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July 06, 2016

India’s Anti-Trafficking Efforts Still Need Improvement

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which the State Department released on June 30, documents a significant increase in both the number of human trafficking prosecutions and the number of victims identified worldwide. Prosecutions in South Asia and Central Asia in particular increased by 276 percent, and the number of victims identified by law enforcement by 410 percent.

While these numbers are encouraging, they are in large part due to increased reporting of law enforcement data from India. For the first time, India’s National Crime Record Bureau’s 2015 report included data on human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions from the previous year.  

India, ranked on Tier 2, is often called out as the country with the highest population of slaves worldwide. Some estimates calculate between 20 to 65 million people are enslaved there—including the sex trafficking of adults and children, and labor trafficking in numerous industries. But the numbers from the crime bureau appear low and are not comprehensive. The data revealed that in 2014, police investigated 3,056 trafficking cases, including 2,604 cases of sex trafficking, 46 cases of bonded labor, and 406 uncategorized trafficking cases. The investigations resulted in 577 traffickers convicted, 1,990 persons acquitted, and 29 persons discharged.

The TIP report states, “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, agriculture, and embroidery factories.” Recruitment agencies often lure poor people into jobs where they become enslaved through compounded debt along with verbal and physical abuse and intimidation. In addition to becoming trapped in bonded labor with their parents, children are frequently snatched from their homes or lured away to become beggars, child soldiers for separatist groups, or sex slaves.

This year’s TIP report statistics on the total number of victims identified in South Asia rose to almost five times the number of identifications in 2014, mostly because India for the first time released its law enforcement data, allowing the State Department to include India in its global law enforcement statistics. However, the number of labor trafficking victims identified throughout South Asia—approximately 1000—remained virtually the same as previous years.

Law enforcement data from India shows no increase in the number of labor trafficking victims identified, which strongly suggests that investigation, prosecution, and reporting of labor trafficking cases are particularly neglected. And disappointingly, the acquittal rate on human trafficking cases in India was 77 percent overall.

The increased data reporting from India in this year’s TIP report is a positive step, but it’s not enough to accurately assess and combat human trafficking in the country. India should improve its reporting requirements while increasing its prosecution efforts to begin holding more traffickers, particularly forced labor perpetrators, accountable.