New Delhi: India has failed dismally to prevent human trafficking, emerging instead as a hub for moving people from Bangladesh and Nepal for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation in West Asia, the US has said in a report, even as the Indian government disagreed with its findings.
The US state department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 — released on 4 June — also censures the Indian government for failing to do enough to check the use of bonded labour in some sectors of the economy.
This could potentially hit export of goods from these sectors if other countries choose to highlight it, as was the case with child labour involved in making carpets.
The report retains India’s position in its so-called tier-2 watch list along with 39 other countries that include China, Zambia, Albania and Argentina, even as poorer neighbours Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan showed improved performance on these counts.
The tier-2 watch list catalogues countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act—the US’s anti-trafficiking law used as a standard to compare other countries in the report—but are trying to do so.
This is the fifth straight year India has been placed in the tier-2 watchlist after it was downgraded from tier-2 list in 2003 when the state department found no evidence of improved enforcement although the India government said it was making significant progress.
India, however, differed with the report’s findings.
“It is authored by the US and it could be their perception,” said Harjot Kaur, a director at the labour ministry.
“There has been a lot of momentum at a critical level in the past five years and we are taking a targeted approach to these problems.”
“We are a country with the maximum number of child labourers in the world. It is like poverty; it cannot be eradicated overnight,” she, however, admitted.
“India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation,” the US’s report said.
“Internal forced labour may constitute India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children are held in debt bondage and face forced labour working in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories,” it added.
Citing not-for-profit sources, since there was no comprehensive study on the subject in the country, the report said there are between 20-65 million trafficked labourers in or from India, with trafficking within India being the biggest problem.
The lack of a national enforcement authority and punitive punishments for traffickers is aggravating the problem and impeding India’s efforts to tackle the problem, the report said.
“Several times during the year, the ministry of labour and employment displayed full-page advertisements against child labour in national newspapers.
“The government also instituted pre-departure information sessions for domestic workers migrating abroad on the risks of exploitation,” the report noted.
“Nonetheless, the government did not report new or significant prevention efforts addressing the prominent domestic problems of trafficking of adults for purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.”
Some non-profit organisations, however, say India’s claims are not misplaced.
“The government is definitely getting proactive about child and bonded labour,” says Kishore Bhambre of Pratham, a non-profit also involved in anti-child labour activities.