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What is India's status in US' report on human trafficking: Making improvement

Dec 26, 2023 03:20 PM IST

The latest report noted that India has been making progress with joint efforts between states and the Centre in tackling human trafficking.

The recent grounding of a Nicaragua-bound Legend Airlines plane, which was carrying hundreds of Indians, in France based on an anonymous tip-off that the flight could be carrying human trafficking victims sparked the debate regarding maintaining the minimum standards to tackle the serious crime that the United Nations calls “a grave violation to human rights”.

The report said human traffickers use debt-based coercion to force victims into low-paying jobs. (AFP)
The report said human traffickers use debt-based coercion to force victims into low-paying jobs. (AFP)

After being put up for days in France's Vatry airport, the Romania-based airline landed in Mumbai today with 276 of the original 303 passengers.

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Although headed for the Central American nation, the prosecutors handling the case didn't comment on whether the passengers’ ultimate destination could have been the US, which has seen a surge in Indians crossing the Mexico-US border this year.

Also read: Indian passengers, quizzed by CISF, avoid media after plane held by France lands in Mumbai

Earlier, Union minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan told Parliament that close to 1 lakh illegal Indian migrants had attempted to enter the United States this year, citing US Customs and Border Protection data.

The US has designated Nicaragua as one of several countries deemed as failing to meet minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking and charted at the last Tier 3 position. Notably, India is also at a Tier 2 level among those nations.

What the US says about India's human trafficking laws?

The US' 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report said India “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”. However, it added that the country is making significant efforts to meet the standards. India has maintained the Tier 2 category (out of 3 tiers) in the US government's records for the last couple of years.

The report, released in June, noted that India has been making progress with joint efforts between states and the Centre as well as in collaboration with foreign governments on several trafficking cases and convicting traffickers.

“The MHA (Union ministry of home affairs) provided financial assistance to states and union territories to build the capacity of judicial officers, police, and other officials responsible for combating trafficking,” it said.

Convicted fewer traffickers

The report found that the Indian government did not meet minimum standards in a few key areas. It prosecuted and convicted fewer cases of human trafficking, with fewer identification of trafficking victims, as well as a 75% decline in the identification of bonded labour victims.

The report also pointed out that the government did not amend Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to criminalise all forms of trafficking.

Notably, Section 370 of the IPC criminalises the import, export, removal, buying, selling or disposal of any person as a slave or accepting, receiving or detaining against the person's will as a slave. The recently passed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), which aims to replace IPC, has introduced beggary as a form of exploration for trafficking.

How do traffickers exploit victims in India?

The report said human traffickers use debt-based coercion to force victims into low-paying jobs. They promise large advances and manipulate victims by adding exorbitant interest rates as well as deducting even further from their wages the lodging, health care or wage slips. The report cited a study and said there are at least eight million trafficking victims in India, the majority of whom are bonded labourers.

Traffickers also transfer the outstanding debts of deceased workers to their parents, siblings or children as the intergenerational bonded labourers continue to work under them, the report said.

“Traffickers often target those from the most disadvantaged social strata. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, as well as the children of migrant labourers, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and bonded labour. Bonded labour and forced domestic work remain widespread in rural Indian society, and there is limited accountability for injustices against the historically marginalized castes. Climate change, including sudden-onset disasters such as floods and slow-onset events like drought, increased large-scale displacement and migration, further exacerbating vulnerabilities to human trafficking,” it said.

Indians trafficked overseas

Traffickers take Indian migrants who willingly seek employment abroad in construction, domestic work, factories and other low-skilled sectors and force them into recruitment fraud or charge them exorbitant recruitment fees.

“Authorities have identified Indian forced labour victims in Armenia, Portugal, Gabon, the United States, and Zambia, and Indian female sex trafficking victims in Kenya. Traffickers subject some boys from Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh states to forced labour in Nepal. Traffickers also commit labour trafficking crimes by forcing Indian migrants to engage in illegal activities abroad, including scams and fraudulent businesses.”

Click here to read the full report.

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