Rescued from red-light districts, stuck in red tape

Even after being rescued from brothels, only 10 per cent of trafficked immigrants from Bangladesh make it home every year, owing to a lengthy repatriation procedure, that is fraught with bureaucratic formalities

Two years ago, a 15-year-old Reshma (name changed) was a young teenager living in the Jessore district in Bangladesh, looking for a way to deliver her family from grinding penury. When a distant relative offered her a job in Mumbai, she decided to grab the opportunity.

Help at hand: The officials of Rescue Foundation train the Bangladeshi
girls who were rescued from the city's brothels. They are being sheltered

(Faces have been blurred to protect their identities)

The starry-eyed girl came to the city of her dreams, only to have them quickly cut short, when she was sold to a brothel by her relative. Luckily, Reshma was soon rescued by an NGO, and cops temporarily sheltered her at Kandivli's Rescue Foundation. It has now been two years since her rescue, but for Reshma, who recently turned 17, life has become one long wait to return home, as officials dilly dally over endless bureaucratic formalities.

A beleaguered Reshma has now given up hope. Almost 103 other girls, each rescued from city brothels, have similar stories to tell, as they languish in homes across the state.

According to workers of the NGO Rescue Foundation, which regularly raids city brothels, the procedure for the repatriation of rescued girls to Bangladesh is mired in so much red tape that they manage to reunite only 10 of every 100 rescued girls with their families each year.

This year, the NGO in collaboration with the police have rescued 103 Bangladeshi immigrants. A foundation member revealed that these girls, who are mostly minors, were lured into the country on false   promises -- of job opportunities or marriage.

"The authorities manning the borders are often bribed to secure an entry for these girls," said Triveni Acharya, president, Rescue Foundation. She added, "Bangladesh is a poverty-stricken country. The traffickers brainwash the girls' parents by painting an attractive picture of a luxurious life in Mumbai. Some of these girls harbour aspirations of making it big in Bollywood. Many of them are brought to red-light areas like Kamathipura and Sonapur in Bhandup, in exchange for sums like Rs 10,000-20,000."

Too much red tape
After being rescued, the immigrants are sent to shelters, till arrangements for their return can be made. And then begins the prolonged and elusive journey home, which often ends in disappointment.

The rescuing NGO first makes an inventory of the rescued girls, attaching case studies alongside, which are then forwarded to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Once their approval is obtained, they are delivered to NGOs in Bangladesh for Home Investigation Reports, in course of which a thorough background check is conducted, to establish the identity of the girls. After this, the Bangladesh-based NGOs sends their final reports to the Bangladesh High Commission.

Once the commission reverts with its approval, the Mumbai NGO sends a report to the ministry once again. Only after a no-objection certificate is sent back, does the NGO transfer the girl to the country.

As the process is lengthy and fraught with bureaucratic hurdles, months, and even years pass before the girls set foot on Bangladeshi soil. "Sometimes the girls have to wait for months, aching to go home, but do not get their NOCs from the government. Some of them lie about their identities or place of birth, making it difficult for the NGO to trace their parents. At other times, these girls have to act as witnesses, and are ordered by the police to stay on till they appear in court. In some cases, their background checks fall through, and they have to stay on in the homes. In such cases, they are rehabilitated here, and given jobs," said Kavita Saxena, who manages the legal section of the NGO, adding, "We cannot circumvent any of these formalities, and can be prosecuted if any discrepancies are found."

Badruddin, an official of the Women and Child Welfare department at the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi,
said, "We have to work according to the procedures laid down, as that is our duty. I cannot comment
on why the procedure takes so long."

Ravi Patil, deputy commissioner of the Women and Child Welfare department, was not available for comment.

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