Data below comes from the Government of India
Case study on the Government response to modern slavery
Survivors of slavery are supported to exit slavery and empowered to break the cycle of vulnerability
The government hotline is known as ‘Child Line’. The hotline operates around the country in a number of different languages. It is toll-free and can be called around the country, and internationally. While it is called the ‘Child Line’, it can also be called to report tip offs of human trafficking crimes.
The mandate for victim support services sits with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The primary scheme is the Ujjwalla programme, where money is distributed to different NGOs who provide the basic facilities for victims, including shelters, counselling and often vocational education. The Rural Ministry and the National Skill Development Mission also provide victim support schemes. The various programmes are coordinated among different ministries, and victims have the option to choose between the different schemes.
The Central Advisory Committee is under the Ministry of Women and Child Development that advises central ministries, state governments, civil societies, law enforcement agencies and autonomous organisations.
There are also victim support services for Indians exploited abroad. The Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs deals with this issue. This ministry is also part of the specific trafficking coordination committee, however, they have an independent committee that deals with the other issues within their mandate.
It is difficult to determine the exact budget allocated to anti-trafficking initiatives, as there are a range of Departments that work on related issues. The government provides approximately INR 50,000 (approximately 830 USD) to each AHTU per year to provide immediate support to victims, such as food, clothing and medical assistance.
There is a victim compensation scheme operating in about 20 different States around the country. The scheme provides compensation to victims of any crime, including cases of acid attacks. The compensation amount varies between crime-type. For example, a victim of rape or assault will receive approximately 2.5Lakhs (approximately 4, 150 USD), and a victim of an acid attack will receive 3 Lakhs (approximately 5, 000 USD. Compensation for victims of trafficking only exists in a few state scheme.
The Government worked to develop an Anti-Human Trafficking Diploma at the Indira Ghandi Open University. The Diploma is largely targeted to service providers, but open other interested individuals as well. It is currently a six month course and to date, we have 900 people enrolled. As a way of scaling-up the awareness raising aspect of this Diploma, the government are subsiding the course and thinking about opening it to the SAARC regions as well.
There is a radio programme called ‘Gyan Ghan’ that focuses on raising awareness about human trafficking, and what aspects of the law can be used by people in the community. It is a live, phone-in programme that discuss a range of issues associated with human trafficking. There are a few radio channels that tell people about the trafficking units and raise awareness about human trafficking. The aim of these initiatives is to ensure that people understand what human trafficking is, and take notice of indicators that might suggest there is a case of trafficking occurring in the community. It encourages people to take note of who is moving in and out of the community, if people who leave ever return, and if people who leave, stay in contact with their families.
Effective criminal justice responses are in place in every jurisdiction
All provisions in the new law cover boys and men as well as women and girls. For example, section 317 is gender neutral, and indicates that trafficking is not specific to women and girls.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) are a critical scheme of the Government of India, which originated in a pilot programme undertaken with the UNODC. The pilot programme found that there were two large scale interventions that would be effective on the ground to combat human trafficking; one of those was the establishment AHTUs, and the other was the sensitisation, and capacity building for key stakeholders within the criminal justice system, including the police, prosecutors, the judiciary, and NGOs. The scheme was formulated in India with around 650 police districts, with around half of the districts to be used in the pilot scheme. It was decided that around 115 would be selected each year to form an AHTU. The AHTUs are established jointly by the federal and state government bodies. The State governments provide the office space and the officers, including an Inspector, two female constables and two head constables (typically five officers in each unit). The Federal government would then provide an SUV and the funding for a motorbike, a computer, cameras and basic office supplies. The funding and provisions provided by the Federal government is customised by for each unit, however, the same amount of funding is provided.
Each unit costs approximately 10 Lakhs (approximately 166, 000 USD) and the number of units in each state depends on the size of the state. For example, the bigger states like Uttar Pradesh will get 12 units per year, and the smaller states like Mahayana will get 3 units per year. In total, in 2010, 115 units were funded, and another 110 in the 2012/13 period. In addition to the 215 AHTUs already established, there are plans to provide the funding to establish another 110 AHTU across the state. The aim is to have an AHTU in each of the 650 districts.
The broad mandate of the AHTUs is the crime of human trafficking, however, officers may be involved in other crimes given there are not rescue operations every day. In some states, the AHTU officers cover crimes against women and children. It is important to note that not all officers in the AHTUs have the power to register a case, as they may not be a registered Police station, despite being located in the district police station. In these cases, there is a process to transfer the case to officers who can register it. This is largely because of the nature of the AHTUs, otherwise known as the “Integrated Anti-Human Trafficking Units”, which involves a number of key stakeholders from different departments. Given the diversity of people involved in these AHTUs, there is a process whereby officers from the different departments (including the police station) are contacted depending on the nature of the case. For example, there would be points of contact in the medical and labour departments and the Department of Women and Child Development.
The AHTUs and related state initiatives are monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Key aspects monitored include the funding distribution and allocation, and the functionality and effectiveness of AHTUs. This is all through an inter-state/inter-ministerial coordination committee that meets quarterly. This meeting also provides a platform for the different Departments and Ministry representatives to talk to each other and increase cooperation. Other issues discussed and monitored include the funding and implementation of the training programmes (how many people have undertaken the training, what is being done to arrange more training, and how effective the structures on the ground are). This Committee meeting is attended by representatives from the Federal government, and then the state nodal officers are briefed afterwards. The meetings typically involve a discussion of previous actionable points, and a review of the decision and actions taken to address these points. This is also an accountability measure as States have to provide a report.
Capacity building and training for frontline law enforcement and service providers, including AHTUs was delivered around the country. Through the pilot programme with UNODC, extensive session plans were developed and training was, and is still delivered over three days. The initial training was undertaken with Ministers, people who have expertise in their given fields, including practitioners from different Departments and organisations, and police officers who were already working on the ground. The idea was that an initial national training would be undertaken with high level ministers from each state, who would then deliver the training in each of their states. To do this, the country was divided into six regions, from which people were nominated to attend. They undertook a 5-6 day training course and were then given the funding and training materials to deliver the training in each of their states. It was also recognised that there needed to be more than just police and law enforcement trained at the regional level, so the training was extended to other people involved in the AHTUs, including medical professionals, representatives from the Department of Women and Child Development, the Labour Department and people from civil society organisations. This was then further extended to public prosecutors, which included more targeted training at the national, state and district level.
There are an estimated 22 lakhs of police personnel in India, and more than 20,000 of those have been involved in the training. The training goes through the following issues:
- How to identify a victim, including what the crime can look like, and the challenges involved in identifying victims.
- The legislative framework and how this can be applied in a case of trafficking, including the different forms of trafficking (labour and sexual exploitation) and what components of the legislation can be used to prosecute these crimes.
- The implementation of a victim-approach, including rehabilitation and support.
- The process involved in an investigation, and who does and does not need to be involved through the various stages of an investigation or rescue – this includes the appropriate referral pathways.
- Finally, the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ with trafficking offenders and victims.
The session plans for these training programmes are very comprehensive and include visual materials, video and case studies. The training will be a continuous process, and needs to reflect the evolution of this crime. For example, investigating the recruitment of people for the purpose of trafficking over the internet.
Standard Operating Procedures were also developed during the UNODC pilot project. While they are not exactly SOPs, they work in the same way and have been translated into various local languages. Training programmes and session plans were also translated into local languages.
The training for prosecutors is the same three day course mentioned above, however, it has more emphasis on supporting victims through the court process. The training for prosecutors was noted to have changed the attitudes of prosecutors toward victims of this crime. There was also more emphasis on how to use the new legislation, and where it is applicable. For example, how to effectively file the charge sheet to include all aspects of the case (such as kid-napping, rape and deceit – not just one or the other). Approximately 1000 judges have been trained around the country.
The training was further extended to the judiciary, including Supreme and High Court Judges. This training is only a one day programme – the Judicial Colloquium. The state and district judges are also trained. To date, training has been conducted in Punjab, Mahayana, Chhattisgarh, Bombay, Chennai, and Delhi, with approximately 250 judges participating in each training.
While there is a separate legislative framework around bonded labour, the respective Departments work closely with the Ministry of labour. However, any rescue missions for a case of bonded labour will typically use general police officers. The integrated AHTUs can be involved in a rescue operation, however if the labour department or labour inspectors believe that there is a case of bonded labour, they can choose to use general duties police over the AHTU. The AHTU are in the process of trying to bring the stakeholders together, and the government are encouraging the sharing of information in this sector, and between these groups. Cases of bonded labour are prosecuted under the Bonded Labour Act.
The government is also implementing a new data system to publicly report on the number of investigation and prosecutions under the new laws. This data will be available at the end of 2014, however, there are approximately 5,000-6,000 cases currently being investigated under the various related laws.
Effective and measurable action plans are implemented and fully funded
One of the practices that would represent a ‘best practice’ is the National trafficking portal, which is taking steps to better connect the different states and stakeholders. The coordination and cooperation among the different ministries and stakeholders, and their involvement in initiatives attempting to improve our response is also a good practice.
Laws, policies and programmes address attitudes, social systems and institutions that create vulnerability and enable slavery
There are national research institutes that have conducted research in this area, like the Bureau of Policy and Research. There has been specialised research conducted by groups like the National Human Rights Commission, who did a project on human trafficking in 2007. UN Women and Child Line have also done research in this space. Currently, the government is working with a few universities to commission research and the National Commission for Women.
There are provisions to ensure that there is cross-border engagement. India is part of the SAARC convention with countries such as Myanmar. More specifically, there is a task-force on human trafficking between India and Bangladesh, which largely involved higher level members. To date, this task-force has met four times. There are a number of mechanisms with neighbouring Nepal as well.
There are several dedicated agencies working to address the issues associated with corruption, however, it is not necessarily a specialised unit.
There is a special ministry that works with the issues associated with different castes in India. Their services and programmes include supports like scholarships and compensation.
Case Study: Bangladeshi girls trafficked into the sex industry in Delhi
In one of the first cases of human trafficking prosecuted under the new laws, the government received reports of two Bangladeshi girls who had been trafficked into India. The reports were received from both an intelligence agency, and the girl’s parents who lodged a complaint with the Bangladeshi authorities as well. The girls were 15 and 17 years old sisters and it was suggested that the boy involved in the case was either a friend, or was in a relationship with one of the girls, who supposedly wanted marry her and provide them both with a better life. It turned out that the relationship was a scam, and the boy sold the girls into India. The girls were sold by a trafficker named Rocky who brought the two sisters to Pune and sold them to a brothel keeper for approximately INR50-70 000. Initially, the girls were separated.
The police took photographs of the girls around the red light district, and spoke to the locals, including rickshaw drivers to determine if the girls had been seen in the area. One rickshaw driver confirmed seeing the girls. The police conducted a rescue operation in the area, and rescued five minor girls, however, the two girls from Bangladesh were not there. A second rescue operation had the same result. In the third operation, one of the victims knew about the two girls and provided information on their whereabouts. One of the girls was rescued in the fourth operation, who provided enough information to locate the trafficker and her older sister in a fifth rescue operation. It is evident here that the training has been beneficial, as the investigation process went through all the elements in the trafficking chain – the sporter, the transporter, the supplier, the buyer and the brothel owner.
Both girls were put into a shelter and provided with counselling and support. Photographs and names were provided to the Bangladeshi officials at the Consul, who confirmed who the girls were and their nationality. A week after the operation, the girls were successfully repatriated back to Bangladesh along with eight other girls.
There are a number of stakeholders involved during both the investigation stage, and then in the rescue operation. This includes the police, counsellors and other services. A counsellor from an NGO will typically be involved throughout the rescue operation, particularly during questioning. The police do have these services, and can also provide translators where necessary.
Once the girls were repatriated, the people involved were charged under the new trafficking provisions, the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, and for kidnapping and rape. This was a relatively straightforward prosecution, because the girls could provide details of their situation to police. This is not always the case, as often victims are too traumatised to speak to police. The girls in this case provided their statement prior to being repatriated, which will inform the prosecution. Often the statement needs to be delivered in court, and there are facilities to do this via video-link.
Of the people involved, a list of the offenders was sent to the Bangladeshi officials as well. A total of six offenders were arrested and eight victims were repatriated.
The news of this case being prosecuted under the new provisions has spread to the different regions, and while there is evidence the training on human trafficking and legislation has been effective, there is still a significant amount of work to be done in this area.
1. The problem
India’s challenges are immense. The world’s second most populous country with a population of over 1.2 billion people, India exhibits the full spectrum of different forms of modern slavery, from severe forms of inter-generational bonded labour across various industries to the worst forms of child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced and servile marriage. India’s own 2008 Integrated Plan of Action to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking describes the problem as follows: “India is a country of vast dimensions. The formidable challenge is the enormity of the problem, both in number of trafficked persons and increasing number of locations.” The 2013 US TIP Report cites figures of an estimated 20 to 65 million Indian citizens in forced labour within India as a result of debt bondage. While this estimate is much larger than the Walk Free estimate, both estimates underscore the enormity of the problem within India itself.
Many of India’s enslaved have not been moved from one place to another – they are enslaved in their own villages
Reports consistently note that India’s most significant challenge is the high number of Indian citizens in various forms of modern slavery within India’s borders. For example, the 2013 US TIP Report that suggests ninety per cent of trafficking in India is internal. Some of this results from internal migration, as migrants can originate from poor rural communities, lured to relatively wealthier cities by brokers on the false pretence of employment. Internally trafficked men, women and children make up significant shares of the workforce in construction, textiles, brick making, mines, fish and prawn processing and hospitality. However it is important to note that many of India’s enslaved have not been moved from one place to another – they are enslaved in their own villages. Many are trapped in debt bondage to a local landowner or born into slavery because of caste, customary, social and hereditary obligations.
Forced labour has been identified in factory work, agriculture, brick making, mining and quarrying, the textiles and garments industries, domestic work, and forced begging. Bonded labour, whether through debt or other forms of ‘bondage’ of workers, is rife in stone quarries, brick kilns, construction and mining. The difficulty for internal migrant workers in accessing protections and government entitlements, such as the food rations card, which is based on a worker’s residence, is thought to increase vulnerability to exploitation. Likewise for those enslaved in their own area, corruption or non-performance of safety nets (such as the National Employment Guarantee, food rations, primary health care and pensions) and practices of land grabbing and asset domination by high caste groups (or for commercial development) leaves people without protections. Some of those affected by slavery in India do not officially exist – they have no birth registration or ID so it can be hard for them to access protective entitlements.
Cross-border migration affects India on a massive scale. Low skilled migrant workers – both internal and foreign (regular and irregular) – are at particular risk of exploitation. Vast numbers of Nepali and Bhutanese migrants, who are exempt from Indian migration visa regulations, fall victim to unscrupulous recruiters and exploiters who take advantage of their vulnerability as new arrivals. Among these vulnerable cross border migrants are droves of undocumented Bangladeshis who, as unskilled labourers, are not able to qualify for employment visas, and turn to illegal brokers to facilitate employment.
Sexual exploitation of Indian women, men and transgender people within India, both adults and children, is widespread
Sexual exploitation of Indian women, men, transgender people and children within India, is widespread. Commercial sexual exploitation takes place in specific established areas but is also now much more dispersed into rural areas, transport hubs, roadside restaurants and houses in suburban areas, extensively using cell phones, making it harder to locate and tackle. Foreign women, largely from Nepal and Bangladesh, have been identified in situations of commercial sexual exploitation.
In 2011, the ILO Committee of Experts “noted the Government [of India’s] indication in its 2008 Report that since the enactment of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (BLSA), 287,555 bonded labourers had been identified, of whom 267,593 had been rehabilitated.” However, the ILO Committee of Experts also noted that “findings from research studies showed that bonded labour in agriculture and in industries like mining, brick kilns, silk and cotton production, and bidi making was likely to be affecting millions of workers across the country.” The ILO Committee of Experts has urged India to undertake national bonded labour surveys. Also, the identification and rehabilitation noted by the ILO Experts happened a long time ago, and in many Indian States local officials are not currently encouraged or supported to find bonded labourers.
The 2012 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons noted a global dimension to trafficking flows originating in South Asia. Indian nationals who have migrated for work have found themselves in modern slavery – often involving recruitment intermediaries and debt bondage – around the world. They have been exploited in various industries including construction, mining, agriculture and hospitality, in manual labour and commercial sexual exploitation, as well as in private domestic work and as domestic staff at Indian diplomatic missions abroad.
Notable aspects of the problem
The World Bank estimated in 2012 that 32.7% of Indians lived below the international poverty line of less than US$1.25/day (PPP). Poverty and India’s caste system are significant contributing factors to its modern slavery problem. Indians most vulnerable to modern slavery are those from the ‘lower’ castes (dalits), and the indigenous communities (adivasis), especially women and children. In surveys of violence and discrimination against women, India is consistently ranked poorly. The low status of women and severity and prevalence of domestic violence in society puts them at risk of modern slavery.
‘Non-labour’ forms of modern slavery, including forced and servile marriage, fraudulent adoption and organ trafficking have been identified in India. Forced marriage is partly fuelled by sex-ratio disparity – those states with worst disparity import girls into servile marriages from poorer states. Commercial surrogacy is legal in India and is an area of concern because of the potential for exploitation to occur, however no cases that would constitute modern slavery have been publicly verified, and surrogacy laws are in the process of being tightened.
2. What is the Government doing about it?
The Government has taken some important steps to set up the infrastructure of a response to various forms of modern slavery. For example, if fully implemented, the social safety net provisions such as the Employment Guarantee could be a best practice to be followed by other countries. However, considering the power and resources of the Indian Government, the Government has not fulfilled its duty to protect its citizens. Until recently, the response to human trafficking focused almost exclusively on the sexual exploitation of women and children, and other forms of human trafficking including those affecting men were barely recognised. National leaders tend not to recognise the violent criminality of bonded labour and instead see it as a vestige of poverty.
India has ratified a number of key Conventions relevant to modern slavery. However, India is one of the few remaining countries in the world not to have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. While not always slavery, these so called “worst forms” of child labour covered by this Convention occur on a significant scale in India and are deeply connected to the modern slavery issue. India’s Right to Education – whereby the authorities are required to ensure all children of school going age are in school – is important, as is the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, in making a difference in some areas. There have been efforts in many places to enforce child labour laws. India has not ratified the Domestic Work Convention.
Until recently, Indian legislation on modern slavery was complicated and confused. However, following amendments to the Penal Code in April 2013, all forms of human trafficking are now criminalised in accordance with the definition from the UN Trafficking Protocol. The definition used in the amended Penal Code appears broad enough, at least on paper, to include most if not all forms of forced labour, bonded labour and forced marriage (as bonded labour and forced marriage are covered within the meaning of the term ‘slavery like practice’). However, it remains to be seen if the Penal Code will be used in this way.
Bonded labour has been criminalised in India, under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 (BLSA) for close to three decades. However, enforcement has been sporadic and weak. The Act declares that bonded labour is abolished as of 25 October 1975, and that bonded labourers were relieved of their obligation to repay their bonded debt. However, in 2013, bonded labour continues to be prevalent and NGOs report having insufficient resources to empower communities to shed the burden of forced labour. Human rights defenders have also been targeted for anti-slavery work: one NGO reported an attack on their workers, as well as victims and officials while in process of assisting bonded labourers to leave the workplace where they had been held in slavery. Penalties under this law are low, set at a maximum of three years imprisonment, compared to ten years under the recent human trafficking amendments to the Penal Code.
Enforcement of laws criminalising modern slavery is inconsistent, and the complicity or interference of government officials has been widely reported
NGOs have stated that enforcement of laws criminalising modern slavery is inconsistent, and the complicity or interference of government officials has been widely reported. As a result national and state level responses are not benefitting those in slavery as much as they should, due to complicity of local officials and their avoidance of conflict with locally powerful slaveholders and traffickers.
The justice system is very slow generally, so victims have little or no confidence in its capacity to deliver a result
The justice system is very slow generally, so victims have little or no confidence in its capacity to deliver a result. NGOs have also reported a focus on the trafficking of women and children, particularly for sexual exploitation, and less willingness on the part of government and law enforcement to deal with the exploitation of adult males, or to address the far more locally prevalent forms of debt bondage or bonded labour.
Information is not available about the Indian Government’s total budget allocation to responding to modern slavery. It is known that the Indian Government has increased funding of anti-trafficking activities to state governments, however there is notable variation among states’ budgetary allocations and responses to the problem of modern slavery. For example, the May 2013 UNODC Country Assessment for India noted that in Uttar Pradesh in India’s north and bordering with Nepal, “the state has not taken any concrete steps to combat trafficking.” In the state of Odisha in India’s East, on the other hand, preventative steps have been taken and various initiatives are in place to identify vulnerable communities and provide services to victims.
If fully implemented, NREGA would be a programme of global significance in the fight against slavery
In 2005, the Ministry of Rural Development introduced the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing one hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members agree to do unskilled manual work. This scheme provides an alternative for those trapped in bonded labour and the national Government and NGOs are working hard to popularise this. In some states, the ability of NREGA to benefit those in need depends on NGO mobilisation of local populations to pressure local village leaders. More investment in NGO outreach and enforcement of NREGA is needed to ensure its proper implementation. If fully implemented, NREGA would be a programme of global significance in the fight against modern slavery.
The National Advisory Committee to Combat Trafficking focuses on the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation. Meetings of the Committee occurred in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Reports of the National Advisory Committee are not publicly available but the main issues discussed are shared through press notes as well as the advisories issued by the Central Government to the state governments to combat trafficking. For example, a 2012 Advisory on Human Trafficking as an Organised Crime, issued under the integrated Plan of Action, focuses on the requirements of an effective criminal justice response to human trafficking. This Advisory notes the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the national lead, and single point of liaison between the Ministry of External Affairs and State parties on conventions and protocols. The Advisory recommends several key action points; primarily the establishment and training of Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) at State level including the training of local police officers for law enforcement and local intelligence units. According to the Advisory, State police agencies may set up help lines and special desks in police stations and control rooms to address this issue on a real time basis. However, the number of AHTUs that have been established at the State level that meet this standard is unknown.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, along with UNODC, developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification of victims of trafficking, in 2009. State governments were advised to implement them, but as of March 2013 no evaluation of the implementation of the SOPs has been conducted. Many officials are unaware of relevant laws and procedures, however recent initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of modern slavery among police, such as a new academic course for police run by the Indira Gandhi National Open University, are encouraging.
The quality of government run shelter homes ranges from acceptable to very poor, with women in some states being left to languish in these homes, with poor nutrition and medical care, and few opportunities to improve their skills for the future
Significant gaps remain in the support provided to victims of modern slavery in India. Gaps include a failure to provide Release Certificates for rescued bonded labourers, especially in States that do not acknowledge bonded labour. Even for those with Release Certificates there are serious delays in issuing payments of compensation. There is a critical need for clearer, faster and more victim-focused processes of repatriation and visa assistance for foreign victims, who can sometimes be stuck in shelters for years. Services to foreign migrant workers are ad hoc and are mainly delivered by NGOs and IOs. For example, Migrant Resource Centres exist in Kerala and Hyderabad and are run by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) in collaboration with local government and IOM. Limited support and services are available to Indian nationals exploited abroad, through embassies and labour attaches. MOIA has also set up Indian Community Welfare Fund to provide legal, medical and repatriation support to the stranded Indian workers abroad. The Ministry for Women and Child Development funds a number of services run by NGOs for women victims. It is not clear whether any surveys have been carried out regarding client-victim satisfaction with services provided. No services are offered under these programmes to adult male victims. The quality of government run shelter homes ranges from acceptable to very poor, with women in some states being left to languish in these homes, with poor nutrition and medical care, and few opportunities to improve their skills for the future. There is no effective inspection and regulation system in some states, with shelter homes (including those run by NGOs) operating as closed systems without any effective protections for the women. Adult women survivors are not necessarily free to leave.
Provisions within the Penal Code allow a victim of trafficking to seek compensation against a perpetrator. No information is available as to whether or not these have ever been successfully used. There is also a state fund for victims of bonded labour under the BLSA, through which victims of bonded labour are entitled to compensation of 20,000 rupees (approx. $450); however disbursement of funds has been uneven. Women and children in bonded labour in commercial sexual exploitation do not get access to this standard compensation because their cases are not prosecuted under the BLSA.
Notable aspects of the response
In 2011, Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which is mandated by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of the BLSA, established a Core Group on Bonded Labour. The Core Group is chaired by NHRC and brings together government and non-government actors working to end bonded labour to review laws and policies, identify best practice, and coordinate the country’s response. It seems the core group has only met once.
On 15 October 2012, the Supreme Court issued a judgment, requiring all states to carry out surveys to identify and release those in bonded labour. It is understood that the State of Karnataka is leading in this regard, with a detailed Karnataka State Action Plan on Bonded Labour 2008, which provides detailed guidance for every responsible official, and specifies the exact support available to victims in the State. Other States are yet to follow this lead. Karnataka has recently trained officials across the whole state in how to carry out these surveys and register individuals found in bonded labour.
Other important directions in the Supreme Court judgment include mandating the rural and urban local bodies to report cases of bonded labour to the District Magistrates who in addition to use of the BLSA, are able to properly and effectively implement the Minimum Wages Act, the Employees Compensation Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
The enactment of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012 and the recent increase in activity of the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights are important measures that demonstrate the Government’s renewed commitment to fighting against the exploitation of children.
Sale of sexual services is prevalent but highly stigmatised, and, to the extent it is ‘organised,’ it is criminalised in India. A 2009 UNDP research paper estimated that there were over 3 million sex workers in India, a significant proportion of whom were “seasonal migrants and commuters.” Many of these people began this work as children. A focus on brothel raids and ‘rescue’ of victims is a prominent feature of India’s response. There have been several reported instances of women being detained against their will in ‘shelters’ and forced into social programmes. Since the case of Buddhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal in the Supreme Court, a committee has been established to “examine the issue of rehabilitation of sex workers and trafficked victims.” Any response should first and foremost respect the human rights of those affected, and ensure that they are not criminalised, detained or forced into ‘rehabilitation’ programmes. Responses to modern slavery should be careful to take into account that while victims of human trafficking need to be assisted to freedom, some adults work in the sex industry for survival.
3. What needs to happen?
- Report annually on implementation and progress of efforts to combat all forms of modern slavery, including through provision of criminal justice statistics. This will require the establishment of protocols on the collection and compilation of data.
- Undertake national prevalence estimates on modern slavery.
- Ratify and implement the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and the Domestic Work Convention.
- Require States to report on how they have followed up on the Supreme Court Judgement of October 15, 2012, which required all states to carry out surveys to identify and release those in bonded labour. The efforts currently being made in the State of Karnataka should be promoted and followed by other States.
- Update rules for use in implementing the Bonded Labour Act.
- Update the 2008 integrated Plan of Action to combat human trafficking so that it reflects current conditions, the new law and targets the full spectrum of modern slavery.
- At the State level, develop and implement action plans on bonded labour in every state and union territory, following the example of the Karnataka State Action Plan on Bonded Labour 2008. Appoint a high level responsible officer at the State and District level, who focuses only on tasks related to bonded labour and other forms of modern slavery. Official District Bonded Labour Vigilance Committees should be made active, involving committed NGO representatives and slavery survivors.
- Undertake an assessment to understand whether the AHTUs established are consistently applying relevant laws and guidance, and understand whether all forms of modern slavery are in fact being investigated and prosecuted.
- Strengthen protections for victims of modern slavery and ensure that they are not criminalised. Victims must be protected (including protecting their identities) throughout the duration of their cases and methods of speeding up trials should be implemented. Ensure follow-up with reintegrated survivors.
- Invest in well-supported outreach to typical sites of slave labour to raise awareness about rights.
- Upgrade shelter homes and take steps to ensure that the human rights of shelter home residents are observed and penalties imposed on those who violate their rights. Sheltering of victims (by both NGOs and government) should not in reality be a system of false imprisonment and punishment. The qualification of leadership of these institutions, as well as the training and re-training of staff should be given close attention. A programme of investment in upgrading and of independent participation in unannounced inspections should be initiated.
- Clarify legal, policy and law enforcement responses to commercial sexual exploitation, and respect the human rights of those affected by any response, including those who depend on working in the sex industry for survival, who are not in slavery.
- Ensure ‘raids’ follow victim-centred procedures to ensure they help more than harm.
- Strengthen efforts directed at stamping out corruption and complicity of government officials in modern slavery, including through encouraging innovative, no-cost mechanisms to report suspected official complicity.
- Continue efforts directed at addressing the underlying causes of modern slavery – such as poverty, illiteracy, underemployment, violence against women, discrimination, lack of access to entitlements such as functioning schools and health services, and social exclusion.
- Seek to address the “grass is greener over there” stories with information dissemination about the realities of migration, and mobility – and also build specific institutional capacity to inform people and communities about mobility.