September 26th, 2011
02:55 PM ET

'Trapped by Tradition': Your questions on slavery in India

Last week we asked for your questions about 'Trapped by Tradition', the documentary featuring actor Anil Kapoor which explored how in someIndia villages girls are sent into prostitution by their families. Here is a selection of your questions, answered by CNN correspondent Mallika Kapur, who worked on the documentary.

Question: Creating awareness is good but what measures have been put in place to help eradicate this abnormal tradition and give these girls hope for a new beginning? – labelle

Answer: Groups like Plan India and its sister organization, Gram Niyojan Kendra, are working hard to stop this practice. Their goal is to prevent the next generation from falling into the same trap, so they are building schools in the area and encouraging children to attend. They have a team of people who work closely with the men and women in the village. They also spend a lot of time counseling people and explaining the dark side of this tradition. Often the people involved don’t realize what they are doing is wrong because it’s been this way for generations, so nobody questions it. One lady, Ranu, who works with Gram Niyojan Kendra, has been living in the village for 10 years. She runs a residential school/shelter and looks after the babies of prostitutes while they are at work. She does this so that the babies are brought up in a safe environment and don’t end up being forced into the sex trade. So yes, there’s a lot of work being done to change the mindset of the people, and to encourage children to go to school.

Question: What is being done to the criminals who are involved in these activities? – Twaha

Answer: Unfortunately, many times, nothing happens at all. This is because the men who push the girls into prostitution are family members of the girls, so it gets difficult to prove they are traffickers.India does have a law against trafficking - the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act - but many anti-trafficking groups say it isn’t very effective. Also, traffickers can be punished only if someone files a police report first. Because family members are involved in trafficking themselves, who is there to file a police report? That’s one of the main reasons traffickers don’t get tried and punished.

Question: How long has this been going on? What part of India? Is there anything we can do to help? – Concerned

Answer: This has been going on for generations. In our documentary, we focused on the Bedia community which lives in a few villages in Bharatpur district in Rajasthan state, western India. You could contact Plan India which works with 40 villages in this district to find out how you can help.

Question: Who started this tradition/business and what do you think about the government’s duty in this matter? – A. Bhattacharjee

Answer: This has been going on for generations and is a by-product of poverty and tradition. Also, the people here are at the bottom of the caste system. Historically, they had few job opportunities and were exploited by the rich, upper castes. They formed the most vulnerable strata of society and had to resort to sending their own daughters and sisters into the sex trade to earn money.
The Indian government has good policies and intentions but anti-trafficking groups will tell you what the government really needs to have is targeted intervention. It needs to have specific programs to help this group of people. For example, if the government decides to build schools, it needs to have a school right there in the middle of the village so that the children don’t have a long commute. It needs to counsel the people to send children to school. It needs to sensitize the community there not to attach a stigma to the children of sex workers. So a targeted, specific intervention for this vulnerable community is essential.

IMPORTANT-It is not trapped by tradition it is TRAPPED BY POVERTY!!!!! - Shree

Answer: Yes, absolutely. Poverty breeds desperation and in this case, extreme poverty meant these people had no alternative but to send the women to work in the sex trade so they could earn money to feed their families. It’s vital to provide the people of these villages with an alternative form of income, so groups like PlanIndia and Gram Niyojan Kendra are providing them with vocational training programs and working to link them up with government-run employment schemes. The challenge is to provide an income that matches the hefty earnings the women get from prostitution. For instance, a sex worker can earn as much as $2,000 a month. While it’s hard to find a job that pays as much, anti-trafficking groups say their focus is convincing the people here to find a job that gives them dignity and a way out of this dark tradition.