Tackling Trafficking in India


India is not only ranked high on the list of countries where trafficking begins, but it is also ranked as an important destination country. There is a dearth of comprehensive and reliable data on the magnitude of this; nevertheless, what is undisputed is that by any account, the number of people involved in trafficking is extremely high. According to UN estimates, there are about 2 million sex workers in India, of whom 60% were trafficked into prostitution while they were between 12 and 16 years of age. UNICEF estimates that there are around 500,000 minor girls in forced prostitution in India.


These girls are tricked by false promises of a good job or they are sold into 'the industry' by a relative. It is said that they may have as many as 20 clients a day. Even if they are able to leave, the girls are deeply wounded emotionally and need counselling and a strong support network to avoid returning to prostitution. Uneducated and often considered ineligible for marriage because of the exploitation, rescued girls are in desperate need of basic education, medical care and vocational training.




The contributing factors for trafficking are often divided into push and pull factors. The push factors include: abject poverty, lack of education, training and income opportunities for women in rural areas, absence of awareness about the activities of traffickers, the burden of giving dowries, domestic violence and gender discrimination.


The pull factors include: lucrative employment propositions in big cities, the promise of a better life, demand for girls for marriage in other regions, demand for cheap labour and the misconceptions that relations with a young girl can cure HIV/AIDS and impotence.



The Indian government has signed and ratified international treaties on trafficking such as theUN Convention on Suppression of Immoral Traffic and Exploitation of Prostitution of OthersandtheUN TIP Protocol (The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons). It has also enacted domestic anti-trafficking legislation and has established prevention, rehabilitation and re-integration programmes.


Many faith-based and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also tried to eliminate the problem of trafficking. Their strategies include: anti-trafficking interventions, research, awareness campaigns, sensitisation training for judicial and law enforcement officials, counselling and medical services to victims, and educational and vocational opportunities for victims and their children.


However, the attitude of society towards victims of sex trafficking is one of disdain. Victims are stigmatised and ostracised by local communities, and so prefer not to speak out against the perpetrators or report the abuse to the police. Many of the victims also suffer from HIV/AIDS which adds to the stigmatisation and emotional trauma.



Victims are afforded protection and the right to legal remedy under several laws. The Indian Constitution specifically prohibits human trafficking underArticle 23and asserts that all citizens have the right to be protected from exploitation.


India also has its own domestic anti-trafficking legislation known as theImmoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA)which punishes brothel owners, managers and traffickers with prison sentences ranging from three years to life. There are other domestic laws that attempt to prevent trafficking such as theIndian Penal Code (IPC)as well as special legislation such asThe Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, Child Labour Act 1986, Offences Against Children Act 2005,and local legislation such asGoa Children's Act 2003.


In 2006, the Ministry of Home Affairs established Anti-Human Trafficking Units, which were responsible for capacity building of police and prosecutors, monitoring actions taken by state governments and law enforcement agencies to check human trafficking across borders.


Several anti-trafficking schemes were also launched by the government such asUjjwala, consisting of prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and repatriation for foreign victims, and the provision ofSwaadhar(short-stay homes)for women, which provide shelter, food, clothing, counselling, medical and legal aid, economic rehabilitation and education. Also a child-line service for vulnerable children was launched.


In 2011, specialised police units in major Indian cities were set up to investigate trafficking cases and arrest traffickers. Often the police lack the resources to investigate and make arrests in every trafficking case, which can give traffickers impunity from prosecution. Although prostitution is not considered an offence in India, theITPAcriminalises solicitation or engaging in sex work in or near a public place. This can be used as a justification by the police to arrest and imprison trafficked women and children.



There are many NGOs working on the prevention and elimination of human trafficking in India. They have their own investigators and sources of information regarding brothels and trafficked women and children. After verifying the information, they coordinate with state authorities to conduct raids and rescue victims. After the raid and rescue, these victims are sent to rehabilitation programmes run by the government or NGOs. During this time the NGOs provide counselling, medical care, legal aid and training for the women, and help with the process of restoration and repatriation. They also assist the court and public prosecutor in order to ensure that criminal charges are filed against the perpetrators and that any applications for bail are opposed.



Until very recently, one aspect of the aftercare work of our organisation was the operation of a home in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Here, rescued girls were given education and job training in the care of Christian staff in a family-style setting.


Grace is one of many success stories from the Ooty aftercare programme. When she arrived just over three years ago, she was sceptical and reluctant. She knew very little English, was barely educated and deeply wounded. Now Grace is a dedicated follower of Jesus. She completed a course at a discipleship training school and now works at Ruhamah Designs; her English is excellent and she has become proficient on the computer. Grace is a living testimony of the power of Jesus' restorative work in the life of a broken person in need of His healing.



Because systematic data and information on trafficking in India is lacking, it is difficult to measure the progress that has been made in combating this trade. Nevertheless, because of consistent raids conducted by the police and NGOs, there has been a significant decrease in the number of minor girls in prostitution in some of the major urban areas of India. For instance, in Mumbai, it is now difficult to find minor girls in prostitution, thanks to the dedicated work of numerous organisations and the substantially improved response of government authorities to this problem over the course of the last ten years. There has also been an increased willingness by the police to uphold the law and rescue minors.


The group with which we work has conducted over 250 investigations in 25 cities, rescued over 200 girls, and over 80 criminal cases have been filed - with over 45 of them currently at different stages in the justice system. Eight brothel keepers and/or traffickers have been sentenced to either three, five or seven years in prison. The group has also established a micro-enterprise employment opportunity, provides counselling and care for victims in government facilities, and coordinates an annual wilderness camp for rescued girls from around India.

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