HUMAN rights activists are calling for a government investigation into claims that Indian women and children are being trafficked to Bahrain for prostitution and pornography.Indian Ambassador Balkrishna Shetty has also pledged to investigate the reports.
Underage girls are being trafficked to countries across the Middle East, including Bahrain, says a report from the Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi.
Girls as young as 11 are being trafficked in an illegal but highly profitable industry, says the study, Trafficking in Women and Children in India.
Victims are being lured to Bahrain, Dubai and Oman as well as South Africa, Kenya and Thailand with the promise of jobs as domestic servants, in factories or within the film industry, says the report.
They are also being duped with proposals of marriage, offers of money or think they are being taken on holiday.
But when they arrive, victims realise they have been "sold" to a trafficker, often by their own poverty-stricken families.
Young women can be "bought" for as low as 1,000 Indian rupees (BD8.5), says the report.
In some cases, traffickers have bribed police or offered them access to the girls in a bid to avoid prosecution.
Indonesian police have also just foiled an attempt to send 60 illegal women workers through one of the country's airports, to work in Bahrain and Dubai.
Most of the victims said they were due to be working as maids but did not have any legal documents, including passports and ID cards.
"I was ordered to go straight to the airport in Bandung this morning to be sent to Bahrain to work as a maid," Yanti, a 22-year-old Indonesian from Karawang, told officers, according to the Jakarta Post.
Two men detained by police reportedly admitted they were to be paid around BD6 for each worker sent overseas.
Traffickers as "merchants of human misery", says the 748-page Indian study.
"Trafficking is without doubt a very lucrative business. It requires a low investment, but ensures a high profit.
"Attraction to the glamour world of films was exploited to dupe the victims. Many young girls from Nepal are lured by promises of jobs in the film industry in Mumbai.
"Unless there is a paradigm shift whereby the traffickers are brought to book, made to compensate for the damage and harm done to the victims and their illegal assets are confiscated, there can be no real solution to the problem."
Researchers interviewed 160 traffickers as part of the study, which was sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission.
It found more than a quarter of traffickers spend less than 5,000 Indian rupees (BD 42.7) to procure a girl and the cheapest cost only 1,000 rupees (BD 8.5).
Sankar Sen, head of the Institute of Social Sciences' human rights wing, estimated that at any one time up to 500,000 women and children in India were being trafficked around India and abroad to other countries.
"India is one of the most affected countries. The women and children are bought here and sent to some Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain," he said.
"They are being commercially exploited as prostitutes and into other forms of slavery.
"India is a transit and source country.
"We don't have figures but we know about a large number of women and children who have been subject to commercial sexually exploitation.
"Today demand is more for children and our research shows that average age (of those involved) is coming down.
"This is a very serious problem and it has not received too much official attention so far.
"There is collusion with the police and authorities and there also are some inadequate laws.
"This was not considered a very important issue and was a low priority area but because it has become serious organised crime and has increased it is being looked at.
"We hope some concrete action will follow."
Mr Shetty pledged the embassy would look seriously into the issue.
"I have not seen the report and all I can say is that we will work in co-operation with the authorities in India and here to stop human trafficking, he said.
"Obviously it is something that is a horror and should not have a place in the 21st century.
"It is a very shameful thing and those in the know are perhaps afraid that something will happen to them if they talk about it.
"It is something that should be stopped and should not be happening."
Bahrain Human Rights Society president Sabika Al Najjar was not surprised by the report's findings, saying she was certain it went on in Bahrain.
"It is very difficult to know exactly the story, but from what we know it exists, in terms of the trafficking of children and domestic helpers," she said.
"There are (child cases) I am sure but this is a very closed and secret society.
"Many are Indonesian children and it is a circle which starts in their country, where they change the age of the child on their passport, so when she comes to the country people do not realise she is a child.
"These children are helpless when they come to Bahrain and are ignorant so they cannot reach any person to help them."
Dr Najjar called on the government to fully investigate the problem and tighten checks on children entering the country.
She referred to the case of 14-year-old Indonesian maid Fitri Binti Kaeri, which emerged after she ran way from her job when her sponsor's wife allegedly smashed a glass over her head in 2004.
Dr Najjar also recalled the plight of 13-year-old Indonesian Sriyana Binti Darsono in the same year, who was allegedly beaten by her employers, as evidence of the trafficking of underage young girls to Bahrain.
Sriyana had a passport that falsely declared that she was 24 and Fitri carried one which said she was 20.
Both girls were eventually sent home.
Soroor Qarooni, director of the Anti-child Abuse Be Free Project president Soroor Qarooni, also called for government action.
"We have never had any cases regarding this particular issue, but that does not mean that it does not exist," she said.
"Usually victims do not use modern technology and e-mails to report these things (as they would do contact the project).
"It can exist anywhere.
"It is the government and non governmental organisations' (NGO) job to investigate this thoroughly and give clear statistics and figures.
"I think it needs much more thorough study.
"Even if there was no report it is always healthy to have investigations like that."
The Migrant Workers Protection Society in Bahrain has never dealt with any cases of human trafficking, but is aware the problem exists.
"We know this sort of thing goes on because we hear and read about it but we have not handled anything like this," said action committee head Marietta Dias.
"Our aim is to take care of housemaids and labourers in Bahrain and we have not come across even one case like that.
"If someone did come to us, of course we would help them, but we have not experienced this happening from India or any other country."
Bahrain's United Nations resident co-ordinator and UN Development Programme representative Khalid Alloush refused to discuss the matter and would only say: "We have no information about this."
Immigration officials were unavailable for comment.