Human Trafficking in India – By Tonoy Chakroborty

Human trafficking is a global problem. More than 35 million people worldwide are forced to live a life that they never choose. Human trafficking is the third largest organized crime after drugs and arms trade across the world. According to the definition of the United Nations – “trafficking is any activity leading to recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or a position of vulnerability”.  Close to 80% of the human trafficking across the world is done for sexual exploitation and the rest is for bonded labour.

Human trafficking is one of the major problems that India is facing at the moment. As per the statistics of the government, in every eight minutes a child goes missing in our country. In 2011 about 35,000 children were reported missing and more than 11,000 out of these were from West Bengal. Further, it is assumed that only 30% of the total cases are reported, so the actual number is pretty high. India is considered to be the hub of this crime in Asia. According to a study conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian non-profit organization, nearly 14 million of these modern slaves are held captive in India. The sex slave trade is centuries old, but its modern incarnation in India began under the British rule. When British soldiers and clerks began showing high rates of syphilis, 19th-century colonial administrators passed the Cantonment Act and Contagious Diseases Act, and created regulated areas for commercialized sex for British soldiers. Indian women were brought to the area and regularly submitted to health check-ups. These women were not allowed to marry or have any other profession.

Till date, no concrete study has been conducted to know the exact number of human trafficking cases in India and moreover, it is not possible to get the actual number. The New York Times has reported on the widespread problem of human trafficking in India. In the report it is stated that young girls are trafficked from neighboring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh to India. The South Indian states are the most sought after destinations for human trafficking. Every year more than 300 such cases are reported in each of the four south Indian states. Whereas West Bengal and Bihar, on an average have 100 such cases each year. As per the data, more than half of the human trafficking cases are from these states. According to the latest report on human trafficking by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reveals that Tamil Nadu has 528 such cases of human trafficking in 2012. The number is really high and more than any other state except for West Bengal (549). As per the data from Home Ministry, 1379 cases of human trafficking were reported only from Karnataka in the period of four years, in Tamil Nadu the number is 2,244 whereas Andhra Pradesh has 2,157 cases of human trafficking. According to an article in Firstpost, Delhi is the hub of human trafficking trade in India and half of the world’s slaves live in India. Delhi is the hotspot for illegal trade of young girls for domestic labour, forced marriage and prostitution. Delhi is also the transit point for human trafficking.

Kids especially girl and young women, mostly from Northeast are taken from their homes and sold in faraway states of India for sexual exploitation and to work as bonded labour by the agents who lure their parents with education, better life, and money for these kids . Agents do not send these kids to school but sell them to work in brick kilns, carpentry units, as domestic servants, beggars etc. Girls are trafficked mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Even these girls are forced to marry in certain regions where female to male sex ratio is highly disturbed. Children from tribal areas are at greater risk of human trafficking. Recently there were cases of human trafficking in which most of the children were from the Kuki tribe in Manipur’s Tamenglong district. Reason for this was the tribal clashes that let the human trafficking to prosper. Conflict between the Kukis and Nagas tribe in Northeast region between 1992 and 1997 left many kids homeless. These kids were taken by the agents to the other parts of the country. Nearly 90% of human trafficking in India happens domestically, not across borders. In many cases, traffickers lure children or young adults from rural villages to the city with the promise of well-paid work. Then, victims are transferred to people who, in a real sense, become their slave masters. Some victims work without pay as household maids. Others enter forced marriages with strangers they have never met. Some are forced into bonded labor in the mining or agricultural sectors. Others are sold into brothels

Why human trafficking increasing in India?

The incidents of human trafficking are increasing in India at an alarming rate. The Fundamental theory of demand and supply is applicable to this situation as well. Men for work generally migrate to major commercial cities and from here the demand for commercial sex is created. To fulfill the supply all sorts of efforts are made by the suppliers like kidnapping, abduction etc. Young girls and women belonging to poor and illiterate families are placed at higher risk.

Then comes the economic injustice and poverty. Sometimes parents are also desperate to sell their daughters to earn money. Social inequality, regional gender preference, imbalance and corruption are the other leading causes of human trafficking in India.

Girls and women are not only trafficked for prostitution but also bought and sold like commodity in many regions of India where female ratio is less as compared to male due to female infanticide. These are then forced to marry.

Though debt labour is not known much but it is illegal in India and prevalent in our society. According to the International Labour Organization there are more than 11.7 million people working as a forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region. People running out of cash generally sell their kids as debt labour in exchange for cash. Both boys and girls are sold for this purpose and generally not paid for years.

Victims of human trafficking have great chances of suffering from issues like mental disorders, depression and anxiety. Women forced into sexual trafficking have at higher risk of getting affected from HIV and other STDs.

Not all of the women involved in India’s human trafficking industry are from India, though. The traffickers bring people from the countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc  into India every year to be sold for prostitution or forced labour. At the same time, India has become a supplier of trafficked human beings to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Following the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, Nepali women who transit through India are increasingly subjected to trafficking in the Middle East and Africa. Burmese Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee populations continue to be vulnerable to forced labor in India.

The Indian criminal justice delivery system, which has limited resources, has had little impact on trafficking. According to official statistics, police only handled 720 human trafficking cases nationwide in 2014. According to the report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 19,223 women and children were trafficked in 2016 against 15,448, the previous year. As per the statistics of the government, in every 8 minutes a child goes missing in our country.

Legal framework and Legislative Provision in India relating to human trafficking:

In India, there are various constitutional and statutory provisions which specifically deals with the problem of human trafficking, some of such provisions are as follows:

  • Trafficking in Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1)
  • Protection of Children from Sexual offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, which has come into effect from 14th November, 2012 is a special law to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Criminal Law (amendment) Act 2013 has come into force wherein Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code has been substituted with Section 370 and 370A IPC which provide for comprehensive measures to counter the menace of human trafficking.

Apart from that, other specific legislations were enacted relating to trafficking in women and children, which are:

  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006,
  • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976,
  • Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986,
  • Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994,

Various State Governments have also enacted specific legislations to deal with the issue.

United Nations report on trafficking in India

According to recent United Nations report published in 2017, the Government of India does not fully satisfy 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 still remained on Tier 2. Though the Government has adopted an action plan for children including plans to prevent child trafficking and protect child victims, however, as per the reports, the Government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions was disproportionately low as compared to the number of trafficking in India, particularly with respect to bonded and forced labour.

It is the need of the hour that the more appropriate measures are to be taken to eliminate poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality, which would significantly eliminate the problem from its roots. Further the recommendations of the United Nations are to be followed by the Government in order to combat human trafficking.

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