India

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 2

INDIA: Tier 2

The Government of India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore India remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by nearly tripling the number of victims identified and increasing its budget for shelter programs for female and child trafficking victims. The government’s inter-ministerial committee met during the reporting period to discuss and revise a draft anti-trafficking bill and India’s border guard force on the India-Nepal border conducted several awareness activities on human trafficking for students and border communities. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Overall victim protection remained inadequate and inconsistent, and the government sometimes penalized victims through arrests for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government’s conviction rate and the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions was disproportionately low relative to the scale of trafficking in India, particularly with respect to bonded and forced labor. Despite reports of some officials complicit in trafficking, the government did not report investigating such allegations.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INDIA

Increase prosecutions and convictions for all forms of trafficking, including forced and bonded labor, and of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, respecting due process; establish and fully resource anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) in all districts, including by providing additional dedicated, trained staff and by clarifying the mandate of AHTUs; significantly increase efforts to identify victims proactively to include disseminating and implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to harmonize victim identification and referral, and training officials on their use; cease the penalization of trafficking victims; protect victim confidentiality and privacy, including on government-issued identification documents; improve central and state government implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes to ensure trafficking victims receive benefits, release certificates, and compensation funds; develop and adopt a national action plan to combat trafficking; eliminate all recruitment fees charged to workers and raise awareness among workers that they are not required to pay for a job; promptly disburse government funding for shelters and develop monitoring mechanisms to ensure quality of care; continue to increase the transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking and provide disaggregated data on efforts to criminally investigate, prosecute, and punish sex and labor trafficking; lift the ban on female labor migration to certain countries to discourage migration through undocumented channels; provide funding for states to establish fast-track courts that deal with all forms of human trafficking; and provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for diplomatic personnel to prevent their engagement in or facilitation of trafficking crimes, and to provide personnel the tools to identify and assist trafficking victims in their work.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Indian law criminalized sex trafficking and some forms of labor trafficking. Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized slavery, servitude, and most forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from seven years to life imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Section 370 required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, Sections 372 and 373 of the IPC criminalized the exploitation of children through prostitution without requiring a demonstration of such means, thereby addressing this gap. These sections prescribed penalties of up to ten years imprisonment and a fine, which were also sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 370 criminalized government officials’ involvement in human trafficking and prescribed penalties up to life imprisonment. Bonded labor was specifically criminalized under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties of up to five years imprisonment, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA), which prescribed penalties of up to three years imprisonment, which were not sufficiently stringent. The Juvenile Justice Act and other sections of the IPC criminalized many forms of forced labor; however, these provisions were unevenly enforced and some of their prescribed penalties were not sufficiently stringent, allowing for only fines or short prison sentences. The government frequently used the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) and various provisions of the IPC, which prescribed penalties that were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes such as rape, to prosecute sex trafficking.

During the reporting period, the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) issued the 2016 Crime in India Report, the most recent law enforcement data available. The 2016 report utilized different sections of law from previous years’ reports by including additional sections of the penal code relevant to human trafficking and removing ITPA data from the reported totals for human trafficking, thereby making past data incomparable. The 2016 report also included IPC section 367 in its aggregated trafficking data despite this section covering crimes broader than trafficking; the government did not report if it had disaggregated non-trafficking crimes from the data. In 2016, police investigated 5,217 trafficking cases and the government completed the prosecution of 587 cases. Of these cases, courts convicted traffickers in 163 cases and acquitted individuals in 424 cases. The acquittal rate for trafficking cases increased from 65 percent in 2015 to 72 percent in 2016. The government did not publish the categorization of the cases between sex or labor trafficking. The NCRB did not include cases of bonded labor in the overall human trafficking statistics, but did separately report 114 investigations and 13 prosecutions of cases in 2016 under the BLSA. This was an increase from 77 investigations and seven case prosecutions in 2015. However, the courts’ convictions under the BLSA remained notably low at only three in 2016 (compared to four in 2015), although bonded labor offenders may also be charged and convicted under other laws. The government did not report sentences for convictions. A senior police official noted at least one state did not report conviction data to the NCRB because of concern over the integrity of local data. Despite the overall increase in trafficking cases reported by the NCRB, NGOs continued to comment the figures did not reflect the large scale of human trafficking crimes in India, as many cases were not registered by police or were settled at the complaint stage. Inconsistent application of the law across jurisdictions, corruption among some officials, and a lack of awareness or capacity in some parts of the country resulted in incidents of inaction on trafficking crimes by police and prosecutors.

In February 2018, the Union Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, approved the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill for introduction in the Parliament. If passed, the government reported the bill would address the issue of trafficking from the “point of view of prevention, rescue and rehabilitation,” criminalize aggravated forms of trafficking, and create a national anti-trafficking bureau to comply with a December 2015 Supreme Court directive to establish an anti-trafficking investigative agency. The creation of such an agency was pending the passage of the anti-trafficking bill, although the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) had allocated 832 million Indian rupees (INR) ($13.1 million) to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the agency. AHTUs continued to serve as the primary investigative force for human trafficking crimes. In the previous reporting period, MHA released funds to establish a total of 270 AHTUs out of the more than 600 districts. MHA reported 264 AHTUs were operational throughout the country during the reporting period, an increase of five compared with the previous reporting period. Some NGOs reported significant cooperation with AHTUs on investigations and police referral of victims to NGOs for rehabilitation services. However, other NGOs noted some AHTUs continued to lack clear mandates and were not solely dedicated to anti-trafficking, which created confusion with other district- and state-level police units and in some cases impeded their ability to proactively investigate cases. Some police offices reportedly used AHTU resources and personnel for non-trafficking cases. Coordination across states remained a significant challenge in cases where the alleged trafficker was located in a different state from the victim. NGOs noted some police offices were overburdened, underfunded, and lacked the necessary resources, such as vehicles and computers, to combat trafficking effectively. NGOs noted some prosecutors and judges did not have sufficient resources to properly prosecute and adjudicate cases. State and local governments partnered with NGOs and international organizations to train police, border guards, public prosecutors, railway police, and social welfare and judicial officers. MHA provided roughly 191,000 INR ($3,000) for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to organize a judicial colloquium in December 2017 for 130 judges and prosecutors on sex trafficking.

Official complicity in human trafficking occurred at varying levels of government. The government did not report comprehensive data on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. The 2016 Crime in India Report, the most recent law enforcement data available, stated under the corruption act and related IPC sections, there were 4,764 officials charged, 1,071 officials convicted, and 1,947 officials acquitted in 2016; the government did not report whether any of the cases were related to human trafficking. Some corrupt law enforcement officers reportedly protected suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement action, received bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims, and tipped off sex and labor traffickers on forthcoming raids. Media quoted a Delhi government official as stating Delhi’s red-light area had become a hub for human trafficking, especially of girls, and alleging the involvement of police, politicians, and local government officials. There were no reports of investigations into such cases of complicity for the second consecutive year.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to protect victims. The NCRB reported the government’s identification of 22,955 victims in 2016, compared with 8,281 in 2015. The NCRB reported 11,212 of the victims were exploited in forced labor, 7,570 exploited in sex trafficking, 3,824 exploited in an unspecified manner, and 349 exploited in forced marriage, although it is unclear if the forced marriage cases directly resulted in forced labor or sex trafficking. The government did not disaggregate the type of exploitation experienced by the age, gender, or nationality of the victim and included a small number of non-trafficking crimes in its overall victim demographic numbers; thus the following information included 162 more persons than the total number of trafficking victims identified. The government identified 8,651 boys, 7,238 women, 5,532 girls, and 1,696 men as trafficking victims. Of the victims, 22,932 were Indian, 38 Sri Lankan, 38 Nepali, 36 Bangladeshi, and 73 were various other nationalities, including Thai and Uzbek. A 2009 MHA non-binding directive advised state officials to use SOPs for proactive victim identification and referral to protection services; however, it is unclear if all 29 states employed such SOPs. Some NGOs noted police did not use SOPs and were not proactive in their identification of potential victims; instead, police reportedly relied on NGOs to identify and report the location of the victim to the police for rescue. In December 2017, after consultations with civil society, the National Human Rights Commission created and published SOPs for combating human trafficking. These SOPs included information on the definition of trafficking, myths and misconceptions about trafficking, a screening tool to help identify potential victims, steps to rescue a victim including providing immediate care and support to the victim, and information on rehabilitation programs and restitution. MWCD’s SOPs for cases of missing children, created in the previous reporting period, continued to mandate the transfer of cases not resolved within four months to an AHTU. MWCD and MHA continued to implement TrackChild, a system to identify missing children nationally. MWCD continued to support the national Childline hotline, an emergency phone service for children in need of assistance, including trafficking victims. State- and district-level law enforcement continued to carry out operations to rescue and rehabilitate missing and exploited children, some of whom may have been subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Some state- and district-level law enforcement actively partnered with NGOs to identify, rescue, and provide rehabilitation services to victims; however, other police officers reportedly undertook rescue operations without further investigating or charging suspects.

MWCD continued to fund NGO- and government-run shelter and rehabilitation services for women and children through the Ujjawala program, specifically for female sex trafficking victims, and the Swadhar Greh program, for women in difficult circumstances. The central government’s budget for the Ujjawala program increased from 203 million INR ($3.2 million) in 2016-2017 to 350 million INR ($5.5 million) in 2017-2018 and the Swadhar Greh budget decreased from 840 million INR ($13.2 million) to 750 million INR ($11.8 million). NGOs continued to report the number of government shelters was insufficient and overcrowding compromised victim rehabilitation. 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 victim services, although some received government funds. The disbursal of government funding to NGOs was sometimes delayed for multiple years and corruption reportedly drained some resources intended for victim care. Some victims waited months for transfer from temporary “transit homes” to shelters that provide long-term care due to shortages of government funds, shelter staff, or police escorts. Government child welfare committees placed child victims in private shelters or in government juvenile justice homes, some of which may have housed child victims with children accused of crimes. Children largely received the same government services as adults. Media reported allegations that some privately-run children’s homes subjected children to trafficking. During the reporting period, police in Tamil Nadu charged the director of an unregistered children’s home under trafficking and juvenile justice laws.

In May 2016, the central government revised its program for the rehabilitation of bonded laborers to increase compensation and include female sex trafficking and child forced labor victims as eligible to receive restitution and assistance. In June 2017, the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE) disseminated a memo to local and state governments clarifying parts of the 2016 program and outlining additional modifications. The memo clarified district administrations could provide immediate monetary assistance up to 20,000 INR ($310) to a victim released from bonded labor regardless of the status of a related court case. However, the release of the overall restitution amounts (between 100,000 INR [$1,570] and 300,000 INR [$4,710] based on the victim’s demographics) remained contingent on the conviction of the trafficker or administrative processes that may take several years to conclude. Media and NGOs reported a small number of victims received initial monetary assistance; however, media also reported the inaction of districts and states on bonded labor in part due to a lack of funds. State governments were required to provide victims with immediate monetary assistance from state budgets and then request reimbursement from the central government. Judges could also order victim restitution through other government compensation programs. While these programs were also mostly based on the conviction of the trafficker, in August 2017 before a trial took place a judge ordered restitution of 300,000 INR ($4,710) to a child sex trafficking victim under the 2012 Prevention of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act’s compensation fund. Rescued bonded laborers were entitled to “release certificates” enabling them to receive government-funded services. Many victims received certificates at or soon after their rescue, especially in areas where there was significant coordination between the government and NGOs. Other victims experienced lengthy delays before obtaining the certificates. The government did not provide adult male trafficking victims, other than bonded labor victims, any protection services. Government-run hospitals provided emergency medical services to victims, although long waiting lists made it difficult to obtain surgery and other procedures and NGOs often had to pay for victims’ emergency medical treatment. In August 2017, the district government of Jashpur, Chhattisgarh initiated a pilot program to provide ten female trafficking survivors a location and equipment to open a bakery. In March 2018, the President of the Republic of India awarded the bakery and the survivors the Nari Shakti Puraskar (Women Empowerment Award) and launched an NGO-run three-month course to build the confidence of trafficking survivors, assess their skills and educational levels, and connect them with the government-run Skill India program for vocational training. Media reported the government aimed to provide vocational training to 500,000 survivors in the future.

Foreign victims received the same access to shelter and services as Indian nationals. Government policy on foreign victims dictated their return to their country of origin at the earliest possible time. Authorities detained foreign sex trafficking victims to government aftercare homes until repatriation and did not permit them to work in the local economy. The repatriation of foreign victims could take years due to a number of constraints, including some victims’ lack of identity documents. NGOs stated children who could not identify their home state or country were unable to be returned to their families or place of origin. The governments of India and Bangladesh continued to implement their 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on human trafficking, including through coordination on repatriation; Bangladeshi NGOs reported the average Bangladeshi victim was repatriated within six months.

To protect both Indian and foreign national victims during trial, prosecutors may request the victim be permitted 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; it is unknown if these protections were used for trafficking victims during the reporting period. In 2009, MHA provided guidelines to all state governments encouraging police not to charge victims for crimes committed while subjected to human trafficking, including foreign women and child victims for immigration violations. However, in certain cases, the government continued to penalize victims as a result of inconsistent identification and screening efforts, including sex trafficking victims arrested for prostitution and foreign trafficking victims charged with immigration violations. In 2014, the government began denying travel of trafficking victims and their family members, including by confiscating the passports of Indians who 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. The government revised this policy in 2015 to allow these victims and their families to renew their passports and travel if documentation of the victim’s trafficking experience was provided and the Indian government determined the person to be a trafficking victim. However, some victims continued to cite lengthy delays, requests from the government for private or otherwise sensitive information, and inconsistent application of the policy when attempting to renew their passports. In 2016 and 2017, the government stamped the passports of some recipients of the foreign government’s visas, for both trafficking victims and their eligible family members, identifying them as trafficking victims involved in a particular investigation, civil, or criminal case. While the stamp requested authorities permit the visa holder to travel without hindrance, some NGOs familiar with this practice noted it made some victims fearful of reprisal and penalization and served as a deterrent to victims interacting with authorities.

PREVENTION

The government maintained overall efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the secretary of the MWCD and including civil society organizations and relevant government ministries, met during the reporting period to discuss and revise the draft anti-trafficking bill. The government did not have a national action plan to combat trafficking; however, it did have a national plan of action for children, launched in a previous reporting period, which outlined efforts to prevent and protect children from trafficking and to conduct research and analysis. In January 2018, the government reported help desks had been established in 33 major railway stations to provide immediate support to unaccompanied children, who may be missing, abandoned, or runaways and who may be vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking. Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), India’s border guard force on the India-Nepal border, conducted several awareness activities on human trafficking for students and border communities in September 2017. SSB hosted a workshop, organized a painting competition to raise awareness in 39 schools, and commissioned two vehicles to create an awareness caravan for border districts with speakers and awareness materials. Some state governments had state-level action plans, task forces, and MOUs to combat trafficking and conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns or made in-kind contributions to NGO-run campaigns. West Bengal police continued to implement regular awareness events with students, teachers, and administrators, including in four new districts in early 2018.

The government registered foreign recruitment agencies and Indian migrant workers through the eMigrate online system. The government required migrant workers going to 17 specific countries, including the Middle East, to receive emigration clearance before their departure. Among other steps, clearance required Indian overseas missions to verify employment agreements for unskilled and farm workers and all female migrant workers. The government banned female migrant workers under age 30 from working in the 17 countries. The UN and members of civil society continued to argue any ban on migration increased the likelihood of migrating illegally and therefore heightened their vulnerability to human trafficking. MEA provided counseling and other resources to those considering migrant work at five resource centers in Chennai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Kochi, and Lucknow. In July 2017, India’s Cabinet approved revised guidelines for the MEA’s Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) to expand the fund’s geographic use from 43 Indian missions to all Indian missions abroad and the scope of services to include awareness measures and hotlines for migrant workers in distress, in addition to continuing the services of shelter, legal assistance, and repatriation. The ICWF was primarily funded through overseas consular fees. The government had MOUs on human trafficking with Bahrain, Bangladesh, and the United Arab Emirates, and in January 2018, India and Cambodia signed a MOU on the prevention of human trafficking and the rescue and repatriation of victims. The government permitted licensed foreign employment recruiters to charge migrant workers up to 20,000 INR ($310) for worker-paid recruitment fees and costs; however, observers stated migrant workers were frequently charged more than the maximum and obtained loans to pay the recruiters, thereby increasing their debt and vulnerability to labor trafficking. The government prohibited the role of unregulated and unregistered sub-agents; however, sub-agents reportedly continued to operate widely with impunity. MEA reportedly worked with the Central Bureau of Investigation to address cases of recruitment fraud and trafficking allegations and revoked recruitment licenses, but it did not report how many licenses it revoked during the reporting period.

Within India, some states regulated aspects of the informal labor sector, including seven state governments that stipulated a minimum wage for domestic work. In October 2017, MoLE solicited public input on the formulation of a national domestic worker policy. The government amended the Child Labor (Abolition) Act in August 2016 to ban employment of children below the age of 14. The amended law also prohibited the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18 in hazardous work except in mines; however, the law permitted employment of children in family-owned enterprises, involving nonhazardous activities, after school hours. Indian civil society continued to express concern that these changes amounted to legalizing some forms of child labor that would subsequently increase the vulnerability of children to trafficking. According to Indian child labor organizations, the number of labor inspectors was inadequate for the scope of work and inspectors could only inspect private farms or residences if a complaint had been filed.

The central government’s May 2016 revision of the bonded laborers rehabilitation program provided for the reimbursement of 450,000 INR ($7,060) per district for a census of bonded labor. In its June 2017 memo, MoLE outlined modifications to this provision, including that the central government will advance 50 percent of the amount required for conducting the surveys to the state and that five evaluation studies per year may be conducted. The government did not report if any state had conducted such surveys.

Despite India being a destination for child sex tourism, the government did not report measures to reduce child sex tourism. In January 2018, the government of Andhra Pradesh appointed a panel of legal experts and civil society to make recommendations on which laws could be used to prosecute buyers of sex. The government did not report additional efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The Indian military conducted training on trafficking for its personnel before deployment on peacekeeping or similar missions. The government did not provide information about any anti-trafficking training provided to its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, 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 brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery factories, and agriculture. Most 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. Within India, some are subjected to forced labor in sectors such as construction, steel, garment, and textile industries, wire manufacturing for underground cables, biscuit factories, pickling, floriculture, fish farms, and ship breaking. Workers within India who mine for sand are potentially vulnerable to human trafficking. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly lure adults and children under false promises of employment into sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude.

In addition to bonded labor, some children are subjected to forced labor as factory and agricultural workers, carpet weavers, domestic servants, and beggars. Begging ringleaders sometimes maim children to earn more money. Some NGOs and media report girls are sold and forced to conceive and deliver babies for sale. The “Provident Funds” or “Sumangali” scheme in Tamil Nadu, in which employers pay young women a lump sum, used for education or a dowry, at the end of multi-year labor contracts may amount to conditions of forced labor. Separatist groups, such as the Maoists in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Odisha, force some children to act as spies and couriers, plant improvised explosive devices, and fight against the government, although reportedly to a lesser degree than previous years.

Experts estimate millions of women and children are victims of sex trafficking in India. Traffickers use false promises of employment or arrange sham marriages within India or Gulf states and subject women and girls to sex trafficking. In addition to traditional red light districts, women and children increasingly endure sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences. Traffickers increasingly use websites, mobile applications, and online money transfers to facilitate commercial sex. Children continue to be subjected to sex trafficking in religious pilgrimage centers and by foreign travelers in tourist destinations. Many women and girls, predominately from Nepal and Bangladesh, and from Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Asia, including Rohingya and other minority populations from Burma, are subjected to sex trafficking in India. Prime destinations for both Indian and foreign female trafficking victims include Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, and along the India-Nepal border; Nepali women and girls are increasingly subjected to sex trafficking in Assam, and other cities such as Nagpur and Pune. Some corrupt law enforcement officers protect suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement efforts, 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 work, and other low-skilled sectors in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, other regions, face forced labor, often following recruitment fraud and exorbitant recruitment fees charged by labor brokers. Girls from northeast India were reportedly vulnerable to human trafficking as they transited Burma on fake Burmese passports to circumvent the Indian government’s required emigration clearance to migrate for work to certain countries. Some Bangladeshi migrants are subjected to forced labor in India through recruitment fraud and debt bondage. Some Nepali, Bangladeshi, and Afghan women and girls are subjected to both labor and sex trafficking in major Indian cities. Following the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, Nepali women who transit through India are increasingly subjected to trafficking in the Middle East and Africa. Some boys from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are subjected to forced labor in embroidery factories in Nepal. Burmese Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee populations continue to be vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in India.