The Government of India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts in identifying more victims and investigating and prosecuting more trafficking cases, a report by the US State Department said.
While retaining India in the Tier 2 category, the Trafficking in Persons Report June 2021 said that the Government of India has demonstrated "overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity", but the country's response remains "inadequate compared to the scale of the problem".
What are the positives for India?
Given the heightened vulnerabilities to trafficking as a result of the pandemic, the report lauded the government for allocating funding for the strengthening of existing and establishment of new Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) around the country, including establishing “women help desks” in 10,000 police stations across the country.
- The report also cited media reports of increased patrolling of transportation hubs by railway and transit police to prevent and intercept perpetrators and victims of human trafficking.
- Indian courts expanded the use of video testimony for trafficking victims during the pandemic.
- Some states also made notable efforts to include issuing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification of bonded labour and granting the maximum amount of compensation outlined in policy to bonded labor victims.
What were the negatives?
The US govt report especially hit back at India for failing to take adeque measure to control anti-trafficking efforts, especially bonded labour. The government's response remained "inadequate compared to the scale of the problem", the report added. Here are some key issues in India's response to control human trafficking:
- Stating that official complicity in trafficking remained a concern, the report highlighted the poor success rate in convictions in human trafficking cases. The acquittal rate for traffickers in India remained high at 73 percent, the report added.
In 2019, the government completed prosecution in 600 trafficking cases, convicted 306 traffickers in 160 cases, and acquitted 1,329 suspects in 440 cases. The acquittal rate for trafficking cases was 73 percent in 2019. Though percentage-wise 2019 seems an improvement over 83 percent acquittals seen in 2018, the number of convicted traffickers fell to 306 in 2019 from 322 in 2o18. The number of suspects acquitted in 2019 increased from 1,124 in 2018 to 1,329 in 2019.
- Although law enforcement increased victim identifications, they identified disproportionately few victims compared with the scope of the problem, with some organisations estimating eight million trafficking victims in India.
- The report also said that the police in India continued to file trafficking cases under the Juvenile Justice Act and other sections of the IPC, which criminalised many forms of forced labour; however, these provisions were unevenly enforced, and some of their prescribed penalties were not sufficiently stringent, allowing for only fines or short prison sentences.
- Another important finding in the report is that three of India’s 36 states and territories reported a third of all trafficking cases, but that was most likely due to "more sophisticated reporting in those states and territories rather than larger trafficking problems", the report added.
"Bonded labor was specifically criminalised in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA), which prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and up to three years’ imprisonment, respectively. The penalties prescribed under the BLSA were not sufficiently stringent," the report pointed out.
- Efforts to audit government-run or -funded shelters remained inadequate, and significant shortcomings in protections for victims, especially children, remain unaddressed, the report added.
- Many victims waited years to receive central-government mandated compensation, and often state and district legal offices did not proactively request the compensation or assist victims in filing applications.
- Some foreign trafficking victims remained in state-run shelters for years due to lengthy or non-existent repatriation processes.
How are people trafficked in India?
The report profiles several methods which human traffickers use to exploit domestic and foreign victims in India and victims from India abroad. The most common among them is debt-based coercion or bonded labour, which starts with cash advances to the vulnerable and unemployed groups.
Debt-based coercion or bonded labour: According to the report, NGOs have assessed at least eight million trafficking victims in India, the majority of whom are bonded labourers, it added.
Traffickers often use a debt or advance payments to compel men, women and children to work in agrilucutre, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories and stone quarries.
"Traffickers promise large advances to manipulate workers into accepting lowpaying jobs, where traffickers then add exorbitant interest rates; create new deductions for items such as lodging, health care, or wage slips; or fabricate the amount of debt, which they use to coerce workers into continuing to work for little or no pay," the report said.
The debt-based coercion has increased during the pandemic with traffickers offering cash advances to attract workers who were unemployed, thus increasing the likelihood of debt bondage among economically vulnerable groups.
NGOs found a significant increase in child trafficking due to pandemic-related loss of parental employment and school closures as well. Traffickers force entire families into work in brick kilns, including children younger than 6 years old, it added.
The report also said that often people who trap workers into bonded labour are government officials or people with political connections.
What recommendations did the report make?
Given the heightened vulnerabilities to trafficking due to COVID-19, the report made a slew of recommendations, right from seeking "appropriate" compensation for victims to vigorous investigations of all cases of trafficking, including bonded labour, as well as strictly deal with "official complicity". Here are some of the key recommendations made in the US report:
- Encourage state and territory compliance with the Supreme Court’s recommendation to audit all government-run and -funded shelter homes.
- Cease penalization of trafficking victims
- De-link provision of the 2016 bonded labour scheme’s overall victim compensation from conviction of the trafficker.
- Cease detention of adult trafficking victims in government-run and government-funded shelters.
- Amend the definition of trafficking in Section 370 of the Penal Code to include labour trafficking and ensure that force, fraud, or coercion are not required to prove a child sex trafficking crime.
- Increase oversight of, and protections for, workers in the informal sector, including home-based workers.
- Lift bans on female migration through agreements with destination countries that protect Indian workers from human trafficking.
- Update and implement a national action plan to combat trafficking.
- Provide anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel.
- Strengthen existing AHTUs through increased funding and trainings of staff and ensure newly created AHTUs are fully operational.
- Continue to disseminate and implement standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral, and train officials on their use.