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India on US watch list for human trafficking

A dozen countries, including India, have been accused of not doing enough for the elimination of trafficking.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2006 12:12 IST

The US has placed a dozen countries, including India, on its Special Watch List against modern-day slavery for the third consecutive year due to their alleged failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to address trafficking in persons.

"The Government of India does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," noted the sixth annual Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report released by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday.

India, it said, is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced or bonded labour and commercial sexual exploitation.

India is also a destination for women and girls from Nepal and Bangladesh trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. In addition, boys from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are trafficked through India to the Gulf States for involuntary servitude as child camel jockeys.

India's neighbours -- Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh -- have been placed a cut above it in Tier two for although all three did not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, they were, in US assessment, making significant efforts to do so.

India lacks a national law enforcement response to any form of trafficking, but took some preliminary measures to create a central law enforcement unit to do so, said the report, which the US intends to use as a diplomatic tool to raise global awareness and spur countries to take effective actions to counter trafficking in persons.

Described as the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons, or modern-day slavery, the 158-country report divides them in four tiers.

Countries whose governments fully comply with the minimum standards specified in a 2000 US law are placed in Tier one. Next come countries whose governments are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

A dozen countries including India have been placed on tier two Special Watch List for their failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking from the previous year. In the last Tier three are countries whose governments are not making significant efforts to comply.

India and other countries placed on the Special Watch List in this Report will be re-examined in an interim assessment to be submitted to the US Congress by Feb 1, 2007.

Those in Tier three, including Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia may be subject to certain sanctions, including withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance from the next fiscal year beginning Oct 1, 2006.

"By calling to account any nation, friend or foe, that can and should do more to confront human trafficking, we are pressing countries into action. With each year, more and more governments are increasing public awareness of the crime, targeting and prosecuting the perpetrators and helping victims to rebuild their lives," said Rice.

"To date, the US government has provided almost $400 million to support global anti-trafficking efforts, said Rice noting that an estimated 800,000 people, primarily women and children, are victimised each year, and forced into lives of cruel and punishing degradation," she said.

Rice acknowledged that US too is a destination for the victims of human traffickers, but said they were "taking measures to hasten the coming of the day when no man, woman or child is denied their rights and their common humanity on American soil."

On India, the report said endemic corruption among law enforcement officials impedes the country's ability to effectively combat trafficking in persons. In terms of trafficking for sexual exploitation, corrupt law enforcement authorities reportedly continue to facilitate the movement of trafficking victims, protect brothels that exploit victims, and protect traffickers and brothel keepers from arrest or other threats of enforcement.

In the area of bonded labour and forced child labour, some corrupt police officials continued to protect businesses and managers who rely on forced labour, and take bribes to stop enforcement or judicial action.

India, the report said did not take steps to address the huge issue of bonded labour and other forms of involuntary servitude. The Indian government also did not take meaningful steps to address its sizeable trafficking-related corruption problem.

The government drafted, but had not yet introduced to parliament, amendments to the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) that would afford greater protection to sex trafficking victims and stricter penalties for their traffickers and for clients of prostitution.

India should consider designating and empowering a national law enforcement agency with investigative and prosecutorial jurisdiction throughout the country to address its interstate and international trafficking problem, the report suggested.

The government should similarly consider taking greater measures to rescue and protect victims of bonded labour and to prosecute their traffickers or employers, giving them punishments sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflect the nature of the heinous crime of trafficking.

It is particularly important to strengthen and enforce sentences applied to individuals convicted of exploiting bonded labourers. India should also improve its long-term protection of trafficking victims and institute nation-wide public awareness programs to educate all segments of the population on the dangers of trafficking.

India, the report said was unable to guard its long, porous borders with Bangladesh and Nepal, through which several thousand trafficking victims reportedly enter India each year.

Reportedly, Bangladeshi women are trafficked through India for sexual exploitation in Pakistan. Moreover, Indian men and women migrate willingly to the Gulf for work as domestic servants and low-skilled labourers, but some later find themselves in situations of involuntary servitude.

The report said a growing gender imbalance in areas of South and East Asia is increasingly driving the demand for trafficking victims and contributing to the phenomenon of bride selling.

India faces a similar problem of gender imbalance in some regions, although it is sparked primarily by cultural attitudes that see girls as economic liabilities due to dowry demands by potential grooms.

This gender gap has resulted in several million more men than women in the marriage market, creating a 'marriage squeeze' and pressure for men to find women to marry.

As a consequence, there are some cases in which women from Nepal, Bangladesh, and other areas of India have been bought or kidnapped as brides for 'bachelor villages.'

The lack of women also contributes to greater demand for prostituted women and girls, fuelling the demand for victims of trafficking.

The report's introduction begins with the story of a 12-year-old girl Reena, who was brought to India from Nepal by her maternal aunt and forced the into a New Delhi brothel shortly after arrival.

It also lists Kari Siddama, a grass roots activist and founder of Bharathi Trust in Tamil Nadu as one of the 'Heroes Acting To End Modern-Day Slavery.'

Kari Siddamma has been working extensively with the marginalised Irula (a low caste) tribal communities in Tamil Nadu for more than 12 years. With her intervention, an Irula movement has emerged that is now better organised to pursue indigenous legal rights from exploitive landlords.

In one incident in 2004, Siddamma helped release over 1,000 bonded labourers employed in the rice mills of the Red Hills area of Tamil Nadu.

The report said it had focused more attention on the plight of low skilled labourers from developing countries, particularly women working as domestics. Many of these labourers, pursuing a dream of giving their family a more secure and prosperous future, fall victim to conditions of servitude in developed destination countries, including the US.

Contract workers, especially in Asia, have modest aspirations but they are the most vulnerable, due to the lack of protection and their low economic status. Unscrupulous labour recruiters, 'manpower' agencies, and employers often preyed on the aspirations of these workers, it said.

Economic globalisation has encouraged an unprecedented mobilisation of unskilled and low-skilled labour in response to demand in labour-deficit markets for construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and domestic work.

Migrant workers from less developed South and East Asian countries fill relatively short-term labour contracts in more developed Asian, European, and Near Eastern countries at an ever increasing rate.

The report sheds some light on a trafficking phenomenon, seen increasingly in Asia and the Near East-servitude, imposed on a large number of migrant labourers who accept contracts in other countries for low-skilled work in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and as domestic workers.

Apart from the costs in human terms, profits from human trafficking fuel other criminal activities. According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, human trafficking generates an estimated $9.5 billion in annual revenue.

First Published: Jun 06, 2006 09:39 IST