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Female slavery survivors unite to back anti-trafficking law


Thomson Reuters Foundation
NEW DELHI
Female survivors of modern slavery are joining forces in India's capital to urge lawmakers to urgently pass a tough new anti-trafficking law that aims to help victims rebuild their lives.
India's cabinet last week approved a law which would prioritise survivors'needs, establish a rehabilitation fund and prevent the imprisonment of victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation, such as women and girls found in brothel raids.
Dozens of survivors and activists are meeting politicians in Delhi this week to demand that the bill is passed by parliament soon amid fears it may fall off the radar with political attention expected to turn to general elections set for 2019.
Several victims - who had been sexually exploited, trapped in bonded labour and forced into marriage - said they were struggling to survive and feed their families since escaping and feared being trapped back into slave labour to survive.
"We need shelter, support, education for our children ... not just money,"said mother-of-four Meena, 50, who was trapped working in a brick kiln for three years during which time she was abused, deprived of food and paid just 5,000 rupees ($77).
Meena - who withheld her real name for fear of retribution - was rescued by activists last month, but said a lack of help from the government had driven her to send her children to work.
"We are poor so access to justice and rehabilitation is hard,"said Meena, one of five survivors who spoke at a workshop on trafficking run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.
The Trafficking of Persons Bill unifies existing anti-trafficking laws and aims to make India a leader in the fight against such crimes in South Asia, one of the fastest-growing regions for forced labour, begging and forced marriage globally. Indian state data shows reports of trafficking rose by about 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year to 8,132 cases.
"Rehabilitation must be the major part (of the law) - the government must allocate money for these services,"said Kailash Satyarthi, joint winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for curbing child labour and fighting for their right to education.
None of the five survivors who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation said they had received help from the government.

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