Jharkhand Police’s cyber cell has decided to track the Facebook accounts of all users in the state to weed out possible human traffickers who are increasingly using social media to lure young rural girls and children to big cities.
Activists say growing mobile phone penetration in the tribal-dominated state had aided human traffickers, who often use WhatsApp messages to run a nexus that sells children into bonded labour or sex slaves.
“Children, including some from Jharkhand, are stripped on Skype for potential buyers in different countries,” said Lt. Vineet Kumar Kumar, a former member of the Jharkhand cyber cell and president of the Cyber Peace Foundation.
Many school girls from the state have complained of Facebook stalkers, who pressurised the students to meet them in other states, he said.
“We have asked our cyber cell to track potential traffickers’ Facebook accounts and prepare a list for us,” said Inspector General (Organized Crime) Sampat Meena but admitted the police were yet to come across such cases.
Every year, thousands of children, especially tribal girls are picked up from Jharkhand that has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, and sold to different parts of the country.
These minors are often subjected to physical, mental and sexual tortures by their employers and agents causing serious ailments and even death at times. Many of them are reportedly forced to conceive and deliver babies for sale to metro couples or pushed into prostitution, activists say.
The use of Facebook by human traffickers is well documented across the world, with news agencies reporting a spike in such cases in United Kingdom, Thailand and Indonesia in 2015.
“It won’t be a surprise if links are established to prove the use of social media by traffickers to trap children,” said additional director general of police, SN Pradhan.
Traffickers have also increasingly used WhatsApp to sell Jharkhand girls to employers in the national capital region, claim police.
In July, Uttar Pradesh Police found minor girls from Jharkhand were being put on sale as sex slaves through WhatsApp. The police had also rescued three such girls from a house in Ghaziabad.
Activist Rishi Kant, a founder member of Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini said the role of social media in human trafficking required serious investigation.
“The use of WhatsApp by traffickers is common, but Facebook accounts should also be under scanner,” he said.
As per the 2011 census, about five million households in the state that hold around 33 million people have internet connections.
According to figures with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 37 children were trafficked from Jharkhand to different parts of the country in 2013. However, activists and civil society organisations claim the NCRB data are plagued by chronic under-reporting of such cases.