Moments leading up to the operation are tense. There is always an amount of uncertainty that comes with any sting. On this rescue in Mumbai, India some Jump Team members are outfitted with hidden cameras in their backpacks, watches or fanny packs, not only to capture the “take-down” for Operation Underground Railroad, but to be used later on when prosecuting the pimps.
Every movement of the operation is planned and executed precisely. Jump Team members nonchalantly walk into the hotel lobby and spot the victims in the lounge nearby. They are at the table closest to the exit trying to look like a normal family but they aren’t fooling O.U.R. or our NGO partner, James, with the Indian Rescue Mission. There are six of them; three minor girls, the pimp who brokered the deal, dressed head to toe in a black burke with only a slit for her eyes, and another woman and a man who are accompanying her.
This undercover operation all began when James from IRM put word out on the street that he was expecting some friends from out of town for a visit and wanted to show them a good time. Eventually, he was approached by a pimp who showed him a number of photographs of women, however, James told the pimp that he was looking for something more “exotic” or “fresher.” The pimps were easily able to fill that order providing some of the youngest girls in their control.
The take down comes soon after spotting the “family” in the hotel lounge. James walks over to them and starts a conversation. Soon after, law enforcement closes in, arresting the pimps and rescuing the three minor girls who are taken into the care of social services. They are treated as victims rather than prostitutes and are under their protection.
There are no updates on the girls at this time as social services is keeping them away from the public, however, O.U.R. is working with other entities to ensure these girls get an education and develop employable skills so that they will not be vulnerable to human traffickers again.
The real surprise in this operation, however, came with the discovery that the arrested male pimp was, in fact, an Executive Officer for the Anti Corruption Intelligence Committee. No one anticipated this but it has certainly opened up the investigation into corruption as well as human trafficking in Mumbai. And that’s a win/win for O.U.R. and its partners.
Twenty-seven victims of sex trafficking have been rescued in Thane, India. Three of the victims are minors. So far, seven traffickers have been arrested however that number is expected to grow.
These girls were exploited in a dance club and were paraded in front of clients who would choose them from a lineup. Their living conditions were similar to others who have been rescued in India. Many were hidden in a series of hallways, tunnels and rooms.
Operation Underground Railroad partnered with the Indian Rescue Mission to locate and rescue these young women. Our operatives are currently still in India and information is limited. We will provide you with additional information when it becomes available.
India treats all prostitutes, as victims and O.U.R. will help with their rehabilitation. Your donations are going towards rescuing and helping these young women. Thank you.
It is known as the oldest and longest running red light district in the world. The Kamathipura area of Mumbai, India can trace its recorded historic roots back to the 18th century and not much has changed since its early beginnings. It is also a place where Operation Underground Railroad and its NGO partner, Indian Rescue Mission (IRM), are searching to rescue underage prostitutes sold into the sex trade. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy.
“The recent rescue operation included two locations in Mumbai. How I found these was fairly easy. However, to keep OUR’s undercover secrets a secret I can’t tell you how I did it. But let me assure you it was easy and businessmen and tourists do it every day,” reported O.U.R.’s undercover operative. We’ll call him Jones.
The undercover team had been in this area before but had not discovered the hidden chambers and did not take any action because they did not see any minors. But, this time they heard something odd that tipped them off.
“ What drew our attention to this location was the promise of Russian girls. This is typically a sign of transnational trafficking and typically these girls are in debt bondage,” said Jones. “Let’s face it, India is one of the cheapest places to pay for sex. Russian girls can make a lot more money elsewhere. So typically, they don’t choose to come to India. Yet, Russians are a rarity and it costs more for Russian girls here.”
India is known for trafficking girls from other countries, however they are usually from the poorer, neighboring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh. It has been reported that Russian mafia types are moving into the area now as well as other groups, which could explain the Russian girls presence. Unfortunately, the Russian girls had already been moved and were not found during the raid.
The Indian Rescue Mission returned to this location to do some follow-up a few months later. Word on the street was that some illegal activity was going on. As a result IRM partnered with the Khandesh War Police (it’s just a name, they are not military) to conduct a raid. As they went through the buildings looking for girls and drugs they found hidden chambers and tunnels as well as enslaved victims.
The owners and traffickers arrested have been booked on Indian immoral trafficking laws and violations. Between the two raids 21 victims, with three being minors, were rescued. “We are still waiting on the medical examinnations to confirm the three are minors and their ages,” said Jones. “Often, in India, girls born in very poor conditions have no birth records to show their ages. In an effort to protect themselves, traffickers create fake documents for the girls stating them as adults.”
As with all raids that O.U.R. is involved with, the adult women were taken in by social workers and placed in government-run shelters. India treats these victims as victims and not as prostitutes or criminals. They are not charged as they are in some countries, including the United States. The minors are pending rehabilitation placement and O.U.R. will continue to monitor their care.
One of the ways O.U.R. is lowering the cost of rescues is by partnering with non-profit NGOs that have been thoroughly vetted. In this operation, the Indian Rescue Mission played a major role in finding and rescuing these victims. This case was three months in the making and cost approximately $2,500 USD to conduct. IRM’s knowledge of the language and understanding of the culture as well as their connections were invaluable to Operation Underground Railroad.
It took nearly an hour of pounding on walls and listening for sounds before police and O.U.R. representatives could locate the 14 young women hidden in the small spaces between the walls of a building in Thane, India. Two of the enslaved women were minors.
A criminal informant working with the Indian Rescue Mission, which O.U.R. is supporting, alerted police to the women who were forced to dance in the bar and work as prostitutes.
A team of twenty police officers and IRM operatives took part in the raid. Some went undercover to catch the pimp, while others liberated the women from their prison. The pimp was a 24 year-old Indian woman. She was arrested in the raid along with the bar owners.
Fourteen women were held inside the hidden wall. There was a high-tech trap door operated by remote control. It was the only way for the women to get in and out.
The largest hidden room was four feet wide and 30 feet long. The smallest was just four feet wide and 10 feet long. There were no beds, no toilets, nothing. Just a filthy, hard concrete floor. The police found bottles of water inside and clothes the women would wear when they danced.
The minors were taken to a government-run shelter where they are receiving help. O.U.R. is following up with their care as well as that of the remaining 12 women. They are in need of medical assistance as well as emotional support and rehabilitation.
Organizations like IRM are on the front lines, fighting and preventing human trafficking each day. O.U.R. supports them on a monthly basis which is a cost-efficient way for O.U.R. to operate in some countries. (written by guest writer Erin Ann McBride)
“Shanthi’s” big brown eyes reveal a life void of happiness and hope even though she has just been rescued from a life few of us can imagine. Trafficked since she was just nine years old in Bangladesh, the fifteen year-old has few memories of a childhood free from slavery.
Operation Underground Railroad became aware of Shanthi while partnering with the Indian Rescue Mission. In this particular case IRM investigators located her through a confidential informant who introduced them to a local pimp. He told them he could get minor girls for the “purchase of sex.”
As with all cases that O.U.R. is involved with, local law enforcement was then contacted and partnered with in the investigation. A raid of the brothel was organized and Shanthi was rescued along with a few other victims. The raid was covered by various news outlets and used as a warning to others who are involved in the sex trade. Two traffickers were arrested.
In partnering with IRM, O.U.R. utilizes local resources which is the most efficient use of funds in India and Bangladesh. It also empowers local police and NGOs to continue to search for and rescue victims.
As for Shanthi, little is known at this time concerning her or her family. We do know that she was initially “broken in” to the sex trade by three men in Bangladesh and immediately following the raid she was sent to a government run shelter where she received medical and emotional care.
One of O.U.R.’s undercover team members recently saw her in India and said she is doing well and is out of the shelter now. She aspires to go to college and is currently in the sewing program which O.U.R. has previously reported on. We will continue to monitor her care and help her on her journey to a new life.
This rescue would not have been possible without the help of IRM. For more information on our NGO partner Indian Rescue Mission please visit their web site Indian Rescue.
It’s been several weeks of dangerous undercover work for O.U.R. operatives in brothels, bars, and on the streets of India, but the work is beginning to pay off. Three sex traffickers have been arrested and the undercover investigation is continuing.
The following are excerpts from an interview with one of the undercover operatives working in South Asia:
INTERVIEWER: How do you find child sex slaves in India and how do you rescue them?
INVESTIGATOR: An investigator, who I’ve worked with before in South Asia, and I, joined local NGOs or Non-Governmental Organizations in India: Indian Rescue Missions and ARZ (Anyay Rohit Zindagi)*. The first one works primarily in Goa and then the other one works in Mumbai.
We spent the first few days investigating brothels. There’s a particular red light district called Kamathipura. It’s one of oldest red light districts in history and definitely in Asia, so it’s been operating for thousands of years. It’s just been culturally accepted.
We went to at least six brothels in Mumbai trying to identify victims. We didn’t identify any minors at that time, and in India 18 and under is considered a minor. In Southeast Asia, it’s 16 and under, in Cambodia it’s 14 and under, so it varies from country to country.
We also investigated dance bars. Dance bars are different from strip clubs in the United States. These girls are in full clothing, sometimes western clothing or traditional Hindi clothing with saris. There’s a band playing and they stand in front of the stage holding a lot of money in their hands, which is the tips they’ve received. If there’s a particular girl someone is interested in, they talk to what’s considered the controllers or handlers.
We did identify minors there. The intel that we gathered, the images that we gathered, the footage that we gathered, we turned that over to the local police. We have a great working relationship with them and they are planning to act this week as far as raiding and shutting down those dance clubs.
During this investigation we did identify about 30 percent of the girls as minors. Each club is different. They range from five to 25 girls per club and on average two to seven of the girls were under the age of 18.
INTERVIEWER: How do these girls end up there?
INVESTIGATOR: Some of these girls end up there by choice. It’s hard for us to think about “do I sell my body just to have something to eat? Do I sell my body to feed my child that night?” So a lot of girls end up there because of their social-economic situation. A lot of them just don’t know any better.
They may be in a rural village and they are approached by a trafficker or a handler saying, “Hey, you come to the big city and you can be a singer or you can be in a Bollywood movie. You’re beautiful.”
They do it because they want to earn money to be able to send it back home, or a lot of these girls just want to go to school. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard from these girls that they just want to go to school, not necessarily college or university. They just want to go to high school and this is a way for them to pay for it. I think all too often that’s the majority of the cases.
So they see this as an opportunity to get paid and go to school and eventually get out of India and go to the United States or to Europe. So, they are typically coerced. They’re promised a lot of things, a lot of false promises.
And once they’re in there they become indebted to the trafficker or the handler and they owe them a certain percentage of what they make. And it’s never enough for them to be released. So they are always under restrictive movement. They are always under control.
Regardless, you know, they keep promising the girls that ‘if you make enough money, if you save enough money, or you keep enough of your cut, then you’ll be able to go to school or you’ll be able to get out of debt bondage.’ But, they never let them go. Eventually, these girls become so seasoned that it just becomes a choice and a career for the rest of their life.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about the girls that are brought to the temple.
INVESTIGATOR: In a part of central India they have a ritual where the girls are brought by family members to the temple, right before they hit puberty and begin their first period, to be washed with holy water by a priest.
The family can now say, ‘My daughter has been blessed. She has been washed in the holy water.’ This now makes her holy and sacred so she can then go back to the village and men are allowed to have sex with her. This is considered a blessing on the man by the Hindi gods and the family sees this as revenue, as a way of making money.
As an undercover operative spending time there and witnessing some of these girls, these victims, is difficult. Some of them have been recovered. We saw a project where they are now learning how to sew, which makes them valuable to the community because they can make clothing and sell it, so it gives them a value. They’re able to bring something to the community other than being just a temple prostitute or “devadasis”.
INTERVIEWER: Is this considered a religious ceremony?
INVESTIGATOR: It is considered a Hindu religious ceremony.
INTERVIEWER:So it’s not considered wrong?
INVESTIGATOR: No, it’s not. It’s just culturally accepted. With that said though, this comes from typically a rural part of inner India where a lot of the older practices and ideas are still in place. But, when you get to the larger cities, there’s a majority of India, even in recent years, where women are receiving rights, for instance, the right to vote. There’s been a big change, a big trend in India wanting to change from some of their older ways and adopting some more traditional western ways, especially in regards to human rights when it comes to women and children.
INTERVIEWER: What can O.U.R. do to help these families?
INVESTIGATOR: I think one way is through education. How O.U.R. is involved with our local NGO partner in India is a good way. There are three pillars of anti-human trafficking: Prevention, Intervention, which typically O.U.R. does, and then Aftercare and O.U.R. is a part of that too. We do all three of those but primarily intervention and then making sure the girls are rehabilitated after the rescue. The rescue really begins after they’ve been taken out of that situation.
So O.U.R. can help by partnering with NGOs and possibly funding education for these girls. It’s a small amount of funding for some of these projects. And the reason why I mention this sewing project is that when I visited this project and saw the sewing room and talked to some of the girls there, some of the girls aren’t victims.
These are young girls in the community that, if they weren’t learning this skillset and learning how to sew and make clothing, more than likely, they would be used for a temple prostitute. But this puts a value on them to the community, where they’re bringing in revenue, where the family doesn’t feel, “well, financially, we don’t have enough money.”
There’s a balance there between their social-economical situation and their faith. I think the family, if they have a choice, would not sell their daughter to bring in that revenue. Despite their faith, I think they wouldn’t do that. This sewing project is teaching the girls that they have potential, so it’s the prevention aspect. And then it also gives the opportunity to the women who have been recovered and are previous victims of the situation to find value in themselves.
When we look at a rehabilitation process, we have a thought process that we’re used to, our western thought process, and the luxuries we have around us, however, something such as a hundred dollar sewing machine and being able to make a small amount of money creates tremendous value to a girl or woman in India.
Some of the girls, who hopefully will never become victims, know how important a skillset is because, for them, especially in the Hindi religion, there’s not a lot of value on a woman. She doesn’t serve a lot of purpose in the community. Usually, it’s just for sexual purposes or for work or for kids, so when you give them an opportunity or you teach them a skillset like sewing, it gives them a purpose of self-worth and then worth within the community because it’s actually generating revenue.
A lot of times when we see human trafficking or sex trafficking or even labor trafficking, we think of these big monstrous cities like New Delhi or Mumbai where it is really prevalent, but the problem starts, a lot of times, in these rural areas where it’s extremely poor. It’s poor in the big cities, but it’s extremely poor in the rural areas. Again, the education is less than it is in some of the bigger cities so the people have a tendency to be a lot more vulnerable to being coerced or manipulated or even intimidated into the circumstances of being trafficked.
Note: This is an on-going investigation and details concerning arrests and rescued girls will be discussed when it is safe to do so.
Edited by: Cheryl L. Karr
*ARZ = Anyay Rohit Zindagi http://www.arzindia.org/ (an Indian NGO, non-profit)
If you would like to support future rescue operations in India, please consider donating through our website www.OURrescue.org. If you have specific information on child trafficking in India, please contact us at info@OURrescue.org.