By Diya Nag
South Asia has the dubious distinction of being the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, with India at its epicentre as a source, destination, and transit country. Despite recent government data that indicates that reporting of cases of human trafficking in India has increased by almost 25 percent, the conviction rate remains abysmally low.
South Asia is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, with India at its epicentre as a source, destination, and transit country. Photo/Conor Ashleigh
Victims of trafficking rely heavily on a diverse set of service providers to help them recover and rehabilitate, if they are able to seek and receive services at all. This includes the police, legal aid bodies, shelter homes, vocational training centers, and NGOs. Unfortunately, many of these service providers work in silos at the district or state level with very little inter-agency collaboration, or they focus on only one aspect of response to trafficking rather than offering an integrated or holistic approach. NGOs that work on supporting trafficking survivors often find it difficult to identify and reach other key stakeholders. This, combined with a lack of credible data on the various support services that are available, hampers an effective response to trafficking survivors and impedes the prosecution process, resulting in relatively low conviction rates. To address this gap, an ecosystem of support for trafficking victims is needed to address their critical needs and enable them to be reintegrated into mainstream society.
Last year, The Asia Foundation began supporting a new research project, conducted by local partner Women Power Connect (WPC), to map the support structures and services that exist for trafficking survivors, and better understand how they collaborate, if at all. WPC conducted focus group discussions and field-level research in three Indian states, Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, with the goal of strengthening the capacity of support structures to provide services to survivors, create awareness of the services and structures available, and strengthen the referral capabilities of NGOs and justice sector actors working on trafficking. On March 31, WPC released the research findings in a new resource directory, available on The Asia Foundation’s website.
The directory maps all the shelter homes in these three states, and includes updated contact and location information. It also helps establish stronger links among stakeholders in the three states, providing information on Indian law related to human trafficking, government schemes to assist survivors, police contacts, NGOs, Child Welfare Committees, Anti-Human Trafficking Units, shelter homes, and legal aid bodies who assist survivors. The directory also makes recommendations for prevention of trafficking and rescue strategies.
The research identified three groups of individuals who are most vulnerable to human trafficking:
- Undocumented migrants. Families of women and girls living in rural areas are often lured by traffickers through some pretext such as a job or a better life in the city. Rural employment opportunities are scant, and in such cases, families pay large sums of money to the trafficker to facilitate the journey into cities on the understanding that a job will be provided in return. The trafficker is usually able to produce some false identification indicating that he is a family member. It is common to find that the trafficked individual, who often has no personal identification, is instead trapped into becoming a sex worker and/or domestic laborer with no way out.
- Urban slum dwellers, particularly in Delhi and its surrounding suburbs. Many women and children living in illegal urban slums run away when local government bodies conduct raids. During the chaos, these individuals are captured by traffickers and fall prey to begging or prostitution rackets.
- Women and girls living in semi-urban and rural areas of states prone to natural disasters, such as Uttarakhand, who are often from desperate and poor families. These families accept payments from traffickers to sell the girls into marriages in neighboring states, often in the mistaken belief that they are keeping their daughters safe from harm by marrying them off and thus fulfilling their commitment to protect them during times of conflict and disaster.
A convergence model is needed to ensure that traffickers are brought to justice, and survivors are able to meaningfully participate in that process. For instance, WPC found that survivors are often traumatized and hesitate to speak out against the perpetrators. Since many survivors are from marginalized communities, there is a sense of fear and wariness about engaging with the criminal justice system. These women or children need counselling and legal support services to prepare them for their appearances in court and build confidence to give testimony.
Further, when women survivors are reintegrated into their homes or family, they often face stigma, especially if they have been trafficked for sex purposes. Often, relatives are traffickers, or connected to traffickers, making the return home impossible for survivors. In cases such as these, shelter homes can provide support. However, information about both public and private shelter homes was not readily available until now.
Combatting human trafficking is a priority for the Indian government, with the Ministry of Women and Child Development spearheading the enactment of a new comprehensive anti-trafficking law last year. However, despite strong political will at the ministerial level, the final bill has not been presented to the parliament and is still pending. Ensuring this legislation is in place is a step in the right direction. However, strengthening the linkages and collaboration among existing stakeholders and service providers is also vital.
Diya Nag is The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer in India. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.