India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The forced labor of an estimated 20 to 65 million citizens 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. A common characteristic of bonded labor is the use of physical and sexual violence as coercive means. 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 from excluded groups—are most vulnerable. Trafficking victims in India at times are injured or killed by their traffickers; for example, a labor contractor in the State of Odisha chopped off the hands of two bonded labor victims in 2013. Media reported instances of severe mistreatment of domestic servants in New Delhi, many of whom were victims of forced labor, including cases of rape, torture, and murder. NGOs observed that the majority of trafficking victims are recruited by agents known to them in their home villages with promises of work in urban or other rural areas. Trafficking between Indian states continues to rise due to increased mobility and growth in industries that use forced labor, such as construction, textiles, wire manufacturing for underground cables, biscuit factories, and floriculture. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly engage in sex and labor trafficking but escape prosecution; some of these agents participate in the sexual abuse that approximately 20 percent of domestic workers reportedly experience. Placement agencies also provide child labor for domestic service, meeting a demand for cheap and docile workers and creating a group vulnerable to trafficking.
Children are subjected to forced labor as factory workers, beggars, agricultural workers, and, in some rural areas of Northern India, as carpet weavers. A 2013 study of India’s hand-made carpet sector revealed 2,612 cases of forced labor and 2,010 cases of bonded labor of adults and children in nine Northern Indian states, including entire villages subjected to debt bondage in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Begging ringmasters sometimes maim children as a means to earn more money. Boys from Nepal and Bangladesh continue to be subjected to forced labor in coal mines in the state of Meghalaya. Boys from the region of Kashmir are forced by insurgent separatists and terrorist groups to fight against the Indian government. Burmese Rohingya and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees continue to be vulnerable to forced labor in India. Boys from Bihar are subjected to forced labor in embroidery factories in Nepal.
Experts estimate that 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. Girls from Assam state are kidnapped for domestic servitude. Around 90 percent of the girls who were from Jharkhand and were victimized work as domestic servants. A large number of Nepali, Afghan, and Bangladeshi females—the majority of whom are children aged nine to 14 years old—and women and girls from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, and Uganda are also subjected to sex trafficking in India. Female trafficking victims are frequently exploited in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, and along the India-Nepal border. Newspapers contain advertisements promising full body massages, often by Afghan women, who are then forced to offer sexual services. Traffickers also 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 girls more frequently subjected to sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences than traditional red light districts. Experts also reported increasing demand for women from smaller towns in North and Western India for sex and labor trafficking; until recently, victims have typically originated from Eastern India and Bangladesh.
Some 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, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Bhutan, the United States, Europe, Southern Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and other regions, subsequently face forced labor conditions initiated by recruitment fraud and usurious recruitment fees charged by Indian labor brokers. Some Bangladeshi migrants are subjected to forced labor in India through recruitment fraud and debt bondage. Trafficking victims—primarily girls—continue to be recruited from Bangladesh and Nepal and brought to Mumbai. An increasing number of foreign women, mostly from Central Asia and Bangladesh, were rescued from debt bondage within Hyderabad; labor trafficking, including bonded labor, reportedly continues in Odisha.
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. Experts reported increased acknowledgement of India’s trafficking problem by government officials and increased efforts to combat it. Despite these efforts, the protection of trafficking victims and the prosecution of their suspected exploiters were uneven among states and municipalities. While some courts in some states have secured serious penalties for convicted traffickers, continued complicity of government officials enabled traffickers to exploit additional men, women, and children. Officials facilitated trafficking by taking bribes, warning traffickers about raids, helping traffickers destroy evidence, handing victims back to traffickers, and physically and sexually assaulting victims. Lack of political will and sensitivity to victims’ trauma continued, with one senior official stating that victims choose “that lifestyle;” another politician stated that victims were better off exploited than they would be otherwise.
Recommendations for India:
Prosecute officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty; continue to sensitize law enforcement officials to human trafficking issues and educate them about changes to the law; cease the penalization of victims of human trafficking; integrate anti-trafficking procedures into natural disaster planning and training; establish additional Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in source areas; encourage AHTUs to address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor of adults and children; hire additional female police officers to work with trafficking victims; coordinate standard operating procedures (SOPs) among police and child welfare departments for the rescue, repatriation, and rehabilitation of trafficked children; prosecute suspected traffickers and punish those found guilty with sentences commensurate with those of other serious crimes; increase funding for shelters, regular training of staff working with victims, and the creation of a quality control board; through continued coordination with stakeholders, increase prevention efforts and services provided to victims of forced and bonded labor; increase prosecutions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor, respecting due process, and report on these law enforcement efforts; improve protections for trafficking victims who testify against their suspected traffickers; develop and implement SOPs to harmonize victim identification and repatriation, and prosecution of suspected traffickers when trafficking crimes cross state lines; provide funding for additional states to establish fast-track courts that respect due process and deal with all forms of human trafficking; promptly disburse government funding for anti-trafficking shelter homes and develop monitoring mechanisms to ensure quality of care; require state governments to comply with the October 2012 Supreme Court judgment to accurately report on the number of bonded labor victims; and fund more public awareness campaigns in informal settlements, schools, and colleges.
The Government of India did not provide adequate anti-trafficking law enforcement data; observers noted a lack of progress based on low rates of convictions, with most offenders receiving fines in lieu of imprisonment. Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalizes government officials’ involvement in human trafficking, prescribing sentences up to life imprisonment. It also 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 minors is criminalized under other statutes. An April 2013 change in the criminal law, Section 166A of the IPC, holds police responsible for delays in registering a First Information Report (FIR) 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 of India did not report comprehensive law enforcement data on human trafficking. Reported incidents of inaction by law enforcement 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. Information publicly released as human trafficking data by the National Crimes Record Bureau 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, or convictions carried out by the government. Some of the 28 states in India reported law enforcement data on human trafficking, but such information covers only a small portion of the country. Observers noted the need for more specialized courts in other states. Experts expressed concern about a lack of political will to combat trafficking and protect victims in West Bengal, which has no AHTUs, trafficking-specific law enforcement units that liaise with other agencies and refer victims to shelters, no rehabilitation services for victims, and no cases investigated or prosecuted in 2013 under the ITPA or the new trafficking laws, despite the area being a major source for trafficking.
Government officials’ complicity in human trafficking remained prevalent and the Indian government made few efforts to bring them to justice; victims were sometimes arrested or targeted for investigation for reporting abuse. In May 2013, Hyderabad police arrested a government official for allegedly operating a brothel. In June 2013, 17 police officers, including two superintendents, were suspended in Kerala for their involvement in a sex trafficking ring run through two airports; several of the officers were arrested and their cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period. Despite cooperating with police, the victim who reported this case was arrested and charged with passport fraud. In June 2013, authorities arrested two police officers for running a brothel. In July 2013, disciplinary action was taken against three Kerala police officers for facilitating the transport of trafficking victims to Dubai. In August 2013, two New Delhi police officers were arrested for running an alleged prostitution and extortion racket. In November 2013, a Member of Parliament and his wife were arrested for the alleged torture and murder of their domestic servant. An Indian consular officer at the New York consulate was indicted in December 2013 for visa fraud related to her alleged exploitation of an Indian domestic worker. NGOs reported other cases of corrupt officials returning rescued and escaped bonded laborers back to their exploiters; government officials attempting to dissuade bonded labor victims from pressing charges, stating that there would be negative repercussions from superiors if reported; and the involvement in bonded labor of regional politicians who used influence to block prosecutions. Police also reportedly accepted bribes in the form of money and sexual services in exchange for ignoring or failing to pursue trafficking charges, sexually abused trafficking victims, tipped suspected traffickers off to raids, released suspected traffickers after their arrests, and helped suspected traffickers destroy evidence.
The Government of India collaborated with international organizations, NGOs, and state governments in its efforts to train police, judges, and lawyers on the handling of trafficking cases. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported that every district across India conducted training for prosecutors and judges on trafficking. The MHA continued to offer a human trafficking certificate course through a public university, continued a two-year project for training law enforcement officers in four states in association with an international organization, and supported the Bureau of Police Research and Development Initiatives by conducting government training programs with state police academies. State and local governments also conducted extensive training. The government encountered difficulties in conducting cooperative investigations with the Governments of Nepal and Bangladesh due to multiple layers of bureaucracy and lack of SOPs.
The Government of India made some improvements in the areas of victim care, rehabilitation, and compensation; however, the implementation of these services was inconsistent and their quality was frequently substandard. Experts observed that much of the focus of the government’s victim protection activities was limited to sex trafficking victims, with inadequate care and services provided to victims of forced and bonded labor. Experts also reported that officials in many small towns and villages made minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims. NGOs cited the 2013 creation of child protection cells at major railway stations as a significant development in victim protection, even though they were not trafficking specific—child protection cells paired police and NGOs to identify exploited children and refer them to protective services. A 2009 MHA non-binding directive advises state government officials to use SOPs to identify trafficking victims proactively and refer them to protection services; however, there is no information that such SOPs were used during the year, and the government did not provide information on the number of trafficking victims it identified. Experts noted that funding for NGOs was insufficient to meet trafficking victims’ needs and law enforcement officers were not appropriately trained to identify victims. NGOs relied primarily on donor contributions to provide victims services, though some received government funds. Both government- and NGO-run shelters faced shortages of financial resources and trained personnel, particularly the lack of counselors and medical staff. Disbursal of funding to NGOs that provided services to victims was delayed and corruption reportedly drained valuable resources that were intended for victim care. An NGO reported very poor conditions at one government-run shelter, with no running water and only one meal provided per day; desperate victims ran off or returned to prostitution rather than accept such conditions. The government referred victims it removed from exploitation to government-funded NGO care and rehabilitation shelters throughout India; services such as psychological counseling and medical treatment were scarce or of poor quality in some of these facilities. The government provided shelter to an unknown number of Indian and foreign victims; both had access to government hospitals for emergency medical services, although long waiting lists made it difficult to obtain surgery and other procedures and, at times, NGOs had to pay for victims’ medical treatment. Funding for government programs is jointly shared between the central and state governments. Child victims were placed in private shelters or in government aftercare shelters known as juvenile justice homes and largely received the same government services as adults.
The government policy on foreign victims of trafficking was to repatriate them to their country of origin at the earliest possible time. Foreign sex trafficking victims were detained in government aftercare homes until transfer to their country of origin was possible. Due to a number of constraints, this process resulted in victims, especially those from Bangladesh, spending upwards of two to four years in these homes before being repatriated. Foreign trafficking victims are not permitted to work in the local economy. In a previous reporting period the MHA provided guidelines to all state governments on procedures to deal with foreign nationals detained in cases of human trafficking; the guidelines note that women and children who are declared victims should not be prosecuted under the Foreigners Act. It further advised states and union territories to refer the victims to government-run shelters until they are repatriated and encouraged use of video conferencing facilities for victims’ testimony. It appears that in some states, MHA guidelines are systematically used; in others, services remained ad hoc at best. Officials from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights noted a lack of SOPs among police and child welfare departments in source states to coordinate the rescue, repatriation, and rehabilitation of trafficked children. Victims had the right to file civil suits against traffickers for damages. Prosecutors may request special protections for victims during trial, including closing proceedings to the media and public, testifying behind screens, and the blocking of irrelevant and potentially harmful questions. Rescued bonded laborers are entitled to “release certificates” that entitle them to compensation, but victims in Odisha and other states experienced delays in excess of two years in receiving the certificates.
Some government-run shelters did not permit adult victims to leave the premises, purportedly for security reasons, contrary to international principles on the protection of victims. In some cases, traffickers continued to re-recruit victims by pretending to be family members and convincing shelter managers to release victims to them. During investigations, police sometimes treated victims as suspected criminals and subjected them to aggressive questioning. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) claimed to provide discretionary funds to Indian embassies to help rehabilitate or repatriate Indian citizens who are victims of trafficking or domestic violence abroad, but officials noted very few embassies made use of the funds. There were many reports of trafficking victims being penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked: foreign victims were often detained under the Foreigners’ Act for their undocumented status or for document fraud, and Section 8 of the ITPA (solicitation) and Section 294 of the IPC (obscenity in public places) were used to prosecute and convict sex trafficking victims.
The Government of India conducted numerous efforts to prevent human trafficking. NGOs noted a lack of awareness about trafficking in some informal settlements, schools, and colleges. Many government officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling and denied that bonded labor was a problem in India. There were significant improvements in coordination among concerned government offices, including police, Labor Ministry officials, state Women and Child Departments, and Child Welfare Committees in combating trafficking. An export council including the Indian Ministry of Textiles launched an initiative to help manufacturers in the textile industry follow proper labor practices and prevent forced labor. Despite India being a source and destination for sex tourism, the government did not take measures to reduce the participation of its nationals in child sex tourism. Indian military personnel must undergo a training program on trafficking conducted by the Indian military and certified by the UN before deploying to peacekeeping or similar missions. The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.