Estimating the prevalence of child sex trafficking (CST) is a critical first step for comprehensively addressing the problem. Information on the size of this key population provides national government agencies, non-profit organizations, another key stakeholders with an estimate of the scale and scope of the problem to inform protective and preventive measures. Such estimates also allow leaders to advocate for resources for CST victims. However, reliably estimating the size of this population has historically been extraordinarily challenging because victims are hidden by design. Further, it is often impossible to survey this population through traditional enumeration methods due to ethical and legal guidelines for interviewing children who are victims of sexual exploitation.
In 2020, IST Research, in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and with funding from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), used a hybrid methodological approach to address the important challenge of estimating the number of CST victims in Maharashtra, India. This study aimed to estimate the population size of CST victims in Maharashtra at a state level across both the public and the private sides of the commercial sex trade. While prior research indicates that Maharashtra hosts a significant commercial sex industry, few or no studies have investigated characteristics of the populations of sex workers and CST victims in Maharashtra at a statewide level.
Select Key Findings
There were approximately 29,000 sex workers in the state of Maharashtra. Of those, roughly 7,900, approximately 27%, were under the age of 18.
Developing a comprehensive counter-trafficking effort is aided by an understanding of the size of the victimized population. Multiple measurements help identify trends over time that can improve the targeting and implementation of interventions and provide vital information to decision-makers seeking to best allocate resources to ensure that counter-trafficking programs have a significant and lasting positive impact. The results of the study use several data points and methods to quantitatively examine the scale of child involvement in the commercial sex industry in Maharashtra. Taken together, the results suggest the involvement of child sex trafficking victims in the industry is notable, indicating a need for multidimensional approaches to reduce the victimization of minors in the state.
Among buyers who paid to have sex with someone aged 17 or younger, more than 3,200, approximately 36%, arranged the transaction digitally.
Given the increasing usage of the internet to facilitate CST, researchers should further profile sex workers in Maharashtra who are primarily engaged in online transactions and advertisement. Without effective methods to identify and counter both venue-based and online trafficking, as well as effective legislation to prosecute traffickers, growth in internet-enabled trafficking is expected.
The findings from this study will be remeasured in 2022 to assess trends over time in Maharashtra. This initiation of trend analysis is critical for government stakeholders and implementing organizations in the modern slavery field in Maharashtra to understand the trajectory of CST in specific geographies, enabling them to comment on the potential collective effect of anti-CST interventions in the state.
For more key findings and recommendations, download the briefing or full report.