Visibly Invisible: India's Human Trafficking Victims


Human Trafficking in India produces invisible victims that hide in plain sight! 

As I was strolling down Calcutta’s streets, I stumbled upon the above graffiti. Usually, a typical Calcutta graffiti is about a political organisation. Comically, a few centimetres away from one political graffiti, is that of an opposing political group. So naturally, in the sea of politics, my eyes caught sight of this unique graffiti.

Leena Kejriwal, a Calcutta based artist, is the brains behind this graffiti. She hopes to find and retain these missing girls in the minds of the common man. Her art awakens the passerby to the harsh reality of human trafficking. Moved by her art, I can’t help but pen down my thoughts.

 Youth Trafficking in India 

The world recently celebrated its youth. But what about the young girls and boys that are missing? We forget these invisible victims who have fallen prey to a crime primarily affecting the youth. The Ministry of Women and Child Development estimates 19,223 trafficked women and children in 2016.  Consequently marking a 25% increase from the previous year.

Who are these invisible victims?

The invisibility of victims lies not only in their disappearance from society but also in their very presence. More than often we don’t realise their existence in our immediate surroundings. Yes, the young girl who cleans your house and washes your clothes could be a potential victim! Often, women and children are brought from rural areas as domestic help in the buzzing urban world. These impoverished women and children often face physical, sexual, and economic exploitation.

These invisible victims are also visible selling knick knacks on roadsides. Perhaps those kids knocking on your car’s window, begging you to buy a bizarre looking pair of sunglasses are in fact victims. Their invisibility is created in our automatic irritated ignorance. We look at them as annoying street vendors and pray for the light to turn green.

Are they disappearing into thin air?

Perhaps not. But, they certainly are disappearing into the underground world. Sex trafficking is a common phenomenon among these victims. Children are often sold to brothels to perform illegal sex work. Additionally, young girls are sexually exploited as child brides!

Where do invisible victims originate from? 

West Bengal has been the hub of human trafficking for the past decade. It’s border with Nepal and Bangladesh is of strategic importance for traffickers. They are able to transport women and children from the poverty ridden neighbours into India. The state accounted for more than one-third of the total trafficked victims in 2016.  Hence, perhaps Kejriwal’s graffitis are an important reminder of the heinous trade taking place in West Bengal.

The state of Rajasthan falls next in line. It recorded the second highest number of trafficked children. Whereas, Maharashtra recorded the second highest number of trafficked women. 

Recognising the invisible victims…

How can we, as concerned citizens, see these invisible victims? It is true that the crux of their invisibility lies in their visibility. However, there are certain signs we can look out for.

Abuse is perhaps the easiest to recognise a victim. A woman or child with visible bruises or cuts can be a potential victim. On the other hand, mental abuse is relatively harder to identify. A woman or child displaying signs of depression and anxiety can be a potential victim. Furthermore, lack of legitimate identification, inconsistency in background stories and secrecy are circumstantial symptoms of a trafficked victim.

However, this is not to say that all women and children displaying the above symptoms are victims. So, the most effective way to identify a victim is to observe a combination of the above symptoms.

Let’s open our eyes!

Therefore, working towards mitigating the invisibility of trafficked victims lies in the hands of ordinary citizens! Consequently, our apathy and ignorance only strengthen the illegal trade.

About the Author

Ishika is a College of Social Studies major at Wesleyan University. She is interested in women’s rights specifically in the developing world and currently works with refugees in Connecticut, USA. An avid reader, Ishika enjoys works of intersectional feminists and is the proud human of a pug named Donut.