INDIA: Tier 2

The Government of India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore India remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more victims and investigating and prosecuting more trafficking cases. In response to heightened vulnerabilities to trafficking as a result of the pandemic, the government allocated funding for the strengthening of existing and establishment of new Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) around the country, and media reported railway and transit police increased patrolling of transportation hubs to prevent and intercept perpetrators and victims of human trafficking. The government allocated funding to establish “women help desks” in 10,000 police stations across the country and facilitated services for victims of crime, including human trafficking. Indian courts expanded the use of video testimony for trafficking victims during the pandemic. Some states also made notable efforts to include issuing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification of bonded labor and granting the maximum amount of compensation outlined in policy to bonded labor victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several areas. Overall anti-trafficking efforts, especially against bonded labor, remained inadequate. The government achieved fewer convictions, and the acquittal rate for traffickers remained high at 73 percent. Official complicity in trafficking remained a concern; the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions. Although law enforcement increased victim identifications, they identified disproportionately few victims compared with the scope of the problem, with some organizations estimating eight million trafficking victims in India. Efforts to audit government-run or -funded shelters remained inadequate, and significant shortcomings in protections for victims, especially children, remain unaddressed. Many victims waited years to receive central-government mandated compensation, and often state and district legal offices did not proactively request the compensation or assist victims in filing applications. Some foreign trafficking victims remained in state-run shelters for years due to lengthy or non-existent repatriation processes.

Increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labor. • Vigorously investigate allegations of official complicity in human trafficking and sentence perpetrators to significant prison terms. • Criminally investigate all reports of bonded labor. • Develop and immediately implement regular monitoring mechanisms of shelters to ensure adequate care, and promptly disburse funding to shelters that meet official standards for care. • Improve clarity on central and state government mandates for and implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes for trafficking victims, especially children, to ensure states provide release certificates, compensation, and non-cash benefits to all victims immediately. • Urge prosecutors to routinely request and judges to award, as appropriate, trafficking victim compensation, and urge legal aid offices to routinely inform trafficking victims of available compensation mechanisms. • Encourage state and territory compliance with the Supreme Court’s recommendation to audit all government-run and -funded shelter homes. • Cease penalization of trafficking victims. • De-link provision of the 2016 bonded labor scheme’s overall victim compensation from conviction of the trafficker. • Cease detention of adult trafficking victims in government-run and government-funded shelters. • Strengthen existing AHTUs through increased funding and trainings of staff and ensure newly created AHTUs are fully operational. • Continue to disseminate and implement standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral, and train officials on their use. • Amend the definition of trafficking in Section 370 of the Penal Code to include labor trafficking and ensure that force, fraud, or coercion are not required to prove a child sex trafficking crime. • Eliminate all recruitment fees charged to workers. • Increase oversight of, and protections for, workers in the informal sector, including home-based workers. • Lift bans on female migration through agreements with destination countries that protect Indian workers from human trafficking. • Update and implement a national action plan to combat trafficking. • Provide anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel.

The government modestly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, although efforts remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem. Indian law criminalized sex trafficking and some forms of labor trafficking. Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized trafficking offenses that involved exploitation that included any act of physical exploitation or any form of sexual exploitation, slavery or practices similar to slavery, and servitude. The law did not explicitly address labor trafficking. Section 370 prescribed penalties ranging from seven to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine for offenses involving an adult victim, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment and a fine for those involving a child victim; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. 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 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which were also sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Bonded labor was specifically criminalized in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA), which prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and up to three years’ imprisonment, respectively. The penalties prescribed under the BLSA were not sufficiently stringent. Police continued to file trafficking cases under the Juvenile Justice Act and other sections of the IPC, which 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. Additionally, the government prosecuted sex trafficking crimes under other laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA), which criminalized various offenses relating to commercial sexual exploitation. The recruitment of children younger than age 18 by non-state armed groups is criminally prohibited by Section 83 (1) of the Juvenile Justice Act. A draft anti-trafficking bill from 2018 lapsed with the dissolution of the lower house in 2019. The government was working on a revised bill, which was yet to be presented to Parliament at the close of the reporting period.

During the reporting period, the National Crime and Records Bureau (NCRB) issued its 2019 Crime in India Report. In 2019, the government reported 2,088 trafficking cases under the IPC compared with 1,830 trafficking cases in 2018 and 2,854 trafficking cases reported in 2017. The government did not report what sections of the IPC were included in the data, and the government reported the same number of cases for West Bengal in 2018 and 2019 because West Bengal did not provide new data. In 2019, the government completed prosecution in 600 trafficking cases, convicted 306 traffickers in 160 cases, and acquitted 1,329 suspects in 440 cases. The acquittal rate for trafficking cases was 73 percent in 2019. These statistics were compared with the government completing prosecution in 545 cases, convicting 322 traffickers in 95 cases, and acquitting 1,124 suspects in 450 cases in 2018, with 83 percent of cases resulting in acquittal. Three of India’s 36 states and territories reported a third of all trafficking cases, most likely due to more sophisticated reporting in those states and territories rather than larger trafficking problems. The government ordered a nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic from March to May 2020; subsequently, regular court proceedings and evidence collection were suspended. Courts resumed trials using video conferencing and online applications after some of the lockdown restrictions were removed in the summer of 2020. India’s Supreme Court encouraged courts across the country to utilize online technologies to continue to hear trafficking cases virtually during the pandemic.

Overall law enforcement efforts across the country, especially against bonded labor, remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem. The law required police to file a First Information Report (FIR) upon receipt of information about the commission of a cognizable offense, such as forced labor or sex trafficking, which legally bound police to initiate a criminal investigation. Police did not always arrest suspected traffickers, file FIRs to officially register a complaint, or file FIRs under trafficking crimes; and officials often settled cases at the complaint stage. For example, in a child trafficking case during the reporting period, the police filed a FIR under IPC 360 (kidnapping) instead of POCSO and IPC 370 (trafficking of minors), allowing the alleged trafficker to be released on bail directly following his arrest. In recent years, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Assam state authorities allegedly ordered police to register trafficking cases as kidnapping or missing persons to reduce the number of trafficking cases in official statistics. In December 2020, the Supreme Court directed the states of West Bengal, Assam, and Rajasthan to ensure video conferencing facilities were available for children and trafficking witnesses to help mitigate case delays caused by the time and expense of witnesses traveling to the courts. During the pandemic-related lockdown, district courts granted bail to some alleged traffickers without serving notification of bail hearings to prosecutors or victims, including child victims, in contravention of the POCSO Act. This resulted in prosecutors and victims being unable to present counter arguments in bail hearings and raised concerns of alleged traffickers intimidating victims.

The lack of sufficient political will across many states to address bonded labor stymied efforts nationwide. NGOs previously estimated police did not file FIRs in at least half of bonded labor cases nationally, especially in Bihar and Rajasthan. NGOs stated police, at times, allegedly did not file cases to shield traffickers or to avoid paying compensation to victims. In 2019, law enforcement reported 1,155 cases of bonded labor under the BLSA, an increase from 778 cases in 2018. In 2019, officials convicted 52 persons in 33 cases under the BLSA and acquitted 90 persons in 38 cases. These statistics were a sharp decrease, compared with 2018, when officials convicted 331 persons in 198 cases under the BLSA and acquitted 189 persons in 142 cases. In the 2018 Crime in India Report, the government began including in the BLSA statistics cases that district and labor officials handled administratively, including through summary trials; therefore, because the majority of “convictions” in 2018 and 2019 were administrative decisions, traffickers received inadequate sentences of fines, and authorities did not criminally investigate human trafficking crimes. Twenty-one of India’s 36 states and union territories reported not identifying any bonded labor victims or filing any cases under the BLSA in 2019. This was an increase from 17 states and territories not identifying any bonded labor victims or filing any cases under the BLSA in either 2017 or 2018, despite continued NGO and media reports of bonded labor victims identified in some of those states. Similar to 2018, Uttar Pradesh accounted for 80 percent of all cases under the BLSA, but the evidence did not suggest it had a disproportionately large problem, which called into question other states’ efforts to address bonded labor. Some district magistrates dissuaded bonded labor victims from pursuing cases against their traffickers and mediated cases in lieu of criminal prosecution. NGOs reported the collaboration between Karnataka agencies and other stakeholders resulted in the removal from exploitation of approximately 500 bonded laborers between January and June of 2020. Tamil Nadu officials conducted more than 30 operations to remove approximately 1,500 bonded laborers from exploitation between January and November of 2020. However, in June 2020, Tamil Nadu district officials did not charge a brick kiln owner with violating bonded labor laws because the district administration did not have the funding necessary to compensate victims as mandated by the BLSA, due to pandemic-related budget shortfalls. Police subsequently arrested the brick kiln owner on two other criminal charges. Additionally, Tamil Nadu police and local government officials removed 173 children (mostly young girls) from a private spinning mill. The children, ages 13-18, worked 14-hour days with no days off. Police did not file charges under the Child Labor (Abolition and Regulation) Act or the BLSA and instead filed an FIR under IPC Sections 269 and 271 for negligence “likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life,” an enforcement provision resulting from the pandemic.

AHTUs, legally established by state governments and partially funded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), served as the primary investigative force for human trafficking crimes. At the end of the previous reporting period, the government announced it would expand the number of AHTUs from 332 districts to all of India’s 732 districts; the government did not report the outcome of this expansion or final number of AHTUs during the current reporting period. In July 2020, in response to the pandemic, the MHA advised all Indian states and Union Territories (UTs) to expedite setting up new AHTUs and to strengthen existing ones. MHA also advised the state governments to create a coordination mechanism among the different departments, conduct community awareness programs on missing children, increase patrols of transit points and international borders, and train police officers on victim-centered investigations and protection. MHA released 42.3 million Indian rupees (INR) ($579,180) to Telangana to set up units in each of its 13 districts and 18 million INR ($246,460) to Kerala to expand resources in five AHTUs operating in rural police districts. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, reported allocating 1.6 million INR ($21,910) to create an additional 40 AHTUs so that all of its 75 districts had AHTUs that operated as separate police stations to facilitate the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficking victims. During the reporting period, Maharashtra created 36 new AHTUs.

An NGO study reported only 27 percent of AHTUs were fully operational and many still only existed on paper. State governments and civil society nationwide agreed the majority of AHTUs currently active were not sufficiently funded or trained, nor solely dedicated to trafficking. The study concluded government funding was mostly spent on infrastructure development and awareness programs, with little devoted to trafficking investigations. Additionally, AHTUs were frequently regarded as less favorable assignments for police officers and were at times occupied by near-retirees or were assigned to officers as a reprisal for poor performance. However, the study also stated some AHTUs were effective in investigating and providing evidence in cases and empowering victims. Some NGOs reported good working relationships and effective coordination with local AHTUs. In March 2020, the national government disbursed 1 billion INR ($13.69 million) to strengthen existing AHTUs and establish new units along India’s borders with Bangladesh and Nepal.

In December 2020, the government allocated an additional 1 billion rupees ($13.69 million) to establish “women help desks” in 10,000 police stations across the country. Police staffed the desks and, in coordination with lawyers, psychologists, and NGOs, facilitated legal aid, counseling, shelter, rehabilitation, and other related services for victims of crime, including human trafficking. In the previous reporting period, the government expanded the mandate of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to include inter-state and transnational trafficking cases. In October 2020, NIA filed charges in its first trafficking case against 12 individuals stemming from the discovery of a sex trafficking criminal operation in Hyderabad in 2019. Criminal Investigation Divisions (CID) within state-level police also investigated human trafficking. States were empowered to dedicate courts to hearing cases under the POCSO Act, including child sex trafficking; as of April 2019, the country had 664 POCSO courts. In some states, however, authorities reported the judges and prosecutors at POCSO courts had no training or expertise in POCSO crimes. Law enforcement generally did not prioritize trafficking cases over murder or drug crimes, which increased the length of trials and in some cases led to acquittals. Unofficial village caste councils have in the past reportedly pressured lower caste female sex trafficking victims not to pursue criminal cases, although no incidents were cited during the reporting period NGOs reported all police and judicial academies had human trafficking in their course curriculum.

Media reported the government arrested allegedly complicit officials, but as in past years, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. In Hyderabad, police arrested an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in May 2020 for exploiting five victims in a sex trafficking scheme. Police arrested a government engineer in Uttar Pradesh for sexually abusing more than 50 children over the span of 10 years and selling the images of the abuse online. In November 2020, police arrested a Chhattisgarh party official for involvement in a sex trafficking case; police also arrested four others in connection to the case. However, the government did not report taking action on allegations of official complicity in other cases. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) promoted a former consular officer who has an open U.S. indictment for visa fraud related to her alleged exploitation of an Indian domestic worker to an Ambassadorial position. In 2019, Tamil Nadu state authorities admitted some local politicians benefitted from child sex trafficking and forced begging rings with impunity; the government did not report investigating such allegations. In the previous reporting period, the Delhi Commission for Women claimed police filed fraudulent criminal charges against the organization to impede the organization’s anti-trafficking efforts. Some state-owned tea estates in Assam continued to hold workers in bonded labor by creating recurring debt by underpaying wages and overcharging for daily living expenses such that 37 percent of workers had daily expenditures that exceeded their daily income. Some law enforcement reportedly received bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims in exchange for alerting the traffickers of forthcoming raids.

A lack of accountability for misconduct and corruption persisted at various levels of government, contributing to the perception of widespread impunity for trafficking crimes. Caste discrimination by some police and administration officials impeded identification and investigation of such cases. NGOs across multiple states reported politically connected individuals, including local and state politicians who held workers in bonded labor in agriculture and on brick kilns, successfully avoided prosecution. Civil society reported a number of instances in which police refused to register FIRs against officials who were alleged perpetrators.

During the previous reporting period, the government conducted one high-profile investigation of abuse at a shelter home in Bihar, resulting in the conviction of 19 individuals, 12 of whom were sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault for the sex trafficking of more than 44 girl residents at a government-funded shelter. Among those convicted were three state officials, including the chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), and a former legislator. Despite this action in Bihar, the lack of investigations into suspected trafficking crimes and broader physical and sexual abuse of trafficking victims at government-run and government-funded shelters due to widespread negligence created an atmosphere of impunity for shelter employees to engage in trafficking. In 2018, the Supreme Court encouraged the National Commission for Women and state-level institutions to audit the status of their state shelter homes, including homes that care for adult and child trafficking victims. In compliance with this announcement, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights produced a report on the 7,163 childcare institutions in India of which 88 percent are managed by non-governmental entities. The report noted 40 percent of all shelters did not have adequate measures in place to prevent physical or sexual abuse of children. In addition, staff members were not properly trained to recognize the signs of abuse or raise alarm to proper authorities.

The government maintained overall victim identification and protection efforts, but the identification and protection for bonded laborers remained inadequate. In 2019, the government reported identifying 5,145 trafficking victims and 2,505 potential trafficking victims, an increase compared with 3,946 trafficking victims and 1,625 potential victims identified in 2018. In 2019, authorities identified 3,133 victims in labor trafficking, including 1,549 in bonded labor, 2,012 in sex trafficking, and did not report the type of trafficking of the 2,505 potential victims identified. Ninety-four percent of trafficking victims identified were Indian, approximately 57 percent were adults, and 62 percent were female. Despite some estimates of eight million Indians in bonded labor, the Ministry of Labor and Employment reported to Parliament in 2019 that the government had only identified and released 313,687 since 1976. Moreover, due to lack of law enforcement efforts against traffickers, one NGO working in 10 states reported that more than 60 percent of released victims were subjected to bonded labor again following their release. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh states, where some authorities may engage more actively against bonded labor, accounted for the majority of bonded labor victims identified, with 130,249, and 964 victims identified respectively, overall accounting for 87 percent of the country’s total identification of bonded labor victims. The MHA created standard procedures for trafficking victim identification in 2009, but it was unclear how many states had adopted them. State revenue officers had the responsibility for identifying bonded labor victims, yet NGOs identified most cases. Poor inter-state coordination between state government agencies impeded trafficking investigations and victims’ ability to obtain services, including participation in civil and criminal cases in their home states. The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) continued to support some broad national child protection mechanisms, including a hotline for children, and a system to identify missing children and remove them from their exploitation or situation. During the reporting year, state and local officials focused resources to contain the spread of COVID-19, which subsequently reduced some trafficking “raid and rescue” operations. However, media reported railway and transit police increased patrolling of transportation hubs to prevent and intercept perpetrators and victims of human trafficking in 2020.

The government did not report how many trafficking victims it assisted or referred to care. The government had shelter and services for child and adult female trafficking victims, although the quality, consistency, and availability varied. Police could refer all adult and child trafficking victims, except bonded labor victims, to state judiciaries and CWCs to determine appropriate care. CWCs generally returned child trafficking victims to their parents, some of whom had subjected their children to trafficking. When CWCs did refer child trafficking victims to care, it placed them in privately run shelters, government-run juvenile justice homes (some of which housed child victims with children accused of crimes), or government-run women and children’s homes, some of which allowed routine abuse in previous reporting periods. While judges could reportedly refer bonded labor victims to care, there were no reports officials did so in practice. Judges could require all adult trafficking victims identified under the ITPA to stay in government- or NGO-run shelters for up to three weeks, and victims who were part of an ongoing legal case as a witness or victim could not leave shelters without a magistrate’s order. The government did not operate or fund shelters that could accommodate adult males.

Government-run and -funded shelters remained insufficient, facing serious shortages of space, financial resources, and trained personnel. NGOs relied primarily on donor contributions, although some received government funds. The disbursal of government funding to NGOs was sometimes delayed for multiple years. In 2020, an amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act that prevented the sub-granting of foreign contributions from the original Indian NGO recipient to other NGOs came into force, preventing collaboration and coordination and severely affecting their activities, including anti-trafficking NGOs. MWCD continued to provide state governments with funding for NGO- and government-run shelter and rehabilitation through the Ujjawala program for female sex trafficking victims (operating 136 shelters, compared with 134 in 2019) and the Swadhar Greh program for women in difficult circumstances (operating 417 shelters, compared to 514 in 2018). The central government allocated 250 million INR ($3.42 million) to the Swadhar Greh and Ujjawala programs in the 2020-2021 budget but did not include separate allocations for the 2021-2022 budget. MWCD ran One-Stop Centers (OSCs) for female victims of all crimes, including sex trafficking. As of December 2020, there were 700 OSCs operating across India, compared with 506 in 2019. It did not report if the centers assisted any trafficking victims, and some NGOs previously reported the centers were ineffective and difficult to access.

Media, NGOs, and authorities continued to document a lack of oversight and negligence in government-run, government-funded, and privately run shelters that sometimes resulted in abuse and trafficking of residents. In several cases, such homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse, at times due to alleged political connections. CWCs were designed to routinely monitor victim shelters and provide updates on victims’ cases, although their efficacy varied across states. CWCs promoted interagency collaboration to prevent trafficking during the pandemic. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) audit of 9,500 Child Care Institutions (CCIs) during the previous reporting period revealed 40 percent lacked adequate measures to prevent abuse of children and one-third lacked registration and therefore operated with little or no oversight. Moreover, it reported CCIs subjected the majority of child residents, including trafficking victims, to corporal punishment, substandard-food, inadequate medical and legal assistance, and did not provide education or skills training. In response to this audit, the government closed 539 CCIs between 2018 and 2019 and registered others but did not report whether they filed any criminal charges against the owners and where they referred the residents. In February 2020 the Minister of Women and Child Development directed senior state officials to inspect all CCIs and implement the required monitoring and evaluation, including regular review of abuse complaints. However, the government did not report the outcome of this directive, and due to the pandemic, social workers throughout the country were frequently unable to contact trafficking victims in shelter homes or conduct effective evaluations. In addition, reportedly due to the fear of transmission of COVID-19, some CCIs returned children to their families, in some cases as a result of government pressure. The NCPCR sent a letter to eight state governments directing them to reunite children with their families as a measure to halt COVID-19 transmission. In Tamil Nadu, an NGO reported approximately 56,000 children lived in shelter homes in March 2020 but as of August 2020 only 6,000 lived in shelter homes. In October 2020, the Supreme Court required NCPCR to provide more information on their directive as CWCs were the only body authorized to order reunification of children with their families and raised concerns the children may have been returned to abusive situations.

Ujjawala and Swadhar Greh homes had similar levels of non-registration. Due to a reported loophole in the law, if the government did not act on a shelter’s application in a prescribed timeframe, the organization was automatically licensed. Whenever a license application is accepted, the home must go through several inspections, but it was unclear whether authorities conducted these inspections in practice. Allegedly, some corrupt officials purposely missed the licensing deadline to allow inadequate but politically connected organizations to gain licensing. In the states that allowed audits of Ujjawala and Swadhar Greh homes, previous audits documented many homes violated minimum hygiene and safety standards, did not provide psycho-social support or educational opportunities, and operated without proper registration. Moreover, in some instances the shelters functioned as hostels and charged non-victim residents for accommodation. Due to unsafe conditions and abuse by caretakers, authorities reported multiple cases in which residents, including children, ran away from these shelters during previous reporting periods. MWCD did not report an update on its drafting of a child protection policy to prevent abuse in government-run and -funded shelter homes the Supreme Court had ordered it to create in September 2018.

Four states had previously reported their use of child-friendly courtrooms or procedures, including some that allowed victims to testify via video conference. During the reporting year, courts reportedly expanded video conference capabilities due to the pandemic, although the scale of expansion was unknown. In February 2021, two child trafficking victims testified via a video conference as a part of a measure to expedite trafficking trials and clear up a backlog of cases; instead of traveling 600 miles, the boys went to a local court 25 miles from their village. In other cases, inadequate implementation of victim protection measures and legal assistance provisions, including witness protection, led victims to refuse to participate in trials. Moreover, NGOs reported that judges closed many cases because the government did not provide adequate financial assistance to enable victims to participate in trials. While victims could obtain restitution from their traffickers in criminal cases, courts rarely awarded it. Judges could order compensation to trafficking victims through a variety of government schemes, usually funded by the central government and administered at the state level, but rarely did so. NGO analysis of historical government crime data showed that among 38,503 trafficking victims identified between 2010 and 2018, judges only proactively awarded compensation to 102 (less than one percent) although there have been some minor improvements in compensation in more recent years. In addition, state and district legal offices did not regularly inform trafficking victims that they were eligible to receive compensation. When they did payments were often delayed due to lack of state funds. However, during the reporting period, the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) in Kolkata awarded 876,410 INR ($12,000) to a survivor of human trafficking, the highest compensation awarded by a DLSA in West Bengal. The DLSA awarded that amount based on the pending POCSO cases, the absence of interim compensation, the duration of the upcoming trial, the psychological effects of the crime, and the victim’s future educational pursuits. While authorities have only awarded 14 victims compensation in West Bengal since 2012, 11 of those decisions were between September 2019 and March 2020 and the amounts awarded were significantly higher than in previous years. Authorities issued an additional 90 compensation orders after March 2020, although payment was still pending at the end of the reporting period. Some states, as allowed in the central government’s 2016 bonded labor scheme, controlled how victims could use this compensation, such as requiring them to put it into annuity schemes. The Kolkata High Court ruled against West Bengal’s policy of limiting victims to small, monthly withdrawals over 10 years.

The central government funds a program through which district officials identified bonded labor victims and provided them with release certificates that provided access to non-monetary assistance and, upon conviction of their trafficker, to compensation. In 2016, the government amended the program to include female sex trafficking and child forced labor victims as recipients and mandated local district authorities to provide immediate monetary assistance up to 20,000 INR ($274) to a victim within 24 hours of identification, regardless of the status of the related court case. The release of the overall compensation amounts (between 100,000 INR [$1,370] and 300,000 INR [$4,110] based on the victim’s demographics) remained contingent upon conviction of the trafficker or conclusion of magisterial processes, which could take several years. The government did not adequately implement any stage of this program, and when states did implement the program, it was often due to sustained NGO advocacy. Some states had SOPs to address bonded labor cases. The Delhi government had an SOP to rescue bonded labor victims. In March 2020, Karnataka released a comprehensive SOP on human trafficking in collaboration with civil society organizations that covers sex trafficking, victim identification, forced child begging, bonded labor, and child labor. In July 2020, Tamil Nadu issued an SOP to address bonded labor among migrant workers. The state government also directed District Collectors to form vigilance committees and monitor the welfare of bonded laborers who had been removed from their exploitation. The government did not report whether any other states had bonded labor SOPs.

The government did not report how many release certificates it provided during the reporting period, compared with approximately 2,300 provided between March 2018 and March 2019. The issuance of mandatory release certificates varied greatly between states, but in many states, officials did not issue release certificates without significant advocacy from high profile NGOs, which could take years. NGOs reported that compensation schemes were too slow in providing victims with funding – survivors waited years to testify in court to determine how much they would be awarded, and state authorities at times delayed payment due to limited funds. During the pandemic, these shortcomings were exacerbated. According to one NGO, state authorities rarely classified children as victims of bonded labor due to what appeared to be inconsistent testimony and a lack of identity documents or proof of enslavement; ultimately this denied child victims government compensation. In Tamil Nadu, by contrast, some NGOs reported success collaborating with the government and securing release certificates, although some smaller NGOs had less success. Authorities continued to misidentify bonded labor or treat it as labor exploitation, child labor, or minimum wage violations, and not provide victims the mandatory 20,000 INR ($274) owed upon identification. Some police were unaware these protections applied to trafficking victims whom traffickers had trapped with other forms of force or coercion. During the previous reporting period, Arunachal Pradesh authorities refused to recognize or provide mandatory release certifications and compensation to bonded laborers identified by NGOs because it claimed it had eradicated bonded labor in 1998. In May 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the state government of Bihar to remove 187 bonded laborers from exploitation in a brick kiln and issue release certificates. The Bihar government stated it was unable to help the victims due to the influx of internal migrant workers returning to Bihar from other states as a result of the pandemic-related lockdown. The central government reported it had adequate funding to provide initial compensation to all identified bonded laborers, and the 2016 scheme required each state to have a permanent fund with at least 1 million INR ($13,690) at all times for district magistrates to use exclusively for bonded labor victims. However, Bihar previously claimed the central government had not reimbursed them for prior bonded labor compensation and many states did not have the established fund, which delayed compensation. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered law enforcement and district officials to provide release certificates to bonded labor victims. While NHRC was often effective in securing release certificates when NGOs or bonded labor victims requested its assistance, it required significant time and persistent follow-up from NGOs. Although the NHRC could issue orders to state and local officials to provide release certificates to individuals, there was no penalty for noncompliance. Due to a lack of proactive victim identification, the widespread tendency to handle bonded labor cases administratively in lieu of criminal prosecution, and stalled bonded labor prosecutions, victims infrequently received full compensation. In Telangana state, the government did not provide full compensation to any of 1,174 bonded labor victims removed from exploitation from 2012-2019 because it did not convict any traffickers under the BLSA. However, in June 2020, 12 bonded labor victims in Telangana received full compensation two years after they were removed from exploitation. While the 2016 scheme also required states to provide non-cash benefits, including employable skills training, provision of such services remained weak or nonexistent.

Foreign victims had 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 in shelters until deportation, and both repatriation of foreign victims seeking to return home and deportation of victims could take years due to bureaucratic constraints. In July 2020, a group of Nepali trafficking victims were stranded in a Manipur shelter due to a lack of clear procedures to facilitate their repatriation. Some officials refused to repatriate victims until they had provided testimony in prosecutions against their traffickers. The government continued to review its 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Government of Bangladesh on identification and repatriation of Bangladeshi trafficking victims. The lengthy and complex approval system forced some Bangladeshi victims to languish in Indian shelters for years before repatriation. Media reported 180 Bangladeshi sex trafficking victims were awaiting repatriation at various shelters in West Bengal, many of whom have waited years for the conclusion of the 15-step approval process. The government provided some funding to NGOs to repatriate child trafficking victims but did not offer financial assistance for repatriation of adults. Indian embassies abroad provided assistance to Indian citizens identified as trafficking victims. MHA facilitated repatriation of Indian women in distress located in the Middle East, including trafficking victims, through the Indian Community Welfare Fund. Six Indian embassies abroad, primarily in the Gulf, had shelters that could temporarily house female migrant workers with serious indicators of forced labor. Suspected trafficking victims in the two embassy shelters in Oman previously reported the shelters did not provide adequate food, basic amenities, or allow the victims to contact family.

Authorities did not always effectively utilize procedures to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations and arrested, fined, penalized, and deported some adult and child trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Penalization of trafficking victims was not systematic, but penalization most often occurred against sex trafficking victims for immigration violations and prostitution offenses. The government required 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 to provide documentation of the trafficking experience in order to renew their passports or travel. In 2016, the government began to include a stamp in 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 or civil or criminal case; this practice continued in 2020 with the government including a stamped paper attached to the recipient’s passport. 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.

The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking, although efforts remained inadequate compared with the scale of the problem. The government’s inter-ministerial committee, chaired by MWCD, met to discuss trafficking-related issues during the reporting period. While the government reported it continued to rely on a 2012 national action plan to combat sex trafficking of women and children, it did not report its implementation efforts or convening any meetings to coordinate action. Since 2016, the central government has offered reimbursement of 450,000 INR ($6,160) to any district that conducted a census of bonded labor, available once every three years, and additional funding for evaluation studies. The Tamil Nadu Labor and Employment Department accepted funding in 2019 and during the reporting period began the creation of a database of bonded labor to identify the number of bonded laborers and the industries in which they are exploited. In an attempt to mitigate increased trafficking risks for vulnerable populations due to the pandemic, government agencies issued advisories and SOPs designed to combat trafficking as well as awareness campaigns to prevent trafficking. NCPCR released a report recommending increased coordination with local leaders and NGOs to identify child trafficking victims and increase monitoring of vulnerable populations as well as trafficking in transit and destination locations. The report also recommended that officials offer vulnerable communities assistance through government programs to decrease the risk of trafficking. NGOs welcomed the increased action from the central government but cautioned that implementation was uneven and significant challenges remained. The Ministry of Railways increased the number of child help desks at stations from 84 to 139 to support unaccompanied children who were vulnerable to traffickers.

Anti-trafficking preventative measures varied widely by state. Some state governments conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, although NGOs reported local officials, migrant workers, and agricultural workers often still lacked awareness of human trafficking and their legal rights. The governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu observed February 9, 2021, as “Anti Bonded Labor Day” to mark the anniversary of the formulation of the BLSA and during the reporting period increased public awareness campaigns about bonded labor. Officials and NGOs reported pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings severely affected the ability of local and state governments to launch new awareness campaigns or continue existing ones during the reporting period. Several state governments suspended or modified labor laws to boost economic activity immediately after the initial pandemic related lockdown. The changes included higher limits of maximum work hours for certain industries, reduced social security payments, suspension of industrial dispute resolutions, and the suspension of the right to strike. Trade unions and labor advocates criticized the changes, noting the potential negative effect on vulnerable groups. State governments emphasized the economic recovery measures did not circumvent bonded labor, POSCO, or any other anti-trafficking law.

The government registered foreign recruitment agencies and Indian migrant workers through the eMigrate system. The government required migrant workers going to 16 specific countries to receive emigration clearance before departure; it did not allow emigration to Iraq. The government maintained its ban on females younger than age 30 and older than 50 from working in 17 countries, mostly Gulf states. The UN and civil society argued any ban on migration increased the likelihood of illegal migration and heightened vulnerability to traffickers. MEA operated five national centers and a 24/7 helpline to provide counseling and other resources to those considering migrant work. MEA’s Indian Community Welfare Fund, accessible to all Indian missions abroad and funded primarily via overseas consular fees, offered shelter, legal assistance, and repatriation for migrant workers in distress, as well as awareness measures and hotlines. MEA has not reported on the level of utilization of this fund in several years. The government allocated $463 million of pandemic relief measures for migrant workers; however, a lack of documentation and bank accounts for migrant workers hindered access to aid. The government permitted licensed foreign employment recruiters to charge migrant workers up to 30,000 INR ($411) for recruitment fees and costs. However, observers stated employers frequently charged migrant workers more than the maximum. For example, a Mumbai-based global recruitment agency charged between 185,000 ($2,530) and 200,000 INR ($2,740) to 900 Indian nurses for jobs in Kuwait; the government opened an investigation but did not report taking any action. Other states actively cracked down on illegal recruitment. Odisha state, for example, arrested and filed charges against 91 recruitment agents who fraudulently recruited bonded laborers for inter-state work within India. Unregistered sub-agents often operated online and operated widely without oversight. Every month, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs released a list of illegal agents reported to the ministry from the Overseas Indian Help Desk and sent a list of illegal agents to state governments for investigation and prosecution. According to latest 2019 data, the central government referred 769 cases against illegal agents to respective states.

Officials acknowledged some registered and unregistered spas exploited females in sex trafficking and that officials lacked sufficient oversight of all such establishments. In some cases, law enforcement shut down some of the unregistered spas and initiated criminal investigations while in other cases, law enforcement shut down the spas without further action. In June 2019, the labor ministry drafted a national domestic worker policy to regulate placement agencies and allow domestic workers to formally register for worker benefits, including the right to minimum wage and access to the justice system; however, the document remains in draft form and to date has not been included as part of any legislation. The state of Karnataka outlawed caste based free labor known as bitti chakri by classifying it as bonded labor. A local NGO reported more than 3,000 scheduled caste families were working without payment, while a further 10,000 provided unpaid labor for special events such as weddings or other ceremonies. In April 2019, after reports of exploitative conditions including indicators of trafficking in some of Tamil Nadu state’s 7,000 garment factories and spinning mills, the NHRC ordered the state to inspect all establishments. The state did not take any action during the reporting period. Following the August 2020 removal of 35 children from forced labor in a garment factory in Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court directed police and labor inspectors to conduct inspections at all local garment factories. Some states had action plans to combat bonded labor, although the government did not report how many states or if they successfully implemented them. Some officials made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex generally by prosecuting those who purchased commercial sex from children. Media reported the pandemic and its subsequent economic insecurity has led some individuals in commercial sex, including sex trafficking victims, to turn to brothel owners, pimps, and others for loans, increasing their risk of debt bondage. A study by one organization reported more than 95 percent of those in commercial sex in India were willing to leave commercial sex but felt unable to do so due to debt bondage. In November 2020, the NHRC requested state governments register individuals in commercial sex as informal workers, which would entitle them to benefits and access to aid from the COVID-19 relief fund; however, following criticism the non-binding decision was reversed. Despite India being a destination for child sex tourism, the government did not report measures specifically to reduce demand for child sex tourism. The government did not provide information about training provided to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in India and traffickers exploit victims from India abroad. Internal forced labor constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Traffickers promise large advances to manipulate workers into accepting low-paying jobs, where traffickers then add exorbitant interest rates; create new deductions for items such as lodging, health care, or wage slips; or fabricate the amount of debt, which they use to coerce workers into continuing to work for little or no pay. NGOs have assessed at least eight million trafficking victims in India, the majority of whom are bonded laborers. Intergenerational bonded labor continued, whereby traffickers transfer the outstanding debts of deceased workers to their parents, siblings, or children. Traffickers often target those from the most disadvantaged social strata. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic places substantial burdens on economically vulnerable communities in meeting daily food and shelter requirements, thereby increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. In 2020, traffickers offered cash advances to attract workers who were unemployed, thus increasing the likelihood of debt bondage among economically vulnerable groups. NGOs reported a significant increase in child trafficking due to pandemic-related loss of parental employment and school closures. Traffickers force entire families into work in brick kilns, including children younger than 6 years old. In a 2017 study of brick kiln workers in Rajasthan state, researchers found more than 40 percent of seasonal workers from Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Rajasthan states owed debts to kiln owners that were greater than the amount workers earned over the entire season. In some states, the exploitative contractors that trap workers in bonded labor are local government officials or politically influential. Some traffickers severely abused bonded laborers, including those who asked for their rightful wages, and some bonded laborers died under traffickers’ control. Traffickers exploit adults and children, including entire families, into bonded labor in carpet production in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh states, and in mica mining and textiles, sometimes requiring adults to leave children behind as collateral when they leave the premises for any reason. State-owned tea estates in Assam pay workers much less than the state-mandated minimum wage and do not provide workers with pay slips to document their debts and expenditures. Indian law allows estates to pay workers in both cash and in-kind benefits, but researchers noted the quality and quantity of the food rations constituting part of the workers’ salaries were inadequate and disproportionate to the amount deducted. Thirty-seven percent of workers across 50 tea estates in Assam had daily expenditures that exceeded their daily income, making workers extremely vulnerable to debt-based coercion. In some cases, the “Provident Funds” or Sumangali scheme in which employers pay young women a lump sum for education or a dowry at the end of multi-year labor contracts, often in Tamil Nadu’s spinning mill industry, may amount to bonded labor, and some employers subject these women to sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit children as young as 8 in forced labor in agriculture (coconut, eucalyptus, ginger, and sugarcane); construction; domestic service; garment, steel, and textile industries (tanneries, bangle, and sari factories); begging; criminality; food-processing factories (biscuits, bread-making, meat-packing, and pickling); floriculture; cotton; ship breaking; and manufacturing (wire and glass). Multiple organizations note physical violence against trafficking victims – in both forced labor and sex trafficking – is particularly prevalent in South Asia, including India. Some traffickers force women and girls to conceive and deliver babies for sale. Non-state armed groups continued to recruit and use children as young as 14 in direct hostilities against the government in Jammu and Kashmir. Maoist groups, particularly in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand forcibly recruited children as young as 12 to handle weapons, improvised explosive devices, and in some cases serve as human shields. Several women and girls formerly associated with Maoist groups reported that sexual violence, including practices indicative of sexual slavery, was a practice in some Maoist camps. Non-state Naxalite groups continued to systematically recruit and use child soldiers.

Traffickers exploit millions of people in commercial sex within India. Scheduled caste females were sometimes exploited through the traditional Jogini system, in which Dalit women and girls are ceremoniously “married” to a local temple deity but in practice are used as sex slaves for higher caste villagers. Traffickers target Indian women and girls, but also fraudulently recruit significant numbers of Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls to India for sex trafficking. Additionally, traffickers exploit women and girls from Central Asian, European, and African countries in commercial sex, especially in Goa state. NGOs reported that internal trafficking victims in western India came from almost every state. In addition to traditional red light districts, dance bars, spas, and massage parlors, traffickers increasingly exploit women and children in sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences. Media outlets report the recruitment of women and children for commercial sex increasingly took place through social media platforms, including mobile dating applications and websites. Traffickers use encrypted digital communication applications to conduct transactions, enabling them to evade law enforcement. In addition, traffickers increasingly utilize digital payment applications in place of cash to evade suspicion. India is a source for child sex tourists and a destination for child sex tourism.

Traffickers kidnap and force Indian and Nepali women and girls to work as “orchestra dancers” in India, especially in Bihar state, where girls perform with dance groups until they have repaid fabricated debts. Traffickers exploit women and children in sex trafficking in religious pilgrimage centers and in tourist destinations. Some traffickers kidnap children from public places, including railway stations, entice girls with drugs, and force girls as young as 5 years old in sex trafficking to take hormone injections to appear older. Some law enforcement officers protect suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement efforts and take bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims. According to one report, police have accepted bribes to release child sex trafficking victims back into traffickers’ custody. Traffickers arrange sham marriages within India and Gulf states to subject females to sex trafficking. There have been isolated reports of physical and sexual abuse in some government-, NGO-, and privately run shelter homes, including of trafficking victims, and compelling shelter residents into forced labor and sex trafficking in previous reporting periods.

Traffickers force many Indian migrants who willingly seek employment abroad into construction, domestic work, factories, and other low-skilled sectors in many regions, especially Gulf countries and Malaysia, often following recruitment fraud and exorbitant recruitment fees. Indian female domestic workers in Gulf countries, particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, consistently report strong indicators of forced labor, including non-payment of wages, refusal to allow workers to leave upon completion of their contracts, and physical abuse. In United Arab Emirates, labor traffickers bring Indian workers overseas on tourist visas, withhold their identity documents and wages, and force them to work, especially in construction. Authorities have identified Indian forced labor victims in Armenia, Portugal, Gabon, and Zambia, and Indian female sex trafficking victims in Kenya. Traffickers exploit Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee populations in sex and labor trafficking. Traffickers subject some boys from Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh states to forced labor in Nepal.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future