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‘Not My Life’ depicts the cruel and dehumanising practices of human trafficking on a global scale.
‘Not My Life’ depicts the cruel and dehumanising practices of human trafficking on a global scale.

A COW or a buffalo
sells for between 50,000 and 100,000 rupees (RM2,600 and RM5,300). But a girl — younger the better — sells for 5,000 rupees. A boy sells for even less.

“These children are slaves. They work in factories and brothels, and they number in millions,” says Kailash Satyarthi, India’s best-known child rights activist who says a child goes missing every eight minutes.

“Human memory is very short. We are hurt by what we see, but we forget very quickly,” he says as he prepares for “End Child Slavery Week”, a global movement beginning Nov 20.

Modern slavery is everywhere. The big numbers are in India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Together, they account for 76 per cent of the estimated 29.8 million in modern slavery.

Lest it be mistaken as an Afro-Asian problem connected to poverty, Britain, the United States and other developed nations also have it. Iceland, Ireland and Britain are tied with a ranking of 160 on the Global Slavery Index 2013 (GSI). That only means their numbers are small. There are between 4,200 and 4,600 people in modern slavery in Britain alone.

India has an estimated 13 million to 14.7 million people enslaved. The India Country Study by US-based Walk Free Foundation that prepared the GSI suggests that although it includes some foreign nationals, the problem is essentially one of exploitation of Indians by Indians, within India, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labour.

The biggest “culprit” is working to curb it and to spread the message. One of its prominent filmmakers, Mike Pandey of Riverbank Studios, has co-produced with Oscar nominee Robert Bilheimer, Not My Life. It is the first film to depict the harsh realities of human trafficking on a global scale.

Taking four years to make, the 56-minute film talks to victims and activists in a dozen of the 190-odd countries, where the problem exists in small and big measures.

Not My Life depicts the cruel and dehumanising practices of human trafficking on a global scale. It takes viewers into a world where millions of children are exploited, every day, through an astonishing array of practices, including forced labour, domestic servitude, begging, sex tourism, sexual violence, and child soldiering.

Director Bilheimer says: “This project was, and is, a labour of love. We kept asking, who will speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. In the end, we felt that making Not My Life was not only our job, but our mission, because far too much silence still surrounds this issue.”

Premiered on Doordarshan, India’s state-run TV network, it asks: will the viewer just take note, heave a sigh and forget about the whole thing or do something about it?

Doordarshan director-deneral Tripurari Sharan says he will telecast the film repeatedly to reach the largest audiences.

“These are things we can, and will, while others may or may not,” he says, alluding to hundreds of privately run TV channels that abound in India.

Doordarshan is planning a three-year community-based awareness campaign designed to radically alter how Indians from all walks of life understand, and respond to, human trafficking and modern slavery. It has been a joint, sustained, effort by the Carlson Family Foundation, a global hospitality chain doing its corporate social responsibility. Alongside is non-governmental organisation iPartner India, engaged in it for a decade now, raising 100 million rupees to fight this menace. It says it has saved around 20,000 humans from being slaves in the past five years.

After India, China has an estimated 2.8 million to 3.1 million people held in modern slavery. Its country study lists forced labour of men, women and children in a burgeoning economy, besides domestic servitude and forced begging, sexual exploitation of women and children, and forced marriage.

In this Asian arch, Pakistan has the third place with an estimated two million-plus, held on huge farms by the feudal lords, the clergy and factory owners.

Unlike most others, India has correctives in place. The GSI acknowledges them. But that only underscores the seriousness, the urgency and the need to do more.

The Indian government has launched Anti-Human Trafficking policing Units (AHTUs). A pilot programme with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that there were two large-scale interventions to effectively combat human trafficking on the ground: the establishment of AHTUs and the sensitisation and capacity building for key stakeholders within the criminal justice system, including the police, prosecutors, the judiciary, and NGOs. There are 215 AHTUs, with plans to set up one in each of the 650 districts. The government hotline, called “Child Line”, operating around the country spreads the message in different languages. It is toll-free around the country, and internationally. It also acts as the agency to tip off the authorities on human-trafficking crimes.

The mandate for victim support services sits with the Women and Child Development Ministry. The primary scheme is the Ujjwala programme, where money is distributed to different NGOs that provide the basic facilities for victims, including shelters, counselling and often vocational education.

The Rural Development Ministry and the National Skill Development Mission also provide victim support schemes. The victims have the option to choose between the different schemes, the GSI notes.

The conviction rate against cases in India filed was a mere 0.6 per cent last year. An American report disputes this low conviction rate and claims that 15 per cent of the cases relating to human slavery are solved every year in India.

However, it is difficult to fight the octopus-like network that is highly influential. Worse, there is little sympathy or support for those who are fighting against human slavery often at the cost of their lives.

Challenging though it may be, Not My Life’s message is ultimately one of hope. Victims of slavery can be set free and go on to live happy and productive lives. Those who advocate for slavery victims are growing in numbers, and are increasingly effective.

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