February 22, 2007
Bangladesh: The forgotten people
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Decades after Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) military junta forced the Rohingyas into exile, their suffering still continues. Trapped in displacement camps, they survive on starvation rations in constant fear of abuse.

"My people are rotting," despairs one refugee. The Bangladesh government classes the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants. According to the UNHCR, guards at the displacement camp are accused of forcing refugees into prostitution, extortion and stealing food. Thousands more live in slums along the Naj river without the basic protection of the U.N. "We survive by collecting leaves and boiling them," says one woman. "No-one cares about us."
February 19, 2007
Land of Missing Children

An estimated 30,000 girls are trafficked into the sex industry every year.

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Trafficking in human beings -- slavery -- is the third biggest criminal industry on the planet. Only the trade in guns and drugs exceed the sale of people on the global scales of illegal enterprise.

According to the International Labour Organization, two million people are taken, or sold, from their homes into a life of forced labour and sexual abuse every year. The overwhelming majority are women and children. More than half of all people enslaved are turned into sex workers who endure lives of incalculable misery before, most often, dying early, diseased, deaths. In India the problem is acute.

An estimated 30,000 girls are trafficked into the sex industry every year. Some are sold by poverty-stricken parents hoping that their children will find employment as domestic servants. Others are simply snatched off the streets, drugged, raped, and sold to brothel “madams.”

Many of these children come from the far east of India -- a region at the crossroads of trade routes with Nepal and Bhutan, which is now a hub of trade in young women. The story of one girl, Pratima, is rare. She was trafficked, rescued, was brought back into the embrace of her family, and is now happily married. Most women who escape the horrors of the business are shunned when they return home, their families refusing to take them in, much less help to heal their wounds.

But Pratima was keen to expose the trade. She told of how she was taken from her home in Siliguri, drugged, and forced onto a train to Calcutta. There she put to work as a prostitute, and then sold on to a brothel in Bombay (Mumbai) known as “Sheila’s.”

We tracked her route into the Red Light district of Calcutta and found the area dominated by a unionized group of madams who insisted that the girls they worked were all over 18, and all volunteers. They were even getting British aid money to run health programs among the working girls. But the sordid reality was manifestly different. Many of the girls were clearly under 18 but none dares say so, and our crew was warned to get out of the area before we were attacked.

We held out little hope of finding Sheila’s until we met up with Balkrishna Achariya, the head of the Rescue Foundation. He ran teams of agents who infiltrated the brothels, found girls who wanted to escape, and then arranged for their rescue, often at great personal risk. And yes, he knew of Shelia’s.

With his help the brothel was identified and sure enough there were under-age girls working there. We took the information to the police where the local commander seemed reluctant to take the matter seriously. “Surely,” he told us. “If there are no prostitutes then ‘decent women’ would be attacked.”

Nonetheless we forced his hand, and arranged to conduct a raid. What we found was medieval. Girls hidden in the rafters, girls in tomb-like underground hideaways. But at the moment of truth, when arrests should have been made, the rescued girls vanished into a crowd of madams gathered on the street. The raid was a farce, a disaster.

But many of the girls were later tracked down and saved from their agonies in what would better be called the “rape trade” by Balkrishna, who sadly perished in a road traffic accident a few months later. And the local police chief who botched the raid soon “retired.”

-- From producer Sam Kiley
World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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