India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some NGOs observe that the level of human trafficking is increasing in the areas in which they work. The forced labor of an estimated 20 to 65 million citizens constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. A common characteristic of bonded labor is the use of physical and sexual violence as coercive means. Ninety percent of trafficking in India is internal, and those from India’s most disadvantaged social strata, including the lowest castes, are most vulnerable. Trafficking between Indian states is rising due to increased mobility, rapid urbanization, and a growth in a number of industries that use forced labor such as construction, textiles, cable, biscuit factories, and floriculture. An increasing number of job placement agencies lure adults and children for sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude, under false promises of employment. Activists estimate 20 percent of domestic workers who are rescued from Delhi homes complain of sexual abuse, either by the employer or those in job placement agencies. In addition to bonded labor, children are subjected to forced labor as factory workers, domestic servants, beggars, agricultural workers, and, in some areas of rural Uttar Pradesh, as carpet weavers. Begging ringmasters sometimes maim children as a means to earn more money. Boys from Nepal and Bangladesh are subjected to forced coal mining in the state of Meghalaya. Some NGOs noted a small reduction of the forced labor of boys from Bihar, within that state. However, Indian boys from Bihar are increasingly subjected to forced labor in embroidery factories in Nepal. Some Indian females have been subjected to forced labor in Bhutan. An NGO noted that Burmese Rohingya refugees were increasingly vulnerable to human trafficking in India.
Sex trafficking of women and girls within the country is widespread. Religious pilgrimage centers and cities popular for domestic tourism continue to be vulnerable to child sex tourism. A large number of Nepali and Bangladeshi females—the majority of whom are children—and an increasing number of women and girls from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan are also subjected to sex trafficking in India. There are increasing reports of women and girls from northeastern states and Odisha being sold or coerced into forced marriages in states with low female-to-male gender ratios, including Haryana and Punjab, some of whom are subsequently forced into prostitution or labor by their new “families.” Indian women and girls are also subjected to transactional sexual exploitation in the Middle East under the guise of temporary marriages. Women and girls—including those in child marriages—fleeing domestic violence from their husbands are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. The Naxalites, or Maoist armed groups, forcibly recruited children into their ranks. Sex trafficking establishments continue to move from more traditional locations—such as brothels in densely populated urban areas—to locations that are harder to find, such as to residential areas in cities and to rural areas. Sex traffickers increasingly procure false identification documents for child victims to evade detection by police. Traffickers are increasingly better organized and adapting to state government crackdowns on well-known establishments or routes of human trafficking.
Some of the Indian migrants who willingly seek work as construction workers, domestic servants, and other low-skilled laborers in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions, subsequently face conditions of forced labor. In many cases, this form of transnational debt bondage is facilitated by recruitment fraud and usurious recruitment fees charged by Indian labor brokers and manpower agencies. Indian laborers are vulnerable to forced labor in the construction and hydropower industries in Bhutan. Nationals from Bangladesh and Nepal are increasingly transported through India for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation in the Middle East. Some Bangladeshi migrant workers are subjected to forced labor in India through recruitment fraudulent and debt bondage.
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. In April 2013, the government amended the penal code in a manner that greatly improves the country’s laws, broadening the types of crimes considered to be trafficking and establishing more stringent sentences for traffickers. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) continued to establish Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), which were responsible for combining law enforcement and rehabilitation efforts. Some of these local-level units were criticized as being ineffective or only established on paper. The government provided no information on investigations or prosecutions of trafficking offenses or on convictions or punishments of trafficking offenders. In many areas, protection services provided by the government were inadequate. The complicity of some government officials in human trafficking remained a serious and unaddressed problem which impeded efforts to adequately fight the crime. A variety of sources noted the Indian central government approached human trafficking in an uncoordinated, piecemeal fashion, it’s prioritization of anti-trafficking efforts decreased over the year, and some officials’ inertia and indifference impeded efforts.
Recommendations for India: Cease the penalization of victims of human trafficking; increase prosecutions and convictions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor, respecting due process, and report on these law enforcement efforts; prosecute officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty; fully capacitate AHTUs by providing dedicated, trained staff, clarifying the role of AHTUs vis-a-vis other police units; encourage AHTUs to address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor of adults and children; improve protections for trafficking victims who testify against their traffickers; improve central and state government implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes to ensure that identified trafficking victims receive benefits, release certificates, and rehabilitation funds; promptly disburse government funding for anti-trafficking shelter homes and develop monitoring mechanisms to ensure quality of care; develop and implement standard operating procedures 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; and require state governments to comply with the October 2012 Supreme Court judgment on bonded labor.
The government’s law enforcement progress in the reporting period was unknown as the government did not provide anti-trafficking data. Furthermore, official complicity remained a major and unaddressed concern. In April 2013, the government adopted the Criminal Law Amendments Act of 2013, which introduced a number of changes to the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The amended Section 370 prohibits and penalizes all forms of labor trafficking and most forms of sex trafficking, and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, ranging from seven years to life imprisonment which are commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The new 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 Palermo Protocol. Section 370 criminalizes government officials’ involvement in human trafficking, prescribing sentences up to life 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. An expert estimated 85 percent of all prosecutions under the ITPA were against the women in prostitution rather than the traffickers. The government did not effectively enforce anti-trafficking laws, particularly labor trafficking laws such as the BLSA; and another expert asserted weak implementation of trafficking laws lead to trafficking offenders’ ability to act with impunity.
The Government of India did not report comprehensive law enforcement data on human trafficking. Information publicly released as human trafficking data by the National Crimes Record Bureau actually contained aggregated data under the ITPA (which included statistics on the government’s penalization of trafficking victims), and a limited number of IPC provisions which only addressed sex trafficking of girls rather than a broader range of human trafficking crimes; in addition, the data provided did not specify the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. Furthermore, an expert noted that some AHTU statistics purportedly on human trafficking actually encompassed a wider range of crimes. Reports by NGOs, the media, and individual government officials noted that the government investigated many cases, but the number of prosecutions and convictions remained low, in part due to the overburdened court system. As a result of a combination of factors, including intimidation by police and traffickers, lengthy trials, and lack of knowledge of or faith in the justice system, many victims relied heavily on NGOs to assist in the pursuit of prosecutions. Some observers continued to criticize the categorization of trafficking crimes as “bailable offenses,” which allowed defendants to be released on bail pending trial and in some cases resulted in the defendants absconding before trial. Prosecutions of inter-state trafficking offenses imposed financial and logistical burdens on repatriated victims who were required to return to the state in which they had been exploited to testify in trial. However, one NGO reported that victims who were exploited in New Delhi but resided elsewhere were able to use funds from victim compensation schemes to travel for testimony. Due to inadequate implementation, victims frequently had to wait a year or more to receive victim compensation funds. Furthermore, poor victim-witness protections generally discouraged victims from testifying against their alleged trafficking offenders.
Official complicity in trafficking was a serious problem that remained largely unaddressed by the government. Some corrupt law enforcement officers facilitated the movement of sex trafficking victims, protected suspected traffickers and brothel keepers 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. Corrupt politicians, police, and border security forces on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border reportedly recognized a token used by human traffickers to evade arrest if caught at the border. In a highly publicized case of sexual and physical abuse—including both sex and labor trafficking—of women and children in Apna Ghar shelter for mistreated victims in the state of Haryana, police allegedly raped some of the inmates and destroyed evidence once an investigation into the home commenced. A police officer was subsequently arrested for destruction of evidence. The Government of India did not report on investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. In October 2012, the Delhi Police Special Protection Unit for Women and Children provided notice it would begin conducting random checks of police officers’ homes to inspect for hiring of children under 14 years old, but there is no information on whether this occurred. The government did not report on steps taken to investigate an Indian consular official accused of forcing a domestic worker to work for him in the United States without adequate compensation for three years and subjecting her to physical and mental abuse, as noted in the 2012 TIP Report. There was no information on the status of arrests and investigations of a border security officer, a former member of parliament, and an Indian administrative services officer—as noted in the 2011 and 2012 TIP Reports—for their involvement in human trafficking.
There was little information about the progress made by the federal anti-trafficking unit under the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was established during the previous reporting period. The government continued to implement its three-year nationwide anti-trafficking effort by disbursing funds to state governments to establish approximately 100 new Anti-Human Trafficking Units in local-level police departments during the reporting period, for a total of approximately 300 AHTUs. Some NGOs believed that units were more focused on sex trafficking and child labor rather than on other forms of trafficking, especially labor trafficking of children and adults, and some units dealt with other offenses such as kidnapping, sexual abuse, and forced marriage. An NGO reported that the quality of AHTUs, including the training of AHTU police, declined over the past year. During the reporting period, some NGOs continued to assert that AHTUs did not function because they lacked a dedicated, trained staff and because their role was not clearly defined. For example, NGOs in Andhra Pradesh noted that AHTUs in the state did not meet during the reporting period and were dysfunctional or not constituted at all, and NGOs in Assam reported that while the state did establish AHTUs in each of its 27 districts, most of them existed only on paper. However, other regions’ AHTUs, including some in Mumbai and West Bengal, were active and helpful in investigation and assistance. The government funded police officers to participate in a six-month anti-trafficking course at the Indira Gandhi National Open University. Some state governments conducted training for the judiciary and police, and the Karnataka government conducted trainings on bonded labor and the implementation of the BLSA. Various state government agencies provided in-kind contributions, such as facilities, to trainings organized by NGOs and international organizations. In October 2012, the Supreme Court issued a judgment which described noncompliance by state governments of numerous prior judgments regarding the implementation of the BLSA. It directed state governments to comply with these previous judgments and to take a number of other measures to enforce the bonded labor law.
India made efforts to protect and assist trafficked victims, but the penalization of trafficking victims remained a serious concern. A 2009 MHA non-binding directive advises state government officials to use standard operating procedures (SOPs) to identify trafficking victims proactively and refer them to protection services; however, there is no information that these SOPs are in use, and the government did not provide comprehensive information on the number of trafficking victims it identified. Some NGOs reported delays in obtaining release certificates for rescued bonded laborers, which are required to certify that they were held in bondage and make them entitled to compensation under the law, and distribution of rehabilitation funds was uneven across states. An Odisha-based NGO reported that, after providing immediate relief payments with relief certificates, state government officials rarely followed up on cases or provided other legally mandated relief funds. Children in bonded labor were usually not provided release certificates.
There were numerous reports that trafficking victims—mostly children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor—were rescued, most often in partnership between police and NGOs. Rescued victims often received limited and delayed assistance and resources from central and state governments, though NGO advocacy expedited this process for beneficiaries. Some rescued victims were denied rehabilitation services to which they were legally entitled. NGOs provided the vast majority of rehabilitation services and legal aid for trafficking victims, and advocated for victims by pursuing government officials until victim compensation was disbursed. The Government of India continued to fund the Swadhar program—which helps female victims of violence, including sex trafficking—and the Ujjwala program—which seeks to protect and rehabilitate female sex trafficking victims—generally through shelter homes. However, long delays in financing these two programs, as well as corruption in securing licenses and funds, led to the closure of many of these homes and also prevented NGOs from opening new homes. The lack of government oversight and monitoring of these care facilities led to much criticism of the Swadhar and Ujjwala programs, particularly as several cases of abuse were discovered in these and other private trafficking victim care homes in the reporting period. In one of these private shelters to which police referred vulnerable females, women and children were subjected to severe abuse, including sex trafficking, bonded labor, forced abortions, gang rape, torture, and the sale of children for unknown purposes. The government raided and closed these shelters. While there were prosecutions in the prominent Apna Ghar shelter case, there is little information on other prosecutions. Both NGO and government shelters faced financial shortages and an insufficient number of trained personnel, particularly medical and psychological counselors. A number of government shelters under these programs were overcrowded and unhygienic, offered poor food, and provided limited services. The lack of adequate security in a government-funded Ujjawala home in Hyderabad made it possible for a nine-member gang to break in and kidnap four trafficking victims; two previous kidnap attempts took place in the preceding months. Some shelters did not permit adult victims to leave, purportedly for security reasons, contrary to international principles on the protection of victims. In some cases, traffickers continued to re-recruit trafficking victims by approaching shelter managers and pretending to be family members to get the victims released to them. India does not provide care for adult male trafficking victims. NGOs report that government processes to refer identified victims to care facilities are not followed. In investigations, police sometimes treated victims as suspected criminals and subjected them to aggressive questioning. Some Indian diplomatic missions in the Middle East provided services to Indian migrant laborers, some of whom were likely victims of trafficking. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) provided discretionary funds to Indian embassies and consulates to assist with medical care, rehabilitation, repatriation, and legal assistance to Indian citizens living in countries of the Persian Gulf, some of whom may be trafficking victims. Some officials noted few embassies made use of these funds. The MOIA also funded and operated an Indian Workers Resource Center in Dubai, which provided legal, medical, and financial support to Indian migrant laborers and operated a 24-hour toll-free helpline for Indian workers in distress. NGOs across India agreed that victim repatriation across state lines was sometimes more difficult than across international borders due to the lack of SOPs and chains of command on trafficking issues. State and district governments responsible for the implementation of directives continued to apply them unevenly. Some state governments provided additional services geared to protect victims. For instance, from April to December 2012, the Tamil Nadu government funded programs in shelters to provide training for printing, embroidery, tailoring, and other trades. The Andhra Pradesh government provided immediate financial support to rescued trafficking victims of approximately the equivalent of $185.
There were many reports of trafficking victims being penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. Section 8 of the ITPA (solicitation) and Section 294 of the IPC (obscenity in public places) were often used to prosecute and convict sex trafficking victims. Foreign victims were often detained under the Foreigners’ Act for their undocumented status or for document fraud. The MHA issued a non-binding directive in May 2012 urging state governments to avoid prosecuting foreign female sex trafficking victims for undocumented migration under the Foreigners Act; however, the practice continued, and NGOs reported that police were not aware of this directive. An NGO reported cases in which trafficking victims, detained in police stations, were pressured by police to return the monetary advance provided by the trafficker to lure victims. Some child trafficking victims were charged under sections of the IPC and kept in juvenile detention centers. Some foreign nationals, particularly Bangladeshis, subjected to sex trafficking in India were detained in government aftercare homes for several years, pending their repatriation, due to poor bilateral coordination on repatriation. Following the 13th annual dialogue between the Indian and Bangladeshi home secretaries in October 2012, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments issued a joint statement agreeing to increased cooperation on a number of issues, including human trafficking.
In general, Indian cities and states performed better in protecting trafficking victims when there was a presence of strong NGOs. The government did not encourage trafficking victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions against their alleged traffickers. In most cases, NGOs assisted rescued victims in providing evidence to prosecute suspected traffickers. Foreign victims are not offered legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Government of India continued its efforts to prevent human trafficking. The MHA’s Anti-Trafficking Cell continued bimonthly inter-ministerial meetings on trafficking, which also included participation of anti-trafficking officers from state governments. The MWCD’s inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee held routine meetings regarding the government’s policy directives on trafficking. The MHA recognized certain state governments for their efforts on human trafficking. The state governments of Assam and Andhra Pradesh were each given awards of approximately the equivalent of $3,500. The MOIA continued to conduct safe emigration awareness campaigns. Some state government organized public awareness events. For instance, West Bengal organized a dance drama performed by trafficking victims.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment continued its project to prevent bonded labor in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha, but there was no information on the results of this project. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by prosecuting of clients of prostitution in bars, brothels, lodges, and hotels. Section 370A of the April 2013 Criminal Law Amendments Act appears to criminalize the “sexual exploitation in any manner” of trafficking victims, including those trafficked for sexual exploitation and for forced labor, with penalties ranging from a minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment (for exploiting adult victims) to five years’ imprisonment (for exploiting child victims). Despite India being a source of sex tourists domestically and to South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Gulf countries, the government did not take measures to reduce the participation of its nationals in child sex tourism. There was no information on whether the Indian government provided human trafficking training to its nationals who were deployed abroad on international peacekeeping missions.