The Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were nearly 8 million people living in modern slavery in India. In terms of prevalence of modern slavery in India, there were 6.1 victims for every thousand people.
In the 2016 Global Slavery Index, we reported there were 18.3 million people in modern slavery in India. The difference between these two figures reflects changes to counting rules and estimation methods, as well as the presentation of the number who experienced modern slavery on any given day (a “stock” figure) reported in this year’s GSI, as opposed to the much higher number of people in slavery at any time over a five-year period (a “flow” figure), as was presented in 2016. The 2018 GSI also reflects the addition of forced sexual exploitation and children in modern slavery but does not include figures on organ trafficking or the use of children in armed conflict.
The most current available data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicate that there were 8,132 reported cases of human trafficking across India in 2016. In the same year, 15,379 people were trafficked of whom 9,034 victims were below the age of 18. In addition, 23,117 people were rescued from trafficking situations of whom 14,183 people were below the age of 18. The NCRB report notes that the number of rescued victims is higher than the number of trafficked people as rescued victims may also include persons trafficked in the previous year. Most of the rescued victims reported being trafficked for the purpose of forced labour (10,509 victims), followed by sexual exploitation for prostitution (4,980 victims), and other forms of sexual exploitation (2,590 cases).1
While the bonded labour system is formally abolished and criminalised, recent research indicates that bonded labour is still prevalent in India. A 2016 report found that in the state of Tamil Nadu, 351 of 743 spinning mills use bonded labour schemes, otherwise known as Sumangali schemes.2 Fraudulent recruiters reportedly target families in economically disadvantaged rural areas of India and persuade the parents to send their daughters to spinning mills with promises of good working conditions and the payment of a lump sum at the end of their three-year contracts that might help contribute to dowry costs. In these mills, young women are subject to exploitative labour practices,3 including restriction of movement, removal of mobile phones, and withholding wages and other payments, in return for the prospect of a lump sum of money.4 They work 60 hours per week year-round and cannot refuse overtime.5 Workers are therefore bound to their employer as changing employers would mean losing their promised lump sum.6 However, many women under those schemes never receive the lump sum payment they are promised because they leave early, often due to illness.7
Similarly, in granite quarries, wage advances and loans with an interest ranging from 24 percent to 36 percent are used to bond workers to the quarry.8 According to a study on bonded labour practices in sandstone quarries in Rajasthan, workers become caught in lifelong debt bondage as they owe large sums of money to their employers or contractors and have to work for little or no pay until this is repaid.9 In some instances this may result in intergenerational transfer of debt as it is common for immediate kin to replace workers who retire due to old age or occupation-related illnesses and to take on their debt.10 Situations of debt bondage are often aggravated by the need to raise emergency funds or take on loans for health crises.11 Debt bondage is also used as a form of control in forced sexual exploitation. Survivor interviews revealed managers requested compensation for the money allegedly paid to purchase the victim. With little or no payment given to victims for their work, repaying the debt is almost impossible, trapping them in an indefinite cycle of debt bondage and exploitation.12
The agricultural sector accounts for 62.7 percent of India’s rural employment,13 but changing environmental patterns in the eastern state of Odisha, such as irregular rainfall, frequent droughts, and deforestation, have resulted in destruction of traditional livelihoods. The lack of employment opportunities and the need to seek alternative sources of income force people to migrate to other states within India in search of work. 14 Seeking work in brick kilns across the country has become a common phenomenon for people from Odisha.15 This often involves labour agents who use a system of advance payment where workers are paid a lump sum upfront which they then need to pay off through the bricks they make, consequently trapping them in bonded labour until they have paid off their debt.16 It is reported that in certain brick kilns accepting a wage advance from a contractor, who acts as an intermediary between the kiln owner and the worker, is seen as a mandatory step to accepting a job, as shown by a study in Punjab in 2014 where 94 percent of those interviewed had taken an advance. The advance system makes it obligatory for the worker to remain in the kiln, and with advances and payments reportedly made via a contractor, there is little scope for workers to seek out other employment opportunities. 17
Instances of forced labour exist among local and migrant domestic workers both within India and overseas who find themselves coerced into hard physical labour and experience conditions of ill treatment, and confinement. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable as they work in private homes18 and depend on their employers for basic needs such as food and shelter.19 This is highlighted in the recent case of a Bangladeshi migrant domestic worker who was held hostage and physically abused by a family in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, after asking for her unpaid salary.20 Most female domestic workers migrate from India’s least developed regions, such as Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Assam,21 to urban areas where a growing middle class has created demand for domestic help.22
Among the estimated six million Indian migrants living in the six Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Oman, there have been many documented cases of contract violations and exploitation, often facilitated by unscrupulous recruitment agents who promise well-paid employment under good conditions in the Gulf.23 However, exploitation is reportedly widespread, especially among those Indian migrants who come to work in unskilled sectors, such as construction, agriculture, and domestic work. Many of these violations also occur as a result of limited protections for migrant workers under labour law in these Gulf countries. 24 An approximate 450 Indian migrants have allegedly died in Dubai since 2014, while Indian officials have claimed that inhumane working conditions are the most common cause of death of Indian migrant workers in the Gulf.25
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
There is evidence pointing to an emerging trend in northeast India where organised trafficking syndicates operate undetected along the open and unmanned international borders, duping or coercing young, educated girls seeking employment outside their local area into forced sexual exploitation.26 According to a Caritas report, trafficking of children is particularly prevalent in the north eastern state of Assam where in 2016 at least 129 girls were forced into sex work by traffickers.27 Recent survivor interviews in Kolkata, West Bengal, indicate that victims (a majority of whom knew their recruiters) were lured with the promise of a good job but were then forced into sex work. A ‘conditioning’ period involving physical violence, threats, debt bondage, and rape was also commonly used to limit a victim’s ability to resist sex work. 28
Female foeticide is a widespread phenomenon in India29 and has contributed to a shortage in women, such as in the state of Haryana, where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys.30 Evidence suggests there is a growing trend for brides to move from the poorer eastern or southern parts of the country to the more prosperous areas in the north where there is a higher male to female sex ratio.31 The skewed sex ratio in some regions in India32 is fuelling trafficking and selling of brides within India.33 Women are reportedly sold off into marriage by their families, sometimes at a young age, and end up enduring severe abuse, rape, and exploitation by their husbands.34
Indian women and girls from impoverished backgrounds are reportedly also lured by promises of marriage by younger men from urban areas, but then forced into sex work once married to their husbands.35 The men usually formally court the woman and seek approval from her family. This often means the family will not immediately search for or report the woman as missing if contact breaks down once she has fallen victim to sexual exploitation. It is also reported that sometimes the husband returns to the community to shame the family by claiming that the woman or girl has run away so that the family will refrain from reporting their relative to authorities as missing.36
There are also reported cases of Indian women trafficked overseas for marriage. In 2017, Hyderabad police arrested five Omani and three Qatari nationals, as well as three Muslim priests on charges of human trafficking and child marriage revolving around a scheme marrying young Muslim Indian girls to men from Arab countries.37 Police reported that in many cases the young brides encountered exploitation in their husband’s home country and were forced into domestic servitude38 or sexual slavery.39 Without a social network of support40 these women are fully dependent on their husband’s family,41 increasing their chances of ending up in situations of forced labour, sexual slavery, or domestic servitude.42
Human trafficking for organ removal continues throughout India where growing rates of kidney and liver disease43 have added to the increasing gap between the demand and supply of organs. With the 2011 Transplantation of Human Organs (Amendment) Act44 allowing only an immediate relative to be a living donor, there has been a growth in organ traffickers carrying out illegal procedures and forging documents to show donors and recipients as family.45 In some parts of India, poor people use their kidneys as collateral for money lenders. Researchers have documented instances of kidneys sourced from the “kidney belt” region of southern India being sold to clients in Sri Lanka, the Gulf States, the United Kingdom, and the United States.46
Use of children in armed conflict
Armed violence and conflict between armed opposition groups and state forces continue to affect different regions in India. Ongoing conflict in affected regions47,48 has disrupted livelihoods and trapped populations in a cycle of violence.49 There are reported cases of abductions and coercion of children to join Bal Dasta units which train children in front-line operations, and as couriers and informants against national security forces.50 In April 2016, Maoists reportedly abducted five girls aged between ten and thirteen years of age from Karcha village, West Bengal State.51 It is reported that the Bharatiya Communist Party (Maoist) forced inhabitants of seven villages in Jharkhand State to hand over five children per village to join their ranks.52
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While modern slavery clearly occurs within India, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that India, like many other countries globally, will also be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policy-makers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 lists the top five products (according to US$ value) imported by India from countries which are at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods.
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to India
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value|
(in thousands of $US)
Laptops, computers, and mobile phones
North Korea, Peru
Apparel and clothing accessories
Brazil, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
Laptops, computers and mobile phones are India’s highest value category of imports at risk of modern slavery (US$8.3 billion). Secondly, India obtains over 99 percent of its overall sugarcane imports from Brazil where there is risk that modern slavery will have been used in its production. The value of this import totals nearly US$457 million. India imports gold produced in Peru and North Korea, both of which are suspected to use modern slavery in their gold mining industries. For example, a report from 2014 documents cases of forced labour among inmates of North Korean prison camps, who were forced to work in gold mines.53 Apparel imported from countries at risk of modern slavery amount to US$360 million. Lastly, India imports US$97.1 million worth of diamonds from Angola. Diamond extraction in Angola has over the past decades been linked to torture, murder, and forced displacement, and reportedly relies on both child labour and forced labour. Research suggests that undocumented migrant children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) enter Angola to work in diamond-mining districts and experience conditions of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation in mining camps.54
India’s economic growth has enabled the country to achieve its Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty.55 However, ‘low-income states’ such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh56 continue to face poverty rates that are disproportionately higher than in other states, with 62 percent of India’s poorer populations residing in these states alone. 57
Search for better economic and employment opportunities acts as a powerful incentive for people to migrate from low to high income states58 and internationally.59 New estimates of labour migration in India from the Ministry of Finance’s Economic Survey 2016-2017 indicate an annual average flow of close to nine million migrants internally between Indian states for the period 2011-2016.60 India also has a large influx of labour migrants from neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh where open borders with India make it easy for individuals with these nationalities to migrate.61
A lack of official identity documents increases internal Indian migrant workers’ vulnerability and reduces their capacity to access basic social services.62 Lack of social networks, as well as cultural and linguistic differences also add to the vulnerability of Indian migrant workers from other states.63
Children of Indian seasonal migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group as they face barriers accessing education due to the isolation of the work sites where their parents work.64 This results in them ending up working alongside their parents.65 In 2017, it was reported that 200 children who had migrated from Odisha were rescued from a brick kiln where they were living and working with adults.66
More than 90 percent of India’s total workforce are engaged in the informal economy in agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, construction, and service industries.67 Lack of formal employment opportunities leads individuals to seek employment in the informal sector where withholding of wages, debt bondage, and physical and sexual abuse at the workplace are common.68 Lower real wages, which are typical of the informal sector, further exacerbate vulnerabilities.69 With no records or contracts maintained, there is no accountability to hold employers responsible for any exploitation, making informal workers highly vulnerable to exploitative practices.70 Indian migrant workers, who move seasonally from rural villages to the cities in search of work opportunities, have limited access to support and redress in cases of exploitation due to the informal nature of their work.71
The 2016 demonetization aimed at curbing accumulation of black money and funding of criminal and terrorist activity72 left many of the poorest exposed to increased uncertainty.73 The ‘demonetised’ (that is, ceasing to be legal tender) Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes made up 86 percent of the total currency circulation in 2016.74 Consequently, poorer populations, who rely on cash for their daily purchases of food, medicine, and transport,75 were most likely to be affected. NGO reports present mixed reviews on how demonetization affected vulnerability to slavery, however, some indicate workers in the informal sector, including brick kilns and sex work, were paid in void currency notes or not paid at all during demonetization, thus increasing their vulnerability to ongoing debt bondage and forced labour.76
Discrimination against Scheduled Castes, Dalits, and Scheduled Tribes is still a characteristic of the modern and globalising Indian society, with reports that it is becoming more evident in urban areas.77 Social stigmatisation and economic marginalisation compounds the unequal power dynamics between marginalised groups, government, and dominant groups who usually own or manage worksites.78 This is reinforced by other factors, such as inadequate access to healthcare and social benefits, poor working and living conditions,79 and low literacy,80 all of which increase marginalised groups’ vulnerability and reduce their ability to escape exploitation.81
Women, especially those from economically disadvantaged and marginalised communities, face an increased risk of exploitation. Perceptions of gender inequality, fuelled by practices such as dowry or bride burning, make women more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as well as trafficking.82 Certain recruitment practices even discriminate based on gender and take advantage of families desperate to get their daughters married. For instance, the Sumangali schemes appear to present good opportunities to save for dowry payments but often result in trapping women and girls in situations of debt bondage.83
Response to modern slavery
India has criminalised most forms of modern slavery, including trafficking, slavery, forced labour, and child sexual exploitation, in its Penal Code. However, under section 366 of the Penal Code, forced marriage is only criminalised when kidnapping is present. There is currently no legislation criminalising the use of children in armed conflict. 84
There has been significant progress in drafting national legislation to encompass more aspects of modern slavery. A draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill was announced in May 2016.85 The bill calls for the creation of a special agency to investigate trafficking crimes, anti-trafficking committees at the district, state, and central levels,86 and the establishment of special courts to prosecute trafficking crimes.87 It also includes provisions for cross-border repatriation of victims from other neighbouring countries. The bill was approved by the Union Cabinet in late February 201888 and will reportedly be presented in the budget session of Parliament, which began in March 2018.89
Prepared by the National Platform for Domestic workers, a draft Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill 2016 has been submitted to the Indian government for consideration.90 This bill seeks to extend existing labour laws to cover domestic workers91 and ensure that they are entitled to the minimum wage and to access social security. The bill is still in parliament, awaiting to be passed at the time of writing.92
In 2016, the government adopted the new “Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers”.93 This scheme recognises the needs of different groups trapped in bonded labour by providing cash compensation of approximately US$1,540 94 (IND. 1 lakh) for male bonded labourers, US$3,08095 (IND. 2 lakh) for female and child bonded or forced labourers, and US$4,620 (IND. 3 lakh) for those physically challenged, trafficked, or commercially sexually exploited.96 Importantly, compensation is now available for individuals still on trial and those who have a release certificate confirming evidence of bonded labour.97 While this represents an increase in compensation as compared to the compensation available under the Bonded Labour Act, there is often little link between compensation, and recovery and rehabilitation. Successful recovery generally requires much broader support services and assistance in accessing such services, both of which are largely provided by NGOs that are often dependent on foreign or private funding.98
The Ujjawala and Swadhar schemes initiated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development run shelter and rehabilitation services for rescued women as well as promoting awareness campaigns within local communities.99 The Ujjawala scheme is specifically for female victims of trafficking whereas the Swadhar program provides support services for victims of domestic violence, homeless women, and women in distress, who are in need of shelter.
The government ratified two core ILO conventions in 2017, namely No. 138 on Minimum Age to Employment and No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.100 With the passing of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act in 2016, India has set a general minimum working age of 14 years for children and a minimum age of 18 years for hazardous work.101 This excludes work carried out by the child for his or her family or after school hours and vacations. A National Plan for Action for Children was also established in 2016 to strengthen and monitor national, constitutional, and policy efforts in line with the 2013 National Policy for Children.102 The government also supports initiatives such as Track Child and “Khoya-Paya” e-portal that help trace and rescue vulnerable children. Shelter homes for children are provided under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)103 and the Child Welfare Committees play an important role in making arrangements for protecting rescued children.104 Additionally, the Indian government revised the guidelines of the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme in 2016 which aims to eliminate all forms of child labour,105 and launched the corresponding Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour (PENCIL), which aims to support effective legislative enforcement and implementation of the NCLP.106
Despite the existence of legislation and schemes aiming to combat modern slavery, severe gaps between the government’s policy commitments and implementation have been noted.107 For instance, a 2016 research study of children trafficked for labour exploitation emphasises that there are a range of practical challenges to the rescue and reintegration of victims, such as failure to provide adequate reintegration services, a lack of human and financial resources, limited organisational accountability, and poorly structured partnerships between NGOs and government, among others.108
Although the Ministry of External Affairs launched the eMigrate online recruitment system in 2015,109 ensuring that foreign employers and recruiters comply with regulations and requirements under the Emigration Act 1983 remains an issue.110 In 2017, the government announced the withdrawal of the requirement that 17 countries under the ‘Emigration Check Required’ category, most of which are in the Gulf, have to provide a refundable bank guarantee of US$2,500111 to ensure repatriation and payment of any unpaid wages or medical expenses for Indian workers in cases of exploitation.112 The removal of this guarantee may increase the vulnerability of Indian workers abroad who are losing a crucial safety net.113
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, police investigations and trials related to trafficking continue to increase.114 In 2016, police arrested a five-member gang on trafficking charges115 and in 2017, a court in Southern India successfully sentenced a brick kiln owner to ten years in prison and fine of INR16,000 (US$246.59)116 for trafficking and exploiting workers.117 However, various factors still deter victims from seeking justice, such as accessing the justice systems from rural or isolated areas118 and the costs and uncertainty associated with delayed proceedings.119 A key challenge in implementing laws criminalising trafficking or bonded labour is also the lack of integrated law enforcement systems for investigation and prosecution across different states in India, leading to a lack of robust investigation of trafficking networks across states.120
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
India does not have one central legislative framework governing public procurement. However, government ministries and departments are to comply with the requirements of various guidelines, manuals, and the procedures available for public procurement, none of which specifically refer to modern slavery.121 In June 2017, the Indian government issued the Public Procurement (Preference to Make in India) Order 2017 as part of the government’s policy to encourage manufacturing and production of goods and services in India. The policy is aimed at giving purchasing preference to local suppliers in public procurement processes.122 It has been noted that this policy could open the door to including human rights as a consideration in public procurement processes.123
Business supply chains
India does not currently have any laws requiring business to report on the actions they are taking to respond to modern slavery risk in their supply chains. The 2013 Companies Act requires mid and large companies to spend two percent of their three-year annual average net profit on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities,133 including those that promote poverty reduction, education, health, environmental sustainability, gender equality, and vocational skills development.134 The Act also demands that companies set up a CSR board committee that submits an annual report on all CSR activities undertaken.135 However, it does not specifically require companies to spend this allocated money on modern slavery initiatives. While a positive step forward,136 the effectiveness of the Act is disputed following claims that some companies who were previously spending more on CSR activities are now scaling back to the mandated two percent as the requirements of the act are seen more as legal compliance rather than a reputation building or branding exercise for companies.137
India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs released the National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities for Business (NVGs) which calls on businesses to promote the wellbeing of all employees138 and prohibits businesses from engaging in “child labour, forced labour or any form of involuntary labour, paid or unpaid”.139 In 2016, 77 companies in the India Responsible Business Index (which analyses the policies, disclosures and mechanisms of top 100 companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange within the National Voluntary Guidelines framework) had a system to ensure the prohibition of forced labour and ensure the health and safety of all employees.140
The government of India should:
- Ratify and implement the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189).
- Pass the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill and provide adequate financial resources towards implementation. When passed, develop training materials for police, judges and prosecutors on how to investigate and prosecute cases.
- Pass the National Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill 2016 and provide adequate financial resources towards implementation. When passed, set up a taskforce to ensure the new domestic workers bill is implemented effectively, including training for officials and police on how to handle cases of exploitation of domestic workers.
Improve victim support
- Allocate adequate financial and human resources to local governments to set up units that assist internal migrant workers to access new identification documents, social security benefits, and housing assistance.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Implement a National Action Plan for all victims of modern slavery that recognises the different contexts of cross-border and localised forms of slavery.
- Strengthen the role of the National Human Rights Committee (NHCR) as an independent government body to oversee and coordinate India’s response to all forms of modern slavery.
Address risk factors
- Publicly encourage formal, regulated, and safe channels to assist labour migrants.
- Set up awareness initiatives at local and national borders that provide migrants with contacts of local support organisations.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Encourage companies to fund local initiatives and NGOs which are combatting modern slavery and providing victim services, as part of the fulfilment of the CSR requirements under the 2013 Companies Act.
- Conduct mandatory labour inspections in high-risk industries within the informal sector, such as brick kilns, textile, and granite/stone/mineral industries.
- Mandate all industries and businesses to create credible grievance mechanisms that are accessible to vulnerable workers.
- Pass legislation mandating large companies to annually report on steps taken to eliminate modern slavery in their supply chains.