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Crime Patrol: Child Marriage and Trafficking: A Rampant Evil in West Bengal (Episode 575 on 26th October, 2015)

Part 1

The Inside Story

Kolkata, West Bengal

Child Marriage and Trafficking: A Rampant Evil in West Bengal

At the age of 14, Priti's world was about to change drastically. She lived in the Sunderbans, a harsh terrain where poverty was rampant. Priti's parents, who were daily wage earners, dreamed of getting their children out of the tiny islands and into the civilized towns and cities. However, poverty attracts dream-sellers, and in Priti's case, it was her not-so-distant relatives who offered to marry her off to Kolkata. The proposed groom was a stranger, but he was well-to-do, so Priti would have a 'decent' life, and for her parents, that was enough. Fortunately, the local NGO Angikar's office was alerted about the imminent trafficking, and they managed to prevent it at the last minute. Priti's world today is still marked by just an alphabet, but at least she is safe.

In West Bengal, child marriage and girl trafficking are widespread in the rural areas. The state is statistically the most unsafe for women, registering the highest number of cases of gender violence, according to the National Crime Bureau Report 2012. West Bengal is among the worst five states in the country when it comes to child marriage. In many districts, every second girl is married off before they reach 18, with districts such as Murshidabad, Birbhum, Malda, and Purulia being the worst off. The UNICEF data for 2011 is equally shocking, with the total number of underage married girls in Bengal between 2007 and 2008 being 27,082 - the second-highest in the country.

Child marriage is often a ploy for trafficking girls, with the most vulnerable districts being Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, and Malda in the north, and North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in the south. The other contributing factors are rural poverty and the social pressure to wed off girls early. Since most cases of trafficking go unreported, it makes rescue and prevention all the more difficult. Nine districts in West Bengal share porous borders with Bangladesh and Nepal, which explains the increased incidence of child trafficking.

The state government needs to be proactive in detecting, preventing, and punishing perpetrators of child marriage and trafficking. Rather than a complaint-based reactive role, they must take measures to eradicate this evil from the grassroots level.

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