Their abject poverty, made worse by a pandemic that has stretched on for more than two years, made them vulnerable to traffickers who found it difficult to procure young women and minor girls and shifted focus to middle aged women from West Bengal’s coastal regions, said activists working in the area.
“There is less scrutiny on older women and their vulnerability has made them accessible to traffickers,” Nihar Ranjan Raptan, director of the Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra (GGBK), told PTI while explaining why traffickers are interested in middle aged and older women. “It was difficult to find minor girls during the lockdown as they were locked in their homes so traffickers moved their attention to older women who were in need of money to keep the sex trade going. Earlier, women below 24 years were usually seen to be trafficked,” Raptan, whose NGO works on issues of human trafficking, child rights and climate change impact, added.
He said 12-13 women in their late 30s and 40s from the Sundarbans area who were pushed into sex slavery have been rescued over the last four months. And this could just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
“We are still in the process of realising the complete impact that COVID-19 brought in this region already battling climate change effects,” she said.
Subhasree Raptan of GGBK said several areas in the Sundarbans have been washed away due to the rise in water levels, displacing a large number of people who were then forced to migrate due to financial insecurity and vulnerabilities.
In most cases, she said, agriculture has become unviable due to the increase in salinity of the water because of sea level rise. As a result, there is abject poverty and people, particularly women, are desperate to look for livelihood as they are often the breadwinners.
Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in May last year near the India-Bangladesh border, was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the north Indian Ocean with reported economic losses in India of approximately USD 14 billion.
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