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India’s Bride Markets Grow, Convictions Drop

Devyani Shetty,
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The Indian penchant for aborting or killing female children appears to have created a clear market for trafficked brides, a new report has said.


The market is divided into supply states and buyer states, said the report published by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).


The eastern states of Assam, Odisha and West Bengal continue to be supply states, as they always were, while buyer states include Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.


The key reason for bride trafficking is, as economist Amartya Sen once put it, “missing women”, the Indian phenomenon of preferring boys to girls. He estimated that more than 100 million women were “missing”.


The skewed sex ratio in a few major Indian states has given rise to intense demand for brides from organised trafficking agencies. People in these states say there aren’t enough women in their caste/community, and therefore they buy brides from poorer states.


Let us now look at states with the lowest sex ratios (number of females per 1,000 males):


Source: Census 2011; Sex ratio is number of females per 1,000 males


The UN report said “organised bride trafficking rings” are increasingly operating in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. “The concept of “marriageable age” is significant in states like Punjab and Haryana, as decades of unchecked sex- selective abortions have led to a significant shortage of marriageable-age women.


This shortage has given rise to human trafficking as a lucrative trade, which has expanded not only to organised trafficking rackets but also to local villagers acting as brokers.


A study (involving more than 10,000 households) on the impact of declining sex ratios on the pattern of marriages in Haryana revealed that more than 9,000 married women were bought from other states. The study also revealed that most people now accepted the concept of purchasing a bride but denied having bought a bride themselves.


According to Empower People, a New Delhi-based organisation which focuses on issues pertaining to women trafficking, low sex ratios are spurring the kidnap of young, unmarried women.


This table highlights, by state, the number of women kidnapped:


Source: National Crime Record Bureau


The UNODC report also points towards these states as “supply states”, where women are trafficked for marriage.


Most of the women and girls are trafficked from poor families. The trafficked women are either lured by fake matrimonial dreams or lucrative jobs in booming Indian cities.


“These ‘matrimonial transactions’ are often projected as voluntary. However, the “purchased brides” are often exploited, denied basic rights, substituted as maids or are often resold and abandoned after a few years of matrimony,” the UNODC report said.


Responses by the Government


An Inter-Ministerial Group has been constituted to consider and recommend proposals to amend the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956.


An anti-trafficking cell has been created by the Ministry of Home Affairs to strengthen enforcement. The Ministry started 225 Anti Human-Trafficking Units (AHTUs) across India (as of August 2012); this has led to an increase in registration of cases and stronger prosecution. The government of India has strengthened the application and enforcement of the Emigration Act, 1983 to regulate recruiting agencies (Agencies making fraudulent job offers overseas, fake recruitments for non-existing employers or for foreign employers who never authorised the agents, thus rendering the workers without jobs.)


Despite these actions, the reality appears unchanged.


This table shows trafficking cases registered and convictions in the supply states:


Source: Lok Sabha


The conviction rate in India for trafficking cases was 44% in 2009. It has since dropped to 17% in 2013. This is alarming. In a big state like West Bengal, the conviction rate was 5.6% in 2009, which has dropped to 2.5% in 2013. These declines highlight the gaps between government policies and implementation.




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