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.