No 'Back-To-School' For 17-Year-Old Bengal Trafficking Survivor

West Bengal is one of the top states for trafficking source, transit and destination.

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No 'Back-To-School' For 17-Year-Old Bengal Trafficking Survivor

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17-year-old Deepa (name changed) is a survivor of trafficking from a Bengal village in the Sunderbans

Kolkata:  A girl from Bengal was trafficked to Delhi, rescued after five months and is now back home. She wants to go back to school and take the Class 10 board exams next year. But the school doesn't allow married girls to attend classes and they don't know she was trafficked - not married.

So the girl has hit a brick wall - a wall that is leaving traffic victims vulnerable to a multiplying problem - re-trafficking.

In her home deep inside a Bengal village in the Sunderbans, Deepa's family (name changed) is jittery. 

Having just turned 17, the Class 10 student at a government-run school had become friends with a man on social media. One fine day in May, he said, let's elope and get married. 

The next thing she knew, she was on a train to Delhi, to a new address: Kotha 56 - a neighbourhood in Delhi's red-light district GB Road.

This routine has made West Bengal one of the top states for trafficking source, transit and destination. But when non-profit outfits and the police do manage to rescue survivors, there is no one to turn to reintegrate. 

"Someone has to help me. The government, my school, so that I can continue my studies and do something with my life. Otherwise I my life is ruined and I will be forced to go back to that place," says Deepa.

After she disappeared, the family went to the police, initially with discouraging results. Deepa's older sister, Moni, however, turned every stone, including Sunderbans police and NGO Shakti Vahini.

Deepa returned last month. But to a new trauma.

"If she doesn't go school, just stays at home, the villager will gossip. They will not allow their daughters to speak to her. She will be isolated. No school to go to, no government help so she may think her only option is to go back there," said Moni, worried sick.

And why can't she go back to school? When Deepa went missing, her family felt the most respectable thing to say - and that's what they thought had happened - is Deepa had gone and got married. 

But that has now shut the doors to her school.

"Regular classes will not be possible for her as she is married. That is the tradition in the school - no married girls in school if they marry before passing Class 10," said the head teacher of Deepa's school, unaware the pupil was trafficked. 

"However," she added, and that is silver lining, "we will allow her to sit for exams."

Whether that offer will stand once the school knows she was trafficked is an unanswered question. 

Deepa's mother is worried sick. Not about what the neighbours will say or the teacher and students at school but what will happen to her daughter. 

"I have two sons. But after my husband and I are gone, I don't know if they will take care of Deepa. What will happen to her then?" she wails. "I want her to study and stand on her own feet." Her husband is a daily wager. Her older son drives an auto, the younger one is in school. 

Failure to re-integrate survivors like Deepa is leading to re-trafficking. Sometimes because their backs are against the wall, financially, often because the traffickers are about and re-exploit their poverty and social isolation and a myriad other reasons. 

Can Bengal, already a top trafficking source, afford it?  

There are government schemes but survivors don't know about them and they are also full of ifs and buts. 

One of the many state agencies trying to rehabilitate minor trafficking survivors is the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. Its chairperson is aware of Deepa's case but not of her plight.

"There is a scheme, government pays Rs 2000 a month, it goes directly into the child's bank account. The social welfare department has funds which the district magistrate can distribute under this scheme to as many as 41 minors every year," says SCPCR chairperson Ananya Chakraborty. 

"For this girl, I am making two commitments," she tells NDTV. "She will return to school and, if she is in the Below Poverty Level category, I will ask the DM to put her under the sponsorship scheme definitely."

It's been a month since Deepa came back home and is cowering behind closed doors waiting for a future. 

A happy ending is still elusive.

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