Conviction rate in human trafficking cases declining

Activists call for robust inter-State investigations

February 17, 2022 11:24 pm | Updated February 18, 2022 12:00 am IST - Kolkata

Walk for Freedom-- an awareness rally about human trafficking on Elliots Beach in Chennai. File

Walk for Freedom-- an awareness rally about human trafficking on Elliots Beach in Chennai. File | Photo Credit: K. V. Srinivasan

Twice every week, two women from Basanti in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas, visit a local non-governmental organisation at the subdivision headquarters from their village, seeking details of the investigation in the case relating to their rescue from traffickers. These women in their twenties were rescued four to five years ago, but there has been no conviction of the accused in the cases involving them.

Details of the conviction of cases involving human trafficking shared in Parliament earlier this month points out that the conviction rate in human trafficking cases has been declining over the past four years. The number of Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) in the country has increased to 696. AHTUs are specialised investigation units with the law enforcement that were created upon the directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2008, by state governments in their respective states.

 The conviction rate of cases related to human trafficking dropped from 27.8% in 2016 to 10.6% in 2020. Between 2018 and 2019 the conviction rate in such cases increased from 19.4% to 22.5%. The data has been sourced from a reply by Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Kumar Mishra to a question in the Rajya Sabha earlier this month.

Tafteesh, a collective action platform that works towards combating human trafficking also raised the issue of decline in conviction rate of trafficking cases and blamed it to “absence of a strong and robust mechanism to investigate human trafficking cases that often span across state borders leading to acquittal of traffickers across the country”.

Kaushik Gupta, a lawyer practicing at Calcutta High Court and member of Tafteesh said that low conviction rate is due to the problems and fallacies in the investigation.

“Though the crime is usually an organised and an interstate one, the investigation is rarely interstate. And since this is a case of circumstantial evidence until and unless the chain of circumstance is shown to be completed, conviction cannot be based on such evidence. Therefore, the low conviction rate is due to the problem and fallacies in investigation,” Mr. Gupta said.

Advocate Gupta emphasised that survivors of human trafficking are adequately and promptly compensated so that they also find it in their interest to pursue their case and add proper evidence to ensure conviction.

Subhashree Raptan, an activist from Goranbose Gram Bikas Kendra, a South 24 parganas based organisation working for survivors of trafficking, said that despite orders from Courts, more than a dozen of survivors have not been awarded compensation by the District Legal Service Authorities in the district alone.

“We have to understand that after their rescue, things don’t miraculously fall in place for survivors. In several cases, the survivors are rescued from other States and interstate investigation falls flat. It is the survivor that has to fight for justice, and compensation is essential for her fight,” Ms. Raptan said.

 The press statement by Tafteesh while referring the answer in Rajya Sabha states that in seven States- Assam, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab- did not witness a single conviction in human trafficking cases in 2020 and all of those cases resulted in acquittals or discharges.

Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist associated with Tafteesh stressed on the need for more robust interstate investigations that does not solely depend on the testimony of the survivors in order to prosecute the traffickers.

“The conviction rate will remain low unless India has a comprehensive legislation that provides for a strong investigation mechanism clarifying the roles and responsibilities of investigating agencies such as AHTUs and the NIA (National Investigation Agency). The proposed Trafficking In Persons Bill 2021 is one of the instruments that can really help in addressing all aspects of human trafficking and increasing conviction rate,” Ms. Banerjee added.

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