Young girls sold in India to repay loans, says human rights group | India

Young girls in Rajasthan, northern India, are being sold as “repayment” of loans their parents cannot afford, the national human rights body has said.

The National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government demanding a police investigation and responses within a month to what it called an “abhorrent” practice.

People in many rural areas of India often have to borrow money from other villagers when a family member falls seriously ill and needs medical attention.

Local media reports that in half a dozen districts around Bhilwara, if a family cannot repay a loan, the aggrieved creditor complains to “caste panchayats” or caste councils.

As a “friendly settlement”, the councils ordered the family to hand over their daughter – sometimes several depending on the size of the loan – so that the creditor could sell her to a trafficker to recover his money.

In its opinion, the commission said that if the family refuses to sell their daughter, “their mothers are subject to rape on the dictates of the caste panchayats for the settlement of disputes.”

Among the cases highlighted by the commission is that of a man who borrowed 1.5 million rupees (£15,800) from a neighbor who was forced by the panchayat to sell his sister and 12-year-old daughter for settle the debt.

In another case, a man who borrowed 600,000 rupees (£6,300) when his wife fell ill and had to be hospitalized was unable to repay. The panchayat forced him to hand over his young daughter to the creditor, who then sold her to a trafficker in Agra. From there, “she was sold three times and got pregnant four times,” the commission said.

The commission sent an official to Rajasthan to investigate the cases. Bhilwara District Collector Ashish Modi said the crimes were the first of their kind. “They are totally illegal. The police are investigating and we will ensure that the victims get justice and the culprits are punished,” Modi said.

Panchayats are often a deeply regressive force in rural India, acting as kangaroo courts. They ordered what is called honor killings couples who defied tradition by marrying into a different caste or religion or ordered brutal punishments for couples suspected of adultery.

Kavita Srivastava, a veteran women’s rights activist in Jaipur, Rajasthan, said it was well known that caste panchayats informally regulate villagers’ personal affairs such as marriage, inheritance or custody. If people defy their orders, they are ostracized and shunned by the rest of the community.

“But what is new in these cases is that they seem to have expanded their scope to settle loan disputes in this way,” Srivastava said.

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