21 Rescued (18 adults, 3 minors) – Five Arrested
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.
Written by: Cheryl L. Karr