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Post-COVID, loss of income acute among trafficking survivors: study

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the earnings of Fatima (name changed), a survivor of human trafficking, rescued in 2017. Already she was grappling with the legal process. She was earning some money from a self-help group of survivors in the Canning subdivision of West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district when the pandemic affected her plans.

“I have had no earning for the past six months and there is little hope that I will be able to make some money in the coming months. My Father, a driver who works in Kolkata, has no earning either and we have to support a family of six,” she said.

The 24-year old, a leader of then Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking, said the plight of other trafficking survivors was no different and they were also facing economic hardship.

In an attempt to understand the distress among survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable women, several non-government organisations associated with Tafteesh and Survivors Leadership Programme conducted a vulnerability analysis of 236 survivors of human trafficking, survivors of commercial sex work and women in sex work from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. The women were identified by organisations such as Goranbose Gram Bikas Kendra, HELP, Partners for Anti Trafficking and Sanjog. The vulnerability assessment was carried among 120 women from West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas district and 116 women from Prakasam, Guntur and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh.

“Out of the 236 survivors assessed, 79 [or 33%] had no income of themselves before the lockdown, the number increased to 183 [or 77.5%] after the lockdown. Similarly, the number of no income for their family heads before lockdown was 65 [27.5%], which got increased to 206 [87%] following the lockdown,” the study revealed.

Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, associated with Tafteesh, an access to justice programme under which the analysis was done, said the study revealed that the women had little support of institutional schemes such as the MGNREGS.

“Only 26 or 11% of the women had reported to have job cards. This means even if government schemes such as MGNREGS start in their localities they might not get any work in the absence of a job card,” Mr. Pattnaik said.

No ration card

On the access to food grains under the public distribution system (PDS), of the 236 vulnerable women, 41 reported that they did not have a ration card, while 25 of them had neither ration card nor a coupon to receive free or subsidised ration during the lockdown period. About 56 reported that they had no access to regular ration supplied under the PDS.

The loss of income coupled with little institutional support has put the women with no option but to turn to moneylenders.

“Of the 236 women, 143 had taken some loan before the lockdown, and another 106 joined them in taking loans to cope with the financial crisis. The loan amount varies from as low as ₹1,500 to ₹4,30,000,” the study revealed.

Loans with high interest

The study revealed that women from Andhra Pradesh were reported to have taken heavy loans with high interest rates from private moneylenders compared to women from West Bengal. “There are at least 28 women from Andhra Pradesh who appear to be at very high risk in terms of repayment of debts that can lead to bondage, servitude and harassment by the moneylenders,” the report added.

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