The government maintained overall victim identification and protection efforts. In 2020, the government reported identifying 6,622 trafficking victims and 694 potential trafficking victims compared with 5,145 trafficking victims and 2,505 potential victims identified in 2019. In 2020, authorities identified 5,156 victims in labor trafficking, including 2,837 in bonded labor, and 1,466 in sex trafficking; authorities did not report the type of trafficking for the 694 potential victims. Nearly 99 percent of trafficking victims identified were Indian; approximately 53 percent were adults, and 47 percent were children; and 59 percent were female and 41 percent were male. Despite some estimates of eight million Indians in bonded labor, the Ministry of Labor and Employment’s annual report stated that the government had identified and released 313,962 since 1976. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh states accounted for the majority of bonded labor victims identified in 2020, with 1,291, 289, and 1,026 victims identified respectively, overall accounting for 92 percent of the country’s total identification of bonded labor victims.
Although the MHA created standard procedures for trafficking victim identification in 2009, the government did not report how many states had adopted them. The government previously developed protocols for victims of sexual assault, including trafficking survivors, to prevent re-traumatization in their referral to care. Delhi, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu had SOPs to address bonded labor cases and other forms of human trafficking. The government did not report whether any other states had bonded labor SOPs. Law enforcement and railway authorities worked with NGOs, child protection committees, and the private sector to identify potential victims of trafficking. The national Railway Protection Force and Bihar state police collaborated with an international organization and an NGO to identify and refer 178 abandoned children and child trafficking victims to care. In August 2021, Assam police and a border guard unit freed 22 people and arrested one person on trafficking charges in a Rangia railway station. The Railway Protection Force of the Northeast Frontier Railway intervened to free 83 potential trafficking victims and detained more than 24 potential traffickers between April 2021 and March 2022, according to media reports.
The government did not report how many trafficking victims it assisted or referred to care. In May 2021, the NHRC issued guidelines to the states and union territories advising authorities to increase protections for trafficking victims through use of recorded video testimony, virtual training for law enforcement, and virtual counseling services for victims. In addition, the government’s Victims of Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation program provided legal services and economic opportunities for victims of trafficking and marginalized groups. The government had shelter and services for child and adult female trafficking victims, although the quality and availability varied. The government did not operate or fund shelters that could accommodate adult males. Police could refer all adult and child trafficking victims, except bonded labor victims, to state judiciaries and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) to determine appropriate care. CWCs could refer minors to state welfare departments for care in shelter homes or return children to family members. 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, or government-run women and children’s homes, some of which allowed routine abuse in previous reporting periods. Some child protection committees noted childcare institutions experienced long delays waiting to receive government funding for the restoration and reintegration of human trafficking victims. 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.
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 prevented the sub-granting of foreign contributions from the original Indian NGO recipient to other NGOs, preventing collaboration and coordination and severely affecting their activities, including anti-trafficking NGOs; this remained in effect by the end of the reporting period. The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) continued to provide state governments with funding for NGO- and government-run shelter and support through the Ujjawala program for female sex trafficking victims in 107 homes and the Swadhar Greh program for vulnerable women in approximately 361 homes. The central government allocated 250 million INR ($3.36 million) to the Swadhar Greh and Ujjawala programs in the 2020-2021 budget but did not include separate allocations for the 2021-2022 budget. The MWCD ran One-Stop Centers (OSCs) for female victims of all crimes, including sex trafficking. There were 704 OSCs operating across India in 2021, compared with 700 in 2020. The MWCD 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. Ujjawala and Swadhar Greh program homes also lacked oversight. 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 that some 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. The MWCD did not report an update on its drafting of a child protection policy to prevent abuse in government-run and -funded shelter homes that the Supreme Court had ordered it to create in September 2018.
Four states had child-friendly courtrooms or procedures, including some that allowed victims to testify via video conference. In February 2022, the Indian Supreme Court directed the government to implement national video conferencing facilities for child witnesses, including trafficking victims, in response to victims traveling long distances to participate in court hearings. Victims are not required to cooperate with law enforcement to access protection services. In some cases, inadequate implementation of victim protection measures and legal assistance provisions, including witness protection, led victims to decline 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 programs, 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 1 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 victims did pursue this benefit, payments were often delayed due to lack of state funds. The pandemic hindered the operations of district administrators and labor departments, resulting in delays releasing documents required for survivor compensation. In January 2022, the Bihar state government reportedly paid 300,000 to 900,000 INR (approximately $4,000 to 12,100) per victim as compensation to the 49 victims of sexual abuse and child trafficking in a Muzaffarpur shelter home.
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 ($13,450) at all times for district magistrates to use exclusively for bonded labor victims. However, many states did not have an established fund, which delayed compensation to victims. The central government funds a program through which district officials identified bonded labor victims and issued 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 ($269)—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 and 300,000 INR ($1,350-$4,040) 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, as allowed in the central government’s 2016 bonded labor scheme, controlled how victims could use their compensation. The Kolkata High Court ruled against West Bengal’s policy of limiting victims to small, monthly withdrawals over 10 years. The Ministry of Labor and Employment distributed 10 million INR (approximately $134,500) among seven states for services for freed bonded laborers from April 2020 to March 31, 2021. State revenue officers had the responsibility for identifying bonded labor victims, yet NGOs identified most cases. 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 NGOs, which could take years. Observers 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 delays were exacerbated. 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, denying government compensation to child victims. In Tamil Nadu, by contrast, some NGOs reported success collaborating with the government and securing release certificates. Authorities continued to misidentify bonded labor or treat it as labor exploitation, child labor, or minimum wage violations, and officials did not provide victims the mandatory immediate assistance of 20,000 INR ($269) upon identification. The NHRC ordered law enforcement and district officials to provide release certificates to bonded labor victims. The NHRC was often effective in securing release certificates when NGOs or bonded labor victims requested its assistance, although it sometimes required persistent engagement from NGOs to complete necessary action. The NHRC could issue orders to state and local officials to provide release certificates to individuals, but 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. While the 2016 scheme also required states to provide non-cash benefits, including employable skills training, provision of such services remained limited or nonexistent.
Foreign victims had the same access to shelter and services as Indian nationals. Government policy on foreign victims dictated returning survivors 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. Some officials refused to repatriate victims until they had provided testimony in prosecutions against their traffickers. The government continued to finalize a 2015 memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of Bangladesh on identification and repatriation of Bangladeshi trafficking victims. The lengthy and complex repatriation process forced some Bangladeshi victims to languish in Indian shelters for years before repatriation. The government provided some funding to NGOs to repatriate child trafficking victims but did not offer financial assistance for the repatriation of adults. Indian embassies abroad provided assistance to Indian citizens identified as trafficking victims. The MHA facilitated repatriation of Indian women 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 indicators of forced labor. However, suspected trafficking victims previously reported some shelters did not provide adequate food, basic amenities, or allow the victims to contact family.
Government officials and NGOs often worked together to screen victims of trafficking, and SOPs mandated that NGOs or social service officials accompany police during operations. State-level human rights commissions and the NHRC provided templates to guide law enforcement efforts in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. However, due to insufficient use of identification procedures, authorities may have detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims. State and local police conducted screenings for trafficking and penalization of trafficking victims was not systematic, but 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. While the stamp requested authorities to 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.