INDIA: Tier 2
India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Forced labor constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage—sometimes inherited from previous generations—are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. Ninety percent of India’s trafficking problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata—lowest caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups—are most vulnerable. Trafficking within India continues to rise due to increased mobility and growth in industries utilizing forced labor, such as construction, steel, textiles, wire manufacturing for underground cables, biscuit factories, pickling, floriculture, fish farms, and boat cutting. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly lure adults and children for sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude, under false promises of employment.
In addition to bonded labor, children are subjected to forced labor as factory workers, domestic servants, beggars, and agricultural workers. Begging ring leaders sometimes maim children to earn more money. Reports indicate conditions amounting to forced labor may be present in the Sumangali scheme in Tamil Nadu, in which employers pay young women a lump sum to be used for a dowry at the end of a three-year term. Children, reportedly as young as 6, are forcibly removed from their families and used by terrorist groups such as the Maoists in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Odisha to act as spies and couriers, plant improvised explosive devices, and fight against the government. Boys from Bihar are subjected to forced labor in embroidery factories in Nepal. Experts estimate millions of women and children are victims of sex trafficking in India. Children continue to be subjected to sex trafficking in religious pilgrimage centers and tourist destinations. A large number of Nepali, Afghan, and Bangladeshi females—the majority of whom are children—and women and girls from Asia and Eurasia are also subjected to sex trafficking in India. Prime destinations for female trafficking victims include Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, and along the India-Nepal border. Traffickers pose as matchmakers, arranging sham marriages within India or to Gulf states, and then subject women and girls to sex trafficking. West Bengal continues to be a source for trafficking victims, with children more increasingly subjected to sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences than traditional red light districts. Some corrupt law enforcement officers protect suspected traffickers and brothel owners from enforcement of the law, take bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims, and tip-off sex and labor traffickers to impede rescue efforts.
Some Indian migrants who willingly seek employment in construction, domestic service, and other low-skilled sectors in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, other regions, subsequently face forced labor initiated by recruitment fraud and extortionate recruitment fees charged by Indian labor brokers. Some Bangladeshi migrants are subjected to forced labor in India through recruitment fraud and debt bondage. Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls are subjected to both labor and sex trafficking in major Indian cities. Boys from Nepal and Bangladesh are subjected to forced labor in coal mines in the state of Meghalaya, though reportedly on a smaller scale than previous years. Burmese Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee groups continue to be vulnerable to forced labor in India.
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 government continued to fund shelter and rehabilitation services for women and children throughout India, trained prosecutors and judges, and upon order of the Supreme Court, several states launched searches to trace the whereabouts of thousands of lost and abandoned children, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. However, the government’s law enforcement progress was unknown as the government did not provide adequate disaggregated anti-trafficking data and official complicity remained a serious concern. The government sometimes penalized victims through arrests for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government denied international travel to some Indian national trafficking victims who had been identified as trafficking victims abroad by a foreign government, and their family members. Many Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), which liaise with other agencies and refer victims to shelters, were not functioning and NGOs assessed that government victim care services were inconsistent and inadequate for the scale of India’s trafficking problem.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INDIA:
Cease the penalization of trafficking victims, including restrictions on their travel; increase prosecutions and convictions for all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor, respecting due process, and report on these law enforcement efforts; increase prosecutions of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty; fully capacitate AHTUs by providing additional dedicated, trained staff and clarifying the mandate of AHTUs; encourage AHTUs to address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor of adults and children; improve central and state government implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes to ensure identified trafficking victims receive benefits, release certificates, and rehabilitation funds; promptly disburse government funding for shelters and develop monitoring mechanisms to ensure quality of care; develop and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) to harmonize victim identification and repatriation, and prosecution of suspected trafficking offenders when trafficking crimes cross state lines; provide funding for states to establish fast-track courts that deal with all forms of human trafficking; urge state governments to comply with the October 2012 Supreme Court judgment on bonded labor; and provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for diplomatic personnel to prevent their engagement or facilitation of trafficking crimes.
The government’s law enforcement progress was unknown as the government did not provide adequate disaggregated anti-trafficking data. Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prohibits most forms of sex trafficking and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from seven years’ to life imprisonment. These penalties are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 370 does not, however, provide that the prostitution of a child under the age of 18 is an act of human trafficking in the absence of coercive means, the standard of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, though the prostitution of children is criminalized under other statutes. Section 370 also criminalizes government officials’ involvement in human trafficking, prescribing sentences up to life imprisonment. Section 166A of the IPC holds police responsible for delays in registering a First Information Report after a victim makes a complaint. Punishment for inaction ranges from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment. India also prohibits many forms of forced labor through the Bonded Labor System Abolition Act (BLSA), the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, the Juvenile Justice Act, and other provisions of the IPC; however, these provisions were unevenly enforced and their prescribed penalties are not sufficiently stringent. India prohibits most forms of sex trafficking under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) and various provisions of the IPC. However, the ITPA also criminalizes other offenses, including prostitution, and is often used to prosecute sex trafficking victims.
The government did not report comprehensive law enforcement data on all forms of human trafficking. The National Crimes Record Bureau released aggregated data on enforcement efforts under the ITPA and a limited number of IPC provisions, which only addressed sex trafficking of girls, rather than a broader range of human trafficking crimes, including bonded and forced labor. The data did not specify the number of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions carried out by the government and potentially included the government’s penalization of victims in the statistics, as the ITPA criminalizes soliciting clients for prostitution and screening for sex trafficking victims is not consistently applied. While some of the 29 states reported law enforcement data on human trafficking, the information covers only a portion of the country and cannot be extrapolated. Failures by law enforcement to apply anti-trafficking laws fairly were widely reported in the Indian press; incidents of inaction by police and prosecutors reflected inconsistent application of the law across jurisdictions, corruption among officials, and a lack of awareness or capacity in some parts of the country. Some NGOs assessed that many of the AHTUs were not functioning and lacked clear mandates vis-à-vis other district- and state-level police units, while others noted significant cooperation with AHTUs on investigations, particularly in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu states. NGOs also generally noted judges and courts did not have sufficient resources to properly prosecute cases, including an adequate number of support staff, such as stenographers and translators. Victims who received compensation under 357A of the Criminal Procedure Code received back wages under minimum wage laws; these successes were largely facilitated by NGOs working with victims of bonded or forced labor.
Official complicity in human trafficking occurred at varying levels of government. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. Some corrupt law enforcement officers protected suspected traffickers and brothel owners from enforcement of the law, took bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims, and tipped-off sex and labor traffickers to impede rescue efforts. Some owners of brothels, rice mills, brick kilns, and stone quarries who engaged in trafficking were politically connected. In May 2014, four children were rescued from a child prostitution racket in which Puducherry police and politicians were allegedly complicit. After it became clear that a large-scale investigation had not been completed, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights issued a notice to the Puducherry government requesting action and the Madras High Court ordered the Puducherry police to properly identify suspects; subsequently eight Puducherry police officers were charged with rape, five of whom remained at large at the end of the reporting period. In February 2015, police charged a state government boarding school superintendent with child sex trafficking. In November 2013, a member of parliament and his wife were arrested for the alleged torture and murder of their domestic servant, investigation of the case remained ongoing. The Indian consular officer at the New York consulate who was indicted in December 2013 for visa fraud related to her alleged exploitation of an Indian domestic worker returned to India where no charges were filed.
The government collaborated with international organizations, NGOs, and state governments in its efforts to train police, judges, and lawyers on the proper handling of trafficking cases. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) continued to offer a human trafficking certificate course through a public university and reported training for prosecutors and judges on trafficking had been conducted in every district. In May 2014, the MHA held a video conference between the joint secretary and the principal trafficking officers in each state to discuss best practices in operating AHTUs. State and local governments also conducted training.
The government relied on past efforts to protect and assist victims and did not make appreciable progress during the reporting period; the implementation of services remained inconsistent and the penalization of victims remained a serious concern. A 2009 MHA non-binding directive advises state officials to use SOPs to proactively identify victims and refer them to protection services; however, law enforcement officers at the district level were not appropriately trained to identify victims and there is no information such SOPs were used during the year. The government did not provide information on the number of trafficking victims it identified. NGOs reported law enforcement officers were more proactive in staging rescue operations in 2014; however, some police believed their responsibility concluded with the rescue operation, and did not complete investigations or charge suspects. Rescued bonded laborers are entitled to “release certificates” enabling them to receive compensation, but victims sometimes experienced lengthy delays before obtaining the certificates. The government frequently penalized victims. There were reports of victims being detained and arrested for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, including sex trafficking victims who were prosecuted and convicted for solicitation and obscenity in public places. In June 2014, the government began denying travel and family reunification of trafficking victims by confiscating the passports of Indian nationals who had received a visa from a foreign government indicating the person was a trafficking victim in the foreign country or was a family member of a victim. An Indian High Court ruled in favor of petitioners who had their passports confiscated as a result of this policy, citing a violation of rights guaranteed under the Indian constitution. The Indian government has not appealed the decision in this case. Cases involving additional petitioners similarly affected by this policy remained pending at the close of the reporting period.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development funded shelter and rehabilitation services for women and children through two programs—the Ujjawala program, specifically for female sex trafficking victims, and the Swadhar program, for women in difficult circumstances. NGOs noted the government has gradually reduced funding to the Ujjawala program and is considering future program reforms. Victim care services were inconsistent and the number of government shelters was too few. Contrary to international principles on victim protection, some government-run shelters continued to not permit adult victims to leave the premises. In some cases, victims continued to be released from shelters to their traffickers who pretended to be family members or otherwise convinced shelter managers to release victims to them. Both government- and NGO-run shelters faced shortages of financial resources and trained personnel, particularly of counselors and medical staff. NGOs relied primarily on donor contributions to provide victims services, though some received government funds. The disbursal of government funding to NGOs was sometimes delayed and corruption reportedly drained resources intended for victim care. Due to the lack of government funds, shelter staff, or police escorts, victims were sometimes not transferred from temporary “transit homes” to shelters that provide more long-term care for months after the victim was formally identified. Victims had access to government hospitals for emergency medical services, although long waiting lists made it difficult to obtain surgery and other procedures, and NGOs often had to pay for victims’ emergency medical treatment. Some NGOs also funded counselors for government shelters.
Child victims were placed in private shelters or in government juvenile justice homes and largely received the same government services as adults. In November 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the state governments of Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh to trace the whereabouts of 12,591 missing children, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. As a result, a number of children who were discovered lost and abandoned were reunited with their parents or placed in shelters. The government expanded the number of child protection cells at major railway stations which paired police with NGO implementers to identify exploited children, some of whom may be trafficking victims, and refer them to protective services. The government does not provide care for adult male trafficking victims. Foreign victims received the same access to shelters and services as Indian nationals. MHA guidelines to all state governments specify that foreign national women and children who are declared victims should not be prosecuted for immigration violations. Government policy on foreign victims continued to be to return them to their country of origin at the earliest possible time. Foreign sex trafficking victims were detained in government aftercare homes until repatriation and were not permitted to work in the local economy. Due to a number of constraints, this process resulted in victims, especially those from Bangladesh, spending upwards of four years in these homes before being repatriated. The government worked to improve repatriation of Bangladeshi trafficking victims, including through high-level bilateral talks; however, there were long delays in processing paperwork, lack of coordination between concerned agencies, and lack of clarity and cooperation concerning submission of critical papers. To protect both Indian and foreign national victims during trial, prosecutors may request the victim be able to testify by video or behind a screen, the proceeding be closed to the media and public, and irrelevant and potentially harmful questions be barred.
The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not have a national action plan, and officials noted an interagency coordination body is needed to analyze and gather data on trafficking. The MHA maintained an online portal, launched in the previous reporting period, for officials and other stakeholders to access information on trainings, meetings, statistics, laws, and shelters. Some state governments conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, including Tamil Nadu, which conducted 162 awareness and education campaigns reaching more than 4,600 beneficiaries. In January 2015, the government signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to promote the rights of Indian domestic workers and the responsibilities of their employers. In September 2014, the local government of Delhi issued an executive order to regulate job placement agencies; in addition to the registration and licensing of agencies, the order mandated every domestic worker in Delhi be issued a bank passbook and written employment agreement, impacting thousands of previously unregulated work placement agencies based in the city. NGOs reported the government of Kerala conducted an anti-trafficking awareness campaign with registered job portals, travel agents, and shelter homes. Despite India being a source and destination for sex tourism, the government did not report on specific measures to reduce the participation of its nationals in child sex tourism. The Indian military conducted training on trafficking for its personnel before deployment on peacekeeping or similar missions. The government did not provide information on anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not report on efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor.