A prominent charity in India’s beach resort state of Goa called on the government on Thursday to do more to rescue thousands of women and children who are trafficked to the popular tourism spot every year for sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Home Ministry data show more than 5,000 women and children were rescued from various forms of modern day slavery in Goa in the first 10 months of 2015.
But charities and police working to end human trafficking in the western coastal state disputed the data, saying they believed the number of victims rescued was much lower.
“The demand for commercial sex workers is high during the tourist season of October to February, but unfortunately there are very few rescues during this time as the police are busy with tourists and music shows and other activities,” said Arun Pandey, director of the charity Anyay Rahit Zindagi.
“Most rescues are during the monsoon, when the police are relatively free. But there haven’t been as many rescues as this data claims,” he said, adding that only a couple of hundred victims were rescued each year.
Almost 36 million people are enslaved worldwide – trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude, according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index.
Almost half of them – 16 million – are in India, where slavery ranges from bonded labour in quarries and kilns to domestic servitude and prostitution.
Activists in Goa say up to 4,000 women and children from Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and from other Indian states are duped by traffickers who promise them good jobs in the state, which is famed for its palm-fringed beaches and night life.
Instead, they find themselves being exploited in brothels fronted by hotels, beauty salons, spas and bars or used in forced labour such as domestic work or in the hospitality industry.
Minister of State Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told India’s parliament last month that 4,371 women and 823 children were rescued in Goa in the first 10 months of 2015 — the highest number rescued in that period from any Indian state.
But Pandey said that while Goa has two anti-human trafficking police units, they also have other duties and do not have the resources effectively to curb human trafficking and rescue so many victims.
Local police in Goa also questioned the data on rescues.
The government’s numbers are “probably incorrect” said Karthik Kashyap, Goa police superintendent for crime, who estimated that only 100 to 150 victims are rescued annually.