

“She narrated how she was lured to Kenya on the pretext of working in the hospitality industry and she was brought here. When she reached Goa, her passport and visa were taken away by the trafficker, who was also an African national,” he said.

And when this girl asked for her passport and visa, the trafficker said he was arranging a job for her. After a few days, she was told to do a commercial sexual activity. When she refused, the trafficker demanded from her between Rs 5 to 8 lakh as that was the amount spent in bringing her to Goa.

“It appears that there is a big gang of Kenyan and Nigerian nationals who are running this racket. She also shared about other girls being exploited and here I would like to thank Goa police as they immediately formed a team, worked whole night and next day they busted this racket. They rescued girls and arrested the kingpin of this racket,” he said.

One interesting thing about this case is that the girls did not have their passports and visas. So, what was the role of the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in this case and the loopholes that led to this situation?

Bosco George, the former Goa Police DIG, who had also served as the SP of FRRO Goa, alleged that sex rackets originating in the African countries and executed in Goa are tacitly backed by elements in Indian high commissions/embassies in African countries to get girls to India for flesh trade.

 ”My gut feeling is, there is a racket in Africa, which is colluding with the High Commissions in those areas and these girls are being brought under the pretext of working in the hospitality sector. I am clear. They are colluding with (elements in) the Indian High Commission there,” George said.

“I’m very clear about this and I’ve stated this to the concerned intelligence agencies. There are agents in Kenya, Tanzania. They bring the girls here, take their passports and force them into prostitution,” he said.

George, who served as the Superintendent of Police of FRRO division of Goa police said that without this kind of collusion, it is impossible to get unskilled people to the country as they are not even eligible to get the Visa. George stated this while discussing the issue of international sex trafficking in Goa.

“When I was in service as FRRO, a similar thing had happened. Initially, the law was very weak for us, in the sense that you don’t know where in Africa they are from. There was a responsibility to find out their nationality. We had to write to the Ministry of External Affairs, they would write to the High Commission, and further, the High Commission would say this does not come under us and the culprits were given bail,” the former senior police officer said.

Roshan Luke Mathias, Director of MOG Foundation, who works on social and environmental issues, said that this issue of human trafficking or sex trafficking, has been happening for many years with the influx of tourism in Goa.

“The first few years were virgin tourism. All of us know that. But when the exposure happened, all these things were welcomed and it has now become a little bit difficult to control this menace,” Mathias said.

“We can see what’s happening in our neighbourhood and if you come to Candolim and Calangute, the guest houses are full of people who are unidentified. There is tenant verification, but who is doing this verification?” he asked.

“Today our borders are open. One can skip security checks on the borders. Now when I’m listening to the passport issue, I am alarmed that somebody entering from outside the country into India without any issues. All that I can say in chowkidar hi chor hai. So, we are in a situation where we can’t take care of our house,” he said.

There are people who are infiltrating and this business is big. So, human trafficking is happening even beyond Candolim and Calangute. If you go through the reports that ARZ has come out with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), has named even the villages where this problem is seen,” Mathias added.

The study states that Goa is a source destination for sex trafficking. According to the NCRB report 2021, Goa recorded 15 cases of human trafficking with 38 victims. They were all adult women and Indian nationals. Goa has the highest rate of human trafficking cases per lakh population. Goa records one case of human trafficking per lakh population against national average of 0.2.

When asked about what this kind of data means for a rescuer or as a guide or as a counsellor who has worked at the protective homes, Auda Viegas, Convenor, Bailancho Ekvott, said that having heard women for the past 20 years, she agreed with the data.

“There’s no doubt about it and I also feel that a lot of Goan women are being drawn into this because it’s easy money. Secondly it’s kind of glamorous for some of them. Everybody wants that glamour and now what I feel is that there’s no action being taken,” Viejas said.

“Where is the protection and prevention? Are we women to be exploited? Has any audit been done about how many women from Goa are being drawn into this?” she asked.

“There are many who say that ‘it doesn’t happen at my doorstep’. This is our attitude. Whilst speaking about this, I’d also like to say that we do not have data on how many people have entered the country without valid documents or when does the passport or visa expire and whether where they are staying. Do we not watch this at all?” the Convenor of Bailancho Ekvott asked.

“When we report to the authorities concerned about people doing drugs and allowing prostitution in their flats, nothing happens. Why is it so? Do we like all this that is going on here? Do we like to exploit women and is Goa an easy place to come and do such immoral activities? When we want to start a business, there are so many formalities one has to complete. Now are these illegalities going on undetected?” she said.

“We were able to bust this racket. But how many rackets are there which have gone undetected? But then what happens even after the raids? The end result is zero convictions. The convictions are very important. Of late in the South, we got some convictions. So I feel that something needs to be done to control this influx and this undetected crime that’s going on against women,” she asserted.

Obviously there are homes being taken on rent, premises being used, lease agreements signed or some kind of an arrangement made for people to live in the premises continuously. All this is happening in congested neighbourhoods. It’s not that one doesn’t know these houses, nor are they located in some isolated place.

So the issue again boils down to the whole aspect of tenant verification and checking etc. Are there loopholes in the system leading to such circumstances? There is also the whole issue of poor conviction rate because of the tardy functioning of the whole judicial system. How does one look at these aspects?

Pandey said that trafficking is increasingly moving towards residential areas and that is quite worrisome, because once it moves towards residential areas, the residents become quite unsafe.

“But here is a case wherein we find that these activities are happening in hotels and lodges. What I want to know is that in every hotel and lodge if any foreigner comes, Form C has to be filled. Also, if this trafficker was staying in a hotel, why didn’t she fill in her details, like which nationality she belonged to and what I know is that another person’s visa had expired,” he said.

“So what is happening is although there are systems in place to control the illegalities, unfortunately these systems are increasingly being violated. What is most important is that we need to understand that Goa is an inter and intra-country trafficking destination, where we are a source, we are a transit and also we are a big market for sex trafficking because of tourism,” he said.

“There is a demand and because of this, the supply is happening. But unfortunately, what is happening is that those who are making policy are not accepting this as a problem. We are in denial. Until we accept this as a problem, then only we’ll start looking for solutions,” he said.

“Right now, we have the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU). We require a functional AHTU in Goa. We have been a member of AHTU since 2006. We feel that the way it should work is not happening. It was felt that it should be a specialised unit. We should go into the field, collect intelligence and focus only on trafficking issues,” he said.

“We find that the pressure comes from the local police, which has many other things to do. It is not only about the police. What about the Tourism Department? We don’t see any kind of statement from the department after a rescue operation that it has withdrawn the license of the hotel or lodge used for such illegalities. That has never happened. Neither have we found panchayats asking for withdrawal of the NOC to the commercial facility,” the ARZ Goa director said.

Now the question is, how does the passport and visa disappear and then the agencies like FRRO don’t know about it? Isn’t there a system where one can actually periodically track if somebody’s passport or visa is expiring?

Former DIG George said, “Goa at one time used to do this monitoring. Today it is just like an outpost and the hub is in Mumbai. So today, FRRO Mumbai tells us to check out on a person for something, only then we get involved.”

“No doubt, we can handle ourselves, but we already have a lot on our hands, like registering and monitoring the Portuguese and English nationals. Now again, it is not that they are coming directly to Goa. They are entering through say Mumbai. Right now the Port of Entry is different. Then you enter the entire country,” he said. 

“But yes, such installations involved in illegalities should be shut down. But nothing is happening. Finally, the police are the face of the government. It has an important role to play. But where are the others? What are the panchayats doing? They are clearing every permit. Also, if some illegality is happening within the premises of a housing society, what are its members doing? Who’s objecting to it? That’s not how it is done. People have to walk the extra mile. Today it is someone else. Tomorrow it could be your children,” he said.

“So yeah, as far as the FRRO is concerned, it is not that it doesn’t have the force to monitor all these things. We can assist the local police. They don’t have that expertise. They will call us and ask what is to be done. We take them, get them and take necessary action,” he said.

Citing his own experience, George said that as the detention officer, he used to come to office even late at night and sign the orders for detention.

“But you know, there are one DySP and two PIs for the whole State. The rest are all managed by head constables and ASIs. There may be one or two rotten apples, but otherwise during my tenure I can ensure that we have acted upon all these people. We have responded. That’s why we were able to succeed in nabbing these elements,” he said.

“I must give credit to the SP North at that time. He was very enthusiastic. We got very good judgment from the judge. The detention was unchallengeable,” the former SP FRRO said.

The one area that we ultimately converge on is the fact that if this kind of an activity is going on, then obviously the panchayat is turning a blind eye. Obviously, it cannot be that this is going on and the local police have no knowledge of it.

When a racket like this is in operation for five years, it can’t go unnoticed. So the point here is that is there enough questioning being done on the agencies at the local level? FRRO is doing its job within its own constraints. But what about say the Arjuna police or Pernem Police? Has the racket actually spread its tentacles into different nooks and corners of the official system, including people in the system who can be beneficiaries of this magnitude?

Responding to this question, Mathias said, “It’s a world level business and no business can be run without partners at this level right. So in this, everyone is a partner and the worst partners that you could have in such a business is the locality itself.”

“Take for example the locality from where I come from. If my neighbour is doing something wrong and I see it every day, the first question I would ask myself is whom do I go to? Is there a dedicated number that we can call on? Second thing is, when we have tried calling the police even before the complaint or a raid is done, we get calls saying why did you call there? Is it okay? And these calls are coming from the owners of the lodges and guest houses,” he said.

“Now what happens is, I do not know whether this can justify what they are doing. But many of them are not doing good business. So for them, it is a mere business. They don’t look at whether it is a sex racket or whether it’s a genuine customer. All that is thrown aside and it is about business,” Mathais said.

 “So, then I cannot go against my neighbour. Goa being a small place everybody knows everybody. So I had ultimately become an enemy of the society where I’m living in. So do I really want to be that enemy of society? No! So that is why we need to have more NGOs,” he said.

He said that first and foremost, the need is to create awareness. According to him, many people don’t even know the term human trafficking or sex trafficking.

“Nobody knows what are the methods available, where do we contact, how are we safe in this entire thing, how do we not get threats? So there is a huge information gap that is there. We at the MOG Foundation have stepped in as we are not here on a very high level of human trafficking issues. We have other groups that are doing this and we are there to support them. Now, they have reached a level. But the gap is still there,” he said.

“That awareness is not happening right now. So we are stepping in. Very recently, we have had a debate among all colleges. Today students are talking about human trafficking. We want to build up once the awareness is done. During the awareness sessions, we tell them what you can do as a citizen, how you can complain, how your name will be protected,” Mathais said.

Human trafficking is when people use force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labour or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. Human traffickers use disaster situations to take advantage of vulnerable survivors.  The high presence of tourists in Goa round-the-year makes it a very lucrative destination for the traffickers. There is a very high amount of money involved.

It is important for the government, the law enforcing agencies like the police, NGOs and people at large to get united and fight against the menace of human/sex trafficking and save hundreds of lives from getting destroyed forever. 

People should report to the authorities whenever they spot suspicious activities in their neighbourhood. The authorities should take those complaints seriously and the government should give the police a free hand to crack down on the perpetrators, who have the audacity to commit crimes against humanity right under their nose.

There is no point passing the buck and turning a blind eye to this menace. As one of the panellists rightly said, today it is someone else, today it could be one of us. It is in the larger interests of our welfare that we act now and act fast. There is no time to lose.


IDhar UDHAR

Idhar Udhar