“Challenges remain regarding overall law enforcement efforts against bonded labour and alleged complicity of public officials.”

Although India has made significant efforts in prevention of human trafficking, low conviction rates remain a cause for concern, according to the Trafficking in Persons Report-2012 released by the U.S. Department of State on Wednesday.

As part of preventive measures, the Home Ministry has established anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) with the objective of combining law enforcement and rehabilitation efforts. The Central Bureau of Investigation has also set up an anti-trafficking unit. However, the report states that “challenges remain regarding overall law enforcement efforts against bonded labour and the alleged complicity of public officials.”

Comprehensive law needed

The report says India needs to develop a comprehensive anti-trafficking law or amend anti-trafficking legislation to be in line with the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, 2000, with adequate penalties prescribed by the U.N. Transnational Organised Crime Convention.

It also recommends prosecution and conviction of officials allegedly involved in trafficking and States encouraged to establish special anti-trafficking courts, besides improvement in the distribution of State and Central government rehabilitation funds to victims under the Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Act. The report seeks improved protection for victims who testify against traffickers.

Uneven, not stringent

The report recognises the progress made by Indian law enforcement agencies in combating human trafficking in 2011, observing that most forms of forced labour in the country are prohibited under the Indian Penal Code, the Bonded Labour Act, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and the Juvenile Justice Act. It states that these laws are unevenly enforced and the prescribed penalties therein “not sufficiently stringent.” However, the punishment for sex trafficking under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and the IPC are sufficiently stringent.

“The ITPA also criminalises other offences, including prostitution, and has some provisions that are sometimes used to criminalise sex trafficking victims,” says the report.

Corrupt police

“Non-government organisations continued to report that……corrupt law enforcement officers reportedly continued to facilitate the movement of sex trafficking victims, protect suspected traffickers and brothel keepers,” alleges the report adding that there is no reported prosecution or conviction of government officials for trafficking-related offences during the reporting period. This, according to NGOs, is due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

The government continues to implement its three-year nationwide anti-trafficking effort by disbursing funds to State governments to establish at least 107 new AHTUs.

Some NGOs believe that some units are more focused on sex trafficking than labour-related trafficking, while some feel the focus is more on child trafficking, than on both children and adults.

2009 directive

Through a 2009 directive, the Home Ministry has advised the States to use standard operating procedures developed in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to proactively identify trafficking victims and refer them to protection services. But the report says its implementation is not known.

However, the report recognises that the government continues to fund 100 NGO-run hotlines for vulnerable sections and distributed rehabilitation funds. It also raises issues pertaining to overcrowding, poor hygiene and limited services in the government-run shelter homes.

The report points out that 90 per cent of trafficking in the country are internal and it is mostly related to the disadvantaged social strata. “There were increasing reports of females from north-eastern States and Odisha being subjected to servile marriages in States with low female-to-male child sex ratios, including Haryana and Punjab.” Maoist groups forcibly recruited children into their ranks, it says.

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