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This 12-year-old was abducted, married to 52-yr-old. Her rescue exposed ‘child bride’ racket

New Delhi: One day in December, she found herself garlanded with flowers, a tilak drawn on a strange man’s forehead, marking her unexpected and unwilling passage into ‘married’ life. All of 12 years old, she was still at a loss to comprehend why she was smuggled to a far-off village in another state and handed over to a stranger.

He, 40 years her elder, had bought her for a price of Rs 70,000 — a deal that barely “scratches the surface” of an alleged racket that hawks young girls and women to men in Haryana.

According to official statements from Noida Police, who are tracking the case, and accounts offered by police sources, the nightmare of the child bride began on 26 December, when her mother went to the factory where she works as a daily wage labourer.

Left alone at home, the 12-year-old was playing outside her house in Badalpur, a village in Uttar Pradesh, when a young woman — an old acquaintance and neighbour — is believed to have stopped by.

They ate together and the girl told the 23-year-old woman that she liked a neighbourhood boy, and that her mother had scolded her for it. The woman promised to help her meet up with him. But instead, the child found herself on a bus to Haryana.

The minor Muslim girl was allegedly “married” to a 52-year-old Hindu man on 27 December. The “husband”, a taxi driver, would allegedly rape her for a week at his house in Mahra, a village in Gohana tehsil, Sonepat, and force her to manage the household chores and care for his elderly mother.

He has now been charged with rape and offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. 

“The girl was presented before the Child Welfare Committee and her mother took custody of her, after the child was counselled,” Noida Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Vrinda Shukla told ThePrint.

Noida Police found the girl after a 13-day search and have identified 11 accused so far in the case, which they say points to a nexus selling young brides, often minors, to men in Haryana — part of a larger trend of cross-border trafficking that experts attribute to the state’s skewed sex ratio.

According to the 2011 Census, Haryana’s sex ratio was the lowest among Indian states, 879 for every 1,000 boys. Health data from the Haryana government shows that the SRB — sex ratio at birth — has seen a marginal rise over the past decade, although it reportedly dipped eight points between 2020 and 2021.

Also read: Child sex racket busted by CBI ‘extends from Pakistan to US, shares videos on social media’

Search and rescue

The police operation to rescue the 12-year-old found a gang believed to be operating across several states. 

Back home, the girl’s mother had continued to search for her, and an FIR for kidnapping was registered at the local police station. The complaint was lodged against unidentified persons, but the mother mentioned in her statement that she knew the 23-year-old woman had visited that day.

A search team was organised, and the girl was found on the 13th day at a 35-year-old woman’s rented accommodation in Ghaziabad. 

According to the police, this woman, a native of Jharkhand, is the prime accused and the thread linking 10 others accused in the case. Eight have been arrested so far, including three women — the 35-year-old prime accused, the 23-year-old who kidnapped the girl, and another 24-year-old — and five men, including the minor’s “husband”. Three others, including the husbands of two of the women, are allegedly on the run. 

Among those arrested is a 50-year-old casual labourer from Rohtak, who police say orchestrated the deal to sell off the 12-year-old girl. 

“She was taken, via bus, by the three women to a 35-year-old man’s house in Rohtak. A call was made by the main accused, the woman, to this man, who she has known for some time,” a senior police officer said.

“The 35-year-old called the 50-year-old man, the broker, and asked him for prospective grooms to sell off the minor. He then got the 52-year-old man, and the money was distributed among all of them,” the officer added. 

Also read: Haryana CM Khattar didn’t say ‘bring girls from Kashmir’, but he sure found it funny

‘Consent’ — living with the trafficker 

The 35-year-old man who hosted the exchange himself bought his wife — now 21 — two years ago from the Jharkhand woman, according to the police. 

The wife, a native of Muzaffarnagar, had earlier been married off by her family to a man who allegedly beat her regularly. One night, after six months of regular abuse, she left the house, and came to New Delhi, police sources said. 

Staying at the New Delhi railway station for two days, she was allegedly spotted by racketeers — often the wives of local vendors — who prowl near bus stands and railway stations, looking for “soft targets”. The main accused found this woman and brought her to her house in Ghaziabad, sources said. 

“She lived there for a couple of days but was uncomfortable as the woman’s husband would hit her regularly, so she asked the 35-year-old woman to find a place for her to stay,” the senior police officer said. The Muslim woman was sold off to the 35-year-old Hindu man for Rs 80,000, and she has been living with him for the past two years. 

The husband has been arrested — but now, this woman is said to be accustomed to life with him, and returned to his house after she was taken to the police station. Sources said that when her birth family was contacted by police, they didn’t want her back, saying she had eloped from her (first) husband’s house. 

“In her 164 CrpC statement, she said she wanted to go back to her (new) husband’s house, to her mother-in-law. She said she isn’t aware of any transactions, but the man has confessed during interrogation,” the officer said. 

The minor and the 21-year-old are both illiterate, and come from similar socio-economic backgrounds. 

Also read: Three Indian brides who were sold spoke to me. This is their story

Scratching the surface 

With these arrests, the police have only “scratched the surface” of a larger nexus that deals in selling young women, especially minors, to men in Haryana, according to DCP Shukla. 

“We are still investigating. The main accused is from Jharkhand. We suspect she has also been involved in human trafficking from there to this belt. Local police have been alerted across states for information on missing girls. It came to light during the probe that there are more people involved in this,” the DCP said. 

According to sources, the 12-year-old told the police that she had overheard a conversation between members of the racket about another girl, who is “mentally challenged”, being sold off. Efforts are being made to trace this other girl. 

“So far, we suspect that this particular gang has been buying and selling young girls for the last three years. During questioning, the accused revealed that this is a common trend in this area — a lot of people in Haryana have appeared to marry young girls from other states,” the DCP said. 

“They have said that in their villages, a lot of people ask them for young brides. There is a supply chain — a done thing in this belt, owing to the state’s skewed sex ratio. The girls are passed off from one intermediary to another and then finally sold off,” she added. 

These brides, reports suggest, are mostly from Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, and are termedParo’ or ‘Mol-ki-bahu’ by local residents in Haryana.

Also read: ‘Mol ki bahuein’ — the women Haryana’s men buy as brides

Purpose and difference in data reports

Why do these men buy wives across borders? Ranjana Kumari, director of Delhi-based NGO Centre for Social Research, has been associated with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ initiative and worked in five Haryana districts — Kurukshetra, Ambala, Jhajjar, Rohtak and Gurugram.

She told ThePrint that the problem lies with the state’s skewed sex ratio, due to which men aren’t able to find brides for themselves. 

“The purpose of buying brides is a composition of everything — the desire to have a young wife, and wanting male progeny to carry on the lineage,” Kumari said. 

The state’s skewed sex ratio has historically been attributed to female foeticide. According to the last census, 2011, Haryana’s sex ratio was the lowest of any state, at 879 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

The latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that pan-India, a total of 1,714 cases of human trafficking were registered in 2020 compared to 2,208 in 2019, showing a decrease of 22.4 per cent.

This is according to data provided by states and Union territories on the basis of cases registered by their respective anti-human trafficking units. Maharashtra tops the chart with the highest number of registered cases, 184. 

Haryana, meanwhile, had 14 such cases in 2020, out of which 16 are female victims, including six minors. This is a drop from 15 cases in 2019 and 34 in 2018. In total, 18 female victims were rescued in 2020, 14 of whom were Indian nationals. 

With several categories in the NCRB data under ‘purpose of human trafficking’, Haryana has nine victims registered for ‘sexual exploitation for prostitution’, seven for ‘forced marriage’ and two listed under other reasons. 

Under ‘miscarriage, infanticide, foeticide and abandonment’, the state has 89 cases registered with the crime rate at 0.3 (crime per lakh population). Madhya Pradesh, with more than twice the population of Haryana, has the same crime rate with 271 such cases. 

Under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prevention and Misuse) Act to check female foeticide, Haryana records the highest number of registered cases at 39 followed by Punjab at 10. 

There have been winds of change over time, with authorities raiding abortion clinics, clampdowns on sex determinations, and awareness campaigns. There have been around 1,000 raids in the past five years. 

According to the Civil Registration System (CRS) figures — the unified process of continuous, permanent, and compulsory recording of vital events (births, deaths, stillbirths) and their characteristics — health data from the Haryana government shows the SRB stood at 833 in 2011, 876 in 2015, 900 in 2016, and 914 in 2017 and 2018.

It went up to 923 in 2019 before falling marginally to 922 in 2020 and further to 914 in 2021.  

However, the Sample Registration System (SRS) — dual recording, which involves continuous enumeration and retrospective half-yearly surveys — figures paint a different picture.

According to SRS data, the SRB stood at 866 in 2012-14, 832 in 2013-15, 832 in 2014-16, and 843 in 2016-18, the latter being the latest figures available, released in June 2020.  

The National Family Health Survey-5 (2020-2021), says the state’s sex ratio has increased by 57 points over the past five years. The overall sex ratio rose from 876 in NFHS-4 (2015-16) to 926 in NFHS-5 (2020-2021), and sex ratio at birth witnessed a rise from 836 to 893. 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Far from being the solution, Haryana One Stop Centres seem to be adding to women’s problems

Source: The Print

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