Protector magazine’s team led by Assistant Editor Abhijit Chatterjee and Correspondent Anirban Saha made a spot assessment of the ongoing project to review the work done under the Swayangsiddha project. They visited Taldi Surabala Sikshayatan and Karanjali Balika Vidyalaya where interactive sessions with the students of classes 8, 9, 10 and few of the teachers were held laying emphasis on the twin problems of child trafficking and child marriage.
Human Trafficking and Child marriage have been a major problem in many areas in the country and some districts in the state as well. The matter has caused serious concern among the authorities who were keen to take the cudgel to meet the challenging situation by spreading awareness in the society through intensive campaign by involving all sections of the society particularly the students. After having intensive discussions at various levels, South 24 Parganas police has drawn up Swayangsiddha project to address the menace by undertaking campaigns at various girls’ schools. Under the project, police officials in South 24 Parganas have started holding interactive sessions with Power Point presentations and short documentary films in schools for the first time in the state to make girls aware of human trafficking. According to the plan, this sensitisation programme will be held in 1077 schools and 312 Gram Panchayats across the district. Swayangsiddha means a self-reliant woman.
Many girls of different ages go missing who are trapped by the perpetrators. They take advantage of their innocence and poor economic and educational status of their parents. In many cases, the traffickers are generally known to the victims. They are among friends, relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, etc. The motivators establish the ground to take them away, mostly on the pretext of having a good time and in some cases contact the parents of their targets and generally lure them with both monetary incentives and alluring gift items. A large number of families are affected in such manner and by the time they get information about the whereabouts of their children they have been taken away to a faraway place where they are enslaved as brick kiln workers, labourers, beggars, prostitutes, etc. Such incidents create socio-cultural problems for the affected families, who run from pillar to post seeking information about their missing child. The victims are often sold to many people in stages. The traffickers get a substantial amount every time they deliver a victim, and it is one of the reasons why this is so widespread.Child marriage is another major socio-cultural problem in the rural areas in the district which causes serious problem for the society as the tender age and young mind of a child cannot bear the brunt of the biological requirement and responsibilities of a new family. Such situation ultimately makes the life of the young mother difficult which also further develops social imbalance. People in authority as well as the social thinkers feel that this matter cannot be tackled easily and should be addressed properly to prevent erosion in the social value system and retain family structure in tact in the village. After discussions at various levels, South 24 Parganas district police like many other districts has taken up a project to ensure that both human trafficking and child marriage can be eradicated socially with active participation from the stakeholders including the non-governmental organisations. Additional Superintendent of Police (West) Chandrasekhar Bardhan perceived the need of launching a sustained awareness campaign and launched this project in the district. The project was named Swayangsiddha. Additional Superintendent of Police (West), South 24 Paraganas said “There are further plans to form Swayangsiddha School Committees which would include representatives from various NGOs, schools, police stations and the civil administration. Meetings will be held every two months.”
Pinky Ghosh, Officer in Charge of Diamond Harbour Women Police Station, is the nodal officer of this project who maintains liaison with different NGOs and shelter homes for rescued girls. During her speech at Karanjali Balika Vidyalaya, she said ‘We are trying to generate awareness among the girl students against the dangers of human trafficking and the problems which arise out of marriages at a tender age.’ Slide shows and documentary films about such socio-cultural problems are screened during the interactive session of this awareness programme. Munmun Choudhury, OC, Canning Women Police Station at Taldi Surabala Sikshayatan said, ‘In most of the cases, traffickers are known persons and may be sometime distant relatives, friends and neighbours. But there is no point to believe them if they offer a job or quality life before verifying facts.’ The officers advised students to call Child Helpline number 1098 to report missing information about girls. The officers also provide their cellphone numbers to the students so that the students can directly provide them information related to trafficking and child marriage. Both of them explained the modus operandi of the traffickers, who project a very lucrative future for their victims, which turn sour almost immediately after the victims are trapped in their net.
The teaching staffs of the schools where the programmes are held are very supportive of this initiative and eagerly provide suggestions. Rakhi Bhattacharya, Headmistress of Karanjali Balika Vidyalaya after the program ended in her school said “Gaining the confidence of the students is important as many are fearful and are also shy to come forward. They share information among themselves but those hardly reach the concerned authorities.”