EQUALITY INDIA NEWS
India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The forced labor of millions of its citizens constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. A common characteristic of bonded labor is the use of physical and, in many instances, sexual violence – including rape – as coercive tools, in addition to debt, to maintain these victims’ labor. Ninety percent of trafficking in India is internal, and those from India’s most disadvantaged social economic strata including the lowest castes are particularly vulnerable to forced or bonded labor and sex trafficking. Children are also subjected to forced labor as factory workers, domestic servants, beggars, agricultural workers, and, to a lesser extent, in some areas of rural Uttar Pradesh, as carpet weavers.
Women and girls are trafficked within the country for the purposes of forced prostitution. Religious pilgrimage centers and cities popular for tourism continue to be vulnerable to child sex tourism. Indian nationals engage in child sex tourism within the country and, to a lesser extent, in other countries. Sex trafficking in some large cities continued to move from red light areas to road side small hotels, and private apartments. Women and girls from Nepal and Bangladesh are also subjected to sex trafficking in India. Maoist armed groups known as the Naxalites forcibly recruited children into their ranks.
There are also victims of labor trafficking among the hundreds of thousands of Indians who migrate willingly every year to the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, the United States, Europe, and other countries, for work as domestic servants and low-skilled laborers. In some cases, such workers are lured from their communities through fraudulent recruitment, leading them directly to situations of forced labor, including debt bondage; in other cases, high debts incurred to pay recruitment fees leave them vulnerable to exploitation, conditions of involuntary servitude, and physical and sexual abuse by unscrupulous employers in the destination countries. Nationals from Bangladesh and Nepal are trafficked through India for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation in the Middle East. Some Indians have been investigated and convicted by foreign governments for human trafficking. Over 500 guestworkers from India filed a class action lawsuit in a U.S. court alleging that they were held in forced labor in Texas and Mississippi.
The Government of India does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ launched the government’s “Comprehensive Scheme for Strengthening Law Enforcement Response in India,” which seeks to improve India’s overall law enforcement response to all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor, and established at least 87 new Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs). The government also ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. The government took important law enforcement steps by convicting several bonded labor offenders with sentences between five and 14 years and improved rescue and rehabilitation efforts for bonded laborers. Overall law enforcement efforts against bonded labor, however, remained inadequate, and the complicity of public officials in human trafficking remained a serious problem, which impeded progress.
Recommendations for India: Strengthen central and state government law enforcement capacity to fight against all forms of human trafficking; work towards ensuring that national legislation prohibits and punishes all forms of human trafficking; increase intrastate and interstate investigations, prosecutions, and convictions on all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor; increase law enforcement efforts to decrease official complicity in trafficking, including prosecuting alleged complicit officials and convicting and punishing complicit officials in accordance with Indian law; encourage states to establish Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act courts like the one in Mumbai; improve distribution of state and central government rehabilitation funds to victims under the Bonded Labor (System) Abolition Act (BLSA); improve protections for trafficking victims who testify against their traffickers; empower AHTUs through financial support and encourage them to address labor trafficking, including bonded labor; encourage state and district governments to file bonded labor cases under appropriate criminal statutes; improve central and state government implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes to ensure that certified trafficking victims receive benefits; target welfare schemes and laws to communities that are specifically vulnerable to trafficking and to rescued victims; and increase the quantity and breadth of public awareness and related programs on bonded labor.
The government made progress in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking in 2010, but concerns remain. India prohibits and punishes most, but not all, forms of human trafficking under a number of laws. The government prohibits bonded and forced labor through the BLSA, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (CLA), and the Juvenile Justice Act. These laws were unevenly enforced, and their prescribed penalties – a maximum of three years in prison – are not sufficiently stringent. Moreover, these prison sentences were rarely imposed on offenders. India also prohibits some, but not all, forms of sex trafficking through the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA). Prescribed penalties under the ITPA, ranging from seven years’ to life imprisonment, are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The ITPA also criminalizes other offenses. ITPA crimes, however, are frequently tried under magistrate courts, which limit sentences to three years, whereas rape cases are generally tried under Sessions courts which permit the maximum sentences according to the law. Indian authorities also used Sections 366(A) and 372 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which prohibit kidnapping and selling children into prostitution, respectively, to arrest and prosecute suspected sex traffickers. Penalties prescribed under these provisions are a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The Indian government continued to debate proposed amendments to the ITPA to give trafficking victims greater protections and eliminate Section 8, which is sometimes used to criminalize sex trafficking victims. The state of Goa has its own laws prohibiting child trafficking; prescribed penalties under the 2003 Goa Children’s Act include imprisonment of no less than three months and/or a fine for child labor trafficking, and imprisonment for one year and a fine for child sex trafficking.
A court in the state of Tamil Nadu in July 2010 issued a landmark conviction of five years’ imprisonment and a fine to three bonded labor perpetrators. An NGO reported five other convictions against bonded labor perpetrators in Uttar Pradesh with sentences of 14 years’ imprisonment. NGOs reported there were at least 150 labor trafficking prosecutions launched. Most government prosecutions were supported in partnership with NGOs; however, officials in Tamil Nadu proactively initiated the rescue of bonded laborers and prosecutions in at least four cases. The disposition of the prosecutions recorded in the 2010 TIP Report are unknown. Some state governments convicted offenders for the use of child labor, such as the 444 convictions obtained by Uttar Pradesh courts under the CLA; some of these children may have been trafficking victims.
In Mumbai, the ITPA court issued 164 convictions against brothel owners and pimps; a majority of these convictions were for sex trafficking. As progress from the previous year, the judge in Mumbai’s ITPA court ensured that sex trafficking victims were not penalized with a $2 fine. In 2010, Andhra Pradesh courts registered 118 convictions against brothel owners and pimps under various sections of the ITPA and IPC, with sentences ranging from three to seven years; a majority of these convictions were for sex trafficking. However, as convicts are entitled to bail on the first day of sentencing, it is unclear how many convicted criminals actually served their sentences. In Tamil Nadu, the government reported that police launched investigations in 572 cases under the ITPA between January and December 2010.
Indian courts had a lenient attitude towards bail for alleged trafficking offenders, and the accused were often released on bail after an investigation was over; this facilitated witness intimidation and delayed trials. Obtaining convictions in many parts of India was difficult due to many causes, including overburdened courts, the lack of modern docket systems, a weak understanding of the laws, and lack of commitment and awareness by some local authorities. Under the Indian Constitution, states have the primary responsibility for law enforcement, and state-level authorities are limited in their abilities to effectively confront interstate and transnational trafficking crimes. The ILO has noted that enforcement of the BLSA remains weak. Law enforcement efforts against bonded labor were also hampered by instances of police complicity, traffickers escaping during raids or on bail, or cases dropped by officials for a variety of reasons, including insufficient evidence, witnesses turning hostile, and intimidation by traffickers. Some police treated victims as perpetrators, did not use victim-centric policies, and did not improve victim-witness security, which hindered victim testimony and prosecutions. Other police, however, actively partnered with NGOs to facilitate prosecutions.
The Government of India’s “Comprehensive Scheme for Strengthening Law Enforcement Response in India” earmarked $12 million over three years to implement the nationwide anti-trafficking effort. As a part of this effort, state governments established at least 87 new AHTUs in police departments during the reporting period, for a total of at least 125 AHTUs, spanning at least 17 of India’s 28 states. Some NGOs believed that some units were more focused on sex trafficking than the more significant problem of labor trafficking, including bonded labor. Each AHTU is designed to be tailored to local conditions to effectively confront the forms of human trafficking found in the particular district.
The involvement of some public officials in human trafficking, and the pervasiveness of corruption in India, remained significant and largely unaddressed hurdles to greater progress against trafficking. Corrupt law enforcement officers reportedly continued to facilitate the movement of sex trafficking victims and protected suspected traffickers and brothel keepers from the law. Some police continued to tip-off locations of sex and labor trafficking to impede rescue efforts. Some owners of brothels, rice mills, brick kilns, and stone quarries are reportedly politically connected. India reported no convictions or sentences of government officials for trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. However, the government arrested a former member of parliament for forcing a girl into prostitution in Kolkata. The government filed a First Information Report against an Indian Administrative Service officer for his alleged use of forced child labor. The officer is currently out on bail.
Indian courts continued to be active in the fight against human trafficking during the year. High court orders in Bihar, Delhi, Punjab, and West Bengal required those states to strengthen their anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts; results from these court orders were uneven. According to NGOs, state and district officials countrywide trained over 10,000 law enforcement officials on human trafficking, in partnership with them. This included four training-of-trainer regional workshops held in the reporting period by the Bureau of Police Research and Development and UNODC.
India made uneven progress in its efforts to protect victims of human trafficking. Indian law enforcement and immigration officials continued to lack formal procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as children at work sites, females in prostitution, or members from the disadvantaged social economic strata in rural industries. The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported that in Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal, over 750 bonded laborers were rescued and hundreds of rehabilitation packages were issued, valuing approximately $171,000, between January 2010 and September 2010. NGOs reported hundreds of more rescues and release certificates and issued during the reporting period, particularly in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. Although each government-recognized victim of bonded labor is entitled to 20,000 rupees (about $450) under the BLSA from the state and central government, disbursement of rehabilitation funds was uneven. NGOs reported that the government increasingly released rehabilitation funds, although disbursement problems remained. For instance, one NGO cited that in a Tamil Nadu case, 10 laborers received their rehabilitation packages within two and a half months (in advance of the six months processing time allowed by the law), but also noted that bonded laborers released in Andhra Pradesh had not received any rehabilitation funds since 2007, despite 150 packages pending. Andhra Pradesh provided property to 30 freed bonded laborers and provided government-subsidized loans to help 200 sex trafficking victims acquire homes. Tamil Nadu trained over 100 of its inspectors on human trafficking, including bonded labor. According to an NGO, state officials in Orissa and Karnataka worked together to rescue and repatriate 77 bonded laborers from a brick kiln in Karnataka in September 2010, although the government has not yet prosecuted the alleged traffickers.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) funded 331 Swadhar projects – which helps female victims of violence, including sex trafficking – and 134 projects and 73 rehabilitation centers in 16 states under the Ujjawala program – which seeks to protect and rehabilitate female trafficking victims – and 238 women’s helplines. This is an increase from the previous year. Foreign victims can access these shelters. Some NGOs have cited difficulty in receiving timely disbursements of national government funding of their shelters under these programs, and some rescued sex trafficking victims in Andhra Pradesh died while waiting over three years to get rehabilitation funds. India does not have specialized care for adult male trafficking victims.
Conditions of government shelter homes under the MWCD varied from state to state. Many shelters functioned beyond capacity, were unhygienic, offered poor food, and provided limited, if any, psychiatric and medical services, although NGOs provided some of those services. Some women may have been placed in protective homes against their will. Some shelters did not permit child victims to leave the shelters – including for school – to prevent their re-trafficking. Traffickers continued to re-traffic some victims by approaching shelter managers and pretending to be family members to get the victims released to them, although this practice is declining. Many Indian diplomatic missions in destination countries, especially those in the Middle East, provided services, including temporary shelters, to Indian migrant laborers, some of whom were victims of trafficking.
Some trafficking victims were penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. NGOs asserted that some parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Bihar, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal continued to make progress in not criminalizing sex trafficking victims; however, Section 8 of the ITPA (solicitation) and Section 294 of IPC (obscenity in public places) continued to be widely used in other areas. Reports indicated that some foreign victims continued to be charged and detained under the Foreigners’ Act for undocumented status. Foreign trafficking victims were not offered special immigration benefits such as temporary or permanent residency status. Foreign victims are not offered legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The Government of India successfully repatriated seven Bangladeshi trafficking victims from Chennai in 2010 with the assistance of NGOs, and repatriated 29 Bangladeshi victims from Maharashtra in 2010-2011, although repatriation remained a challenge for other victims. India established a trafficking task force with Bangladesh which held three meetings.
The level to which government officials encouraged victims to cooperate with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of traffickers was inconsistent and in most cases, NGOs assisted rescued victims in providing evidence to prosecute suspected traffickers. Many victims declined to testify against their traffickers due to the fear of retribution by traffickers, who were sometimes acquaintances.
The Government of India made progress in its efforts to prevent human trafficking. Central and state governments conducted several initiatives to raise awareness about sex trafficking, especially during the run-up to the October Commonwealth Games, but made little progress in increasing awareness about adult forced labor. The Ministry of Home Affairs collaborated with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Home Minister publicly launched a six-month graduate certificate course on human trafficking. In January 2011, the MHA issued an Advisory encouraging state police officers to enroll in the course; the government reported that more than 200 officials have already enrolled, most of whom are police officers. Through the Ujjawala scheme, the MWCD held quarterly inter-ministerial stakeholder meetings. The MHA’s Anti-Trafficking Nodal Cell held four video-conference meetings with state anti-trafficking nodal officers during the reporting period to coordinate and monitor nationwide efforts to implementing the Comprehensive Scheme for Strengthening Law Enforcement Response in India. In these meetings, the nodal officers reported on state government anti-trafficking activities, such as progress in establishing AHTUs, translating and distributing anti-trafficking manuals, submitting names of state and district officials to attend training-of-trainers classes, and encouraging officials to enroll in the IGNOU course. The Government of Orissa issued a notification abolishing the bartan system, a form of bonded labor. The Government of Punjab passed an anti-smuggling bill in the reporting period, one clause of which could be used to prosecute recruitment agents who act as aiders or abettors to trafficking; there is no indication whether such cases have been brought. The Ministry of Labor and Employment provided $119,000 for states to conduct bonded labor surveys; it is uncertain what the status is of the bonded labor survey conducted in Madhya Pradesh last year, as noted in the 2010 TIP Report. Karnataka officials distributed 7,000 copies of the state’s action plan against bonded labor in all its 30 districts. The Ministry of Labor and Employment also earmarked $1.1 million for advocacy campaigns against child labor over the reporting period, some of which may have been for forced child labor, a large increase over the previous year.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment launched a five-state project, funded by a foreign government and implemented in partnership with the ILO, which is directed in part against forced child labor. The Ministry also expanded its preventative convergence-based model against bonded labor in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, and Orissa. The model targets populations specifically vulnerable to bonded labor and seeks to empower them economically and socially. While it is difficult to measure the impact on bonded labor of the completed pilot project in Tamil Nadu, the project helped approximately 7,200 families access basic education, health insurance, and other government benefits. This model, however, involves collaboration between bonded laborers and their employers – that is, their traffickers – which casts doubt on its ability to adequately address bonded labor. After a rescue operation of bonded laborers in a rock quarry, a Deputy Commissioner in Mangalore requested government officials to cancel the lease of that quarry; however, it is not clear whether that request has been granted. The government does not permit its female nationals under the age of 30 to emigrate to 17 countries due to the high incidence of physical abuse; evidence suggests such restrictions on migration do not have a positive effect on preventing human trafficking. The Migrant Resource Center in Cochin counseled 2,985 potential migrants between January and October 2010, compared to 2,633 in 2009.
Indian embassies in the Middle East housed Indian Worker Resource Centers, including a new center publicly launched by the Indian president in the United Arab Emirates. The government reduced the demand for commercial sex acts in the reporting period by convicting clients of prostitution. The Code of Conduct adopted by the Tourism Ministry in July 2010 included guidelines to enable the Indian travel and tourism industry to prevent child sex tourism. Data from India’s last social survey indicates approximately 60 percent of births were unregistered; such a lack of identify documentation contributes to vulnerability to trafficking. However, the government launched a multi-year project in July 2010 to issue issued unique identification numbers to citizens, with over $400 million in funds that were allocated last year (and noted in the 2010 TIP Report). As of March 2011, the Unique Identification Authority issued numbers to almost four million citizens. In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, the Supreme Court reportedly issued a directive February 2011, ordering all states to provide a list of the measures they are taking to fight prostitution. Training for Indian soldiers and police officers deployed in peacekeeping missions reportedly included awareness about trafficking. India ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol in May 2011.
- Wash. AG McKenna launches trafficking initiative (thenewstribune.com)
- Today’s Hidden Slave Trade (thedailybeast.com)
- India ratify UN Conventions against Transnational Organised Crime and Corruption (advocateravikant.wordpress.com)
- India ratify UN Conventions against Transnational Organised Crime and Corruption (equalityindia.wordpress.com)
- Training Ahtu Delhi Police (shaktivahini.wordpress.com)
- Market for sex is blamed in human trafficking (dispatch.com)