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The sisters trafficked from a tea plantation
04:26 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: The CNN Freedom Project amplifies the voices of the victims of modern-day slavery, highlights success stories and helps unravel the tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life.

Story highlights

CNN reported on girls growing up on tea plantations in Assam, India, who are targeted by human traffickers

You sent us your questions about the series, experts give their answers

CNN  — 

Last month, in a series of videos CNN highlighted the plight of girls growing up on tea plantations in Assam, India, who are targeted by human traffickers.

Police in Assam say young girls from tea plantations are easy targets. They live in poverty, have very little education, and their parents are often saddled with debt.

Most are descendants of the original bonded laborers brought in from other parts of the country by British colonial rulers. They live in the same impoverished circumstances as they did more than a century ago, with the same impoverished lifestyles.

Traffickers approach the girls as placement agents, offering them work in cities such as Delhi. Police say young girls see placement agencies as a way to escape the cycle, lured by promises of good jobs and a steady income. Instead, they too often find themselves sold as domestic labor and denied wages, or forced to work in the sex industry. Police say hundreds of girls in tea districts fall victim to traffickers every year.

After the videos aired, we asked you to send us your questions about the series.

We sent the best questions to CNN reporter Muhammad Lila, Siddharth Kara, director of the Program on Human Trafficking at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Sarah Besky, an anthropologist at Brown University and author of “The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India.”

Here are their answers to your questions:

Question 1

Muhammad Lila: There are some good things happening. First, and perhaps most importantly, the government is aware of the problems. When we spoke with the federal minister in charge of the tea industry, she wouldn’t comment specifically about the trafficking aspect, saying only that other elected officials haven’t yet brought it to her attention. But overall, they’re aware of the terrible living conditions on some plantations.

One of the measures they’re implementing is to include tea workers into the government’s own welfare schemes. In other words, they realized some tea plantation owners weren’t providing their workers what they’re legally obliged to (things like adequate housing, clean water, elementary education, etc.)

So rather than continuing with the status quo, the government is re-writing the rules so that those things will now be provided directly by the government under existing welfare schemes that already cover other people. In exchange, the owners will take whatever they would have spent on those things and pay that amount directly to the employees, as a cash payout.

There are also some organizations like Rainforest Alliance and the Ethical Tea Partnership that are working to improve conditions on the ground, by monitoring working conditions and in some cases, helping to enforce voluntary guidelines that plantation owners have agreed to.