Washington DC: The Trafficking in Persons Report 20th Edition released here on Thursday 25 June ranks India in the Tier 2 category and underscores that “traffickers exploit millions of people in commercial sex within India”.
The US State Department report on trafficking in persons points out that the traffickers target Indian women and girls but also fraudulently recruit significant numbers of Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls to India for sex trafficking. Traffickers also exploit women and girls from Central Asian, European, and African countries in commercial sex, especially in Goa state, the report goes on to add.
In addition to traditional red light districts, dance bars, spas, and massage parlors, traffickers increasingly exploit women and children in sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences.
What could be described as a damning assessment, India has been described as a source for child sex tourists and a destination for child sex tourism.
The report goes on to underscore:
- Traffickers kidnap and force Indian and Nepali women and girls to work as “orchestra dancers” in India, especially in Bihar state, where girls perform with dance groups until they have repaid fabricated debts.
- Traffickers exploit women and children in sex trafficking in religious pilgrimage centers and in tourist destinations.
- Traffickers increasingly use online technology to facilitate sex trafficking and fraudulent recruitment.
- Some traffickers kidnap children from public places, including railway stations, entice girls with drugs, and force girls as young as 5 years old in sex trafficking to take hormone injections to appear older.
- Some corrupt law enforcement officers protect suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement efforts and take bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims.
- According to one report, police have accepted bribes to release child sex trafficking victims back into traffickers’ custody.
- Traffickers arrange sham marriages within India and Gulf states to subject females to sex trafficking.
- Some government-, NGO-, and privately run shelter homes physically and sexually abuse residents, including trafficking victims, and compel shelter residents into forced labor and sex trafficking.
- Traffickers force many Indian migrants who willingly seek employment abroad into construction, domestic work, factories, and other low-skilled sectors in many regions, especially Gulf countries and Malaysia, often following recruitment fraud and exorbitant recruitment fees.
- Indian female domestic workers in all Gulf countries, particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, consistently report strong indicators of forced labor, including non-payment of wages, refusal to allow workers to leave upon completion of their contracts, and physical abuse.
- In the United Arab Emirates, labor traffickers bring Indian workers overseas on tourist visas, withhold their identity documents and wages, and force them to work, especially in construction.
- Authorities have recently identified Indian forced labor victims in Armenia, Portugal, Gabon, and Zambia, and Indian female sex trafficking victims in Kenya.
- Traffickers exploit Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee populations in sex and labor trafficking.
- Traffickers subject some boys from Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh states to forced labor in Nepal.
- The Government of India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
The government has demonstrated overall increasing efforts (to address the problem of trafficking in persons) compared to the previous reporting period; therefore India remained on Tier 2.
These efforts included convicting traffickers and completing a high-profile investigation into a case that involved officials complicit in trafficking at a government-funded shelter home in Bihar, convicting 19 individuals in the case, including three state officials; an influential former legislator was among the 12 that received life sentences. The government also filed “First Information Reports” (FIRs) against other government funded shelter homes in Bihar that allegedly abused residents, including trafficking victims. For the first time, the Madras High Court reversed an acquittal in a bonded labor case. The central government added investigation of inter-state and transnational trafficking cases to the mandate of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the country’s premier investigative body, which began investigating inter-state trafficking. The government continued to work on its draft anti-trafficking bill and committed to devoting funding to expand its police anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) to all 732 districts. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not make serious or sustained efforts to address its consistently large trafficking problem. Overall anti-trafficking efforts, especially against bonded labor, remained inadequate.
The government decreased investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers, and the acquittal rate for traffickers increased to 83 percent.
Law enforcement decreased victim identification efforts, and the government reported it had only identified approximately 313,000 bonded laborers since 1976—less than four percent of NGOs’ estimates of at least eight million trafficking victims in India, the majority of which are bonded laborers.
NGOs estimated police did not file FIRs in at least half of reported bonded labor cases, and inconsistent with NGO reports, 17 of 36 states and territories did not identify any bonded labor victims in 2017 or 2018.
Although several laws gave judges the authority to provide trafficking victims compensation, state and district legal offices did not regularly request it or assist victims in filing applications, and less than one percent of trafficking victims identified from 2010 to 2018 received compensation. The government forcibly detained adult trafficking victims in shelters for multiple years until they had a magistrate’s order for release.
Authorities penalized some adult and child trafficking victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. Often, official complicity in trafficking was unaddressed. NGOs nationwide reported officials protected from prosecution local and state politicians who forced workers into bonded labor, and activists reported authorities did not investigate all high-level officials who may have been involved in the Bihar case, including those whom victims had identified as their sex traffickers.
National Crime and Records Bureau data
During the reporting period, the National Crime and Records Bureau (NCRB) issued its 2017 and 2018 Crime in India Reports, which used a different methodology than previous years. In 2018, the government reported 1,830 trafficking cases under the IPC, a continued decrease from 2,854 cases trafficking cases reported in 2017 and 5,217 cases in 2016. It was unclear which sections of the IPC this data included. In 2018, the government completed prosecution in 545 trafficking cases, onvicted 322 traffickers in 95 cases, and acquitted 1,124 suspects in 450 cases.
Acquittal rate for traffickers increased
The acquittal rate for trafficking cases increased to 83 percent in 2018. These statistics were compared to the government completing prosecution in 670 cases, convicting 249 traffickers in 165 cases, and acquitting 1,155 suspects in 505 cases in 2017, with 76 percent of cases resulting in acquittal. This marks a 29 percent increase in the number of individuals convicted, but a 42 percent decrease in the number of case convictions.
Three of India’s 36 states and territories reported 43 percent of all trafficking cases, most likely due to more sophisticated reporting rather than larger trafficking problems. Five states and territories –Nagaland, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep—did not report any trafficking cases in either 2017 or 2018. Assam and Jharkhand states only submitted data for the 2017 report. On average, trafficking cases under the IPC commenced trial 5.9 years after they were first reported.
Overall law enforcement efforts across the country, especially against bonded labor, remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem. The law required police to file an FIR upon receipt of information about the commission of a cognizable offense, such as forced labor or sex trafficking, which legally bound police to initiate a criminal investigation. Police did not always arrest suspected traffickers or file FIRs to officially register a complaint, and officials settled many other cases at the complaint stage.
Government data demonstrated that court delays and lack of prioritization of trafficking have left 93 percent of trafficking cases pending trial in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, meaning that to date these states have convicted fewer than one percent of suspects (three out of 429) charged with human trafficking between 2008 and 2018. The conviction rate for trials that had taken place in those two states was 54 percent.
Anti-Human Trafficking Units
Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), created by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but maintained by state governments, served as the primary investigative force for human trafficking crimes. At the end of the reporting period, the government announced it would use $14 million in funding from its Nirbhaya Fund (established in 2013 to protect the dignity and safety of women) to expand AHTUs from 332 districts to all of India’s 732 districts and provide additional training and resources to existing AHTUs. State Governments and civil society nationwide agreed the majority of the 332 AHTUs currently active were not sufficiently funded or trained, nor solely dedicated to trafficking. Most states failed to adequately resource and prioritize AHTUs. As a result, AHTUs spent their time and resources on other crimes. This included reports of missing persons, which could lead to identification of trafficking victims. Despite these shortcomings, some NGOs reported good working relationships and effective coordination with local AHTU units.
The government took action to address official complicity in some cases, including three officials in the high profile Bihar shelter home case.
In Maharashtra state, a magistrate re-opened an investigation from 2004 into a senior police inspector who removed child sex trafficking victims from a shelter home and sent them back to the brothel that had exploited them. Police charged with rape and sex trafficking offenses four police officers who allegedly exploited a girl in sex trafficking. In additional cases, police arrested two officers as clients of sex trafficking victims and one police officer who facilitated selling a woman into forced labor.
Police in Bangalore arrested two immigration officials and two police constables for facilitating the trafficking of Nepalese women to the Middle East via the city airport. However, government action into allegations of official complicity were lacking in other cases.
The Puducherry judiciary acquitted 18 suspected traffickers in April 2019, including eight police officers, accused of running a child sex trafficking ring. Civil society reported the government delayed the investigation and prosecution for several years; did not name all suspected traffickers on the charge sheet to shield higher-level perpetrators; and granted bail, pending trial, to the officers, who successfully intimidated the witnesses to sabotage their testimonies.
Tamil Nadu state authorities admitted some local politicians benefitted from child sex trafficking and forced begging rings with impunity. Police filed fraudulent criminal charges against DCW to impede the organization’s anti-trafficking efforts.
State-owned tea estates in Assam state held workers in bonded labor by creating recurring debt by underpaying wages and overcharging for daily living expenses such that 37 percent of workers had daily expenditures that exceeded their daily income.
A lack of accountability for misconduct and corruption continued at various levels of government, contributing to the perception of widespread impunity for trafficking crimes. Some police and administration officials maintained the view that society had the right to put lower caste individuals in bonded and child labor, which sometimes impeded identification and investigation of such cases.
NGOs across multiple states reported politically connected individuals, including local and state politicians who held workers in bonded labor in agriculture and on brick kilns, successfully avoided prosecution. Civil society reported a number of instances in which police refused to register FIRs against officials who were alleged perpetrators.
There were reports the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not investigate high-level officials allegedly involved, including politicians whom victims had identified as sex traffickers and provided physical descriptions for, and social service officials who victims stated they had repeatedly notified of the ongoing sex trafficking to no avail.
The CBI claimed to have recovered and identified all the individuals alleged to be missing in the first days of its investigation, although NGOs claim it disregarded human remains discovered on the shelter premises and victim statements that shelter authorities had murdered 11 child sex trafficking victims
Despite this action in Bihar, the lack of investigations into suspected trafficking crimes and broader physical and sexual abuse of trafficking victims at government-run and -funded shelters in other states due to widespread negligence created an atmosphere of impunity for shelter employees and government officials to engage in trafficking.
In Andhra Pradesh state, district child welfare officials discovered two government-funded Child Care Institutions (CCIs) run by the same organization forced some residents into labor and commercial sex, including adults, children, and persons with mental disabilities. After repeated recommendations to close the home, officials did so but dropped the criminal investigation because police did not file the charge sheet within the required timeframe.
The CBI did not report an update on its investigation of a government-funded shelter home in Uttar Pradesh state that allegedly drugged 23 child residents and forced them into sex trafficking or a related administrative investigation of two police superintendents that had sent more than 405 children to the shelter in violation of the district government’s orders.
The US State Department ranks each country in this report on one of four tiers, as mandated by the TVPA. Such rankings are based not on the size of a country’s problem but on the extent of government efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking (see pages 45-46), which are generally consistent with the Palermo Protocol.
While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem.
A Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has made efforts to address the problem that meet the TVPA’s minimum standards. To maintain a Tier 1 ranking, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress each year in combating trafficking. Indeed, Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve.
A GUIDE TO THE TIERS
Countries whose governments fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
Tier 2 Watch List
Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and for which:
a) the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions;
b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials.
Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. The TVPA, as amended, lists additional factors to determine whether a country should be on Tier 2 (or Tier 2 Watch List) versus Tier 3:
- the extent to which the country is a country of origin, transit, or destination for severe forms of trafficking;
- the extent to which the country’s government does not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and, in particular, the extent to which officials or government employees have been complicit in severe forms of trafficking;
- reasonable measures that the government would need to undertake to be in compliance with the minimum standards
- in light of the government’s resources and capabilities to address and eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons;
- the extent to which the government is devoting sufficient budgetary