The government decreased overall victim identification and protection efforts, and identification and protection for bonded laborers remained inadequate. During the reporting period, the NCRB released its 2017 and 2018 Crime in India Reports, which used a different methodology than previous years. In 2018, the government reported identifying 3,946 trafficking victims and 1,625 potential trafficking victims. While Assam and Jharkhand states did not submit data for the 2018 report, this was still a decrease from 2017, when authorities identified 4,137 trafficking victims and 2,137 potential victims. This was a decrease from the 22,955 victims the government reported identifying in 2016, although NGOs surmised methodological differences in data collection could have accounted for part of the decrease. In 2018, authorities identified 2,093 victims in labor trafficking, including 1,014 in bonded labor, and 1,853 in sex trafficking; the government did not report the type of trafficking of the 1,625 potential victims identified. Ninety-five percent of trafficking victims identified were Indian, approximately 55 percent were adults, and 61 percent were female. Despite NGOs’ consistent estimates of millions of Indians in bonded labor, the Ministry of Labor and Employment reported to Parliament in 2019 that the government had only identified and released 313,687 since 1976. Moreover, due to a lack of law enforcement efforts against traffickers, one NGO working in 10 states reported employers trapped more than 60 percent of released victims in bonded labor again. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states, where some authorities may have engaged more actively against bonded labor, identified 42 percent of all bonded labor victims. The MHA created standard procedures for trafficking victim identification in 2009, but it was unclear how many states had adopted them. State revenue officers had the responsibility for identifying bonded labor victims, yet NGOs identified most cases. Poor inter-state coordination between state government agencies impeded trafficking investigations and victims’ ability to obtain services, including participation in civil and criminal cases in their home states. The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) continued to support some broad national child protection mechanisms, including a hotline for children, a system to identify missing children, and rescues of missing children.
The government did not report how many trafficking victims it assisted or referred to care. The government had shelter and services for child and adult female trafficking victims, although the quality, consistency, and availability varied. Police referred all adult and child trafficking victims, except bonded labor victims, to state judiciaries and CWCs to determine appropriate care. CWCs generally returned child trafficking victims to their parents, some of whom had subjected their children to trafficking. When CWCs did refer child trafficking victims to care, it placed them in privately run shelters, government-run juvenile justice homes (some of which housed child victims with children accused of crimes), or government-run women and children’s homes, some of which allowed routine abuse. While judges could reportedly refer bonded labor victims to care, there were no reports officials did so in practice. Judges could require all adult trafficking victims identified under the ITPA stay in government- or NGO-run shelters for up to three weeks, and victims who were part of an ongoing legal case as a witness or victim could not leave shelters without a magistrate’s order. The government did not run or fund shelters that could accommodate adult males.
Government-run and -funded shelters remained insufficient, facing serious shortages of space, financial resources, and trained personnel. NGOs relied primarily on donor contributions, although some received government funds. The disbursal of government funding to NGOs was sometimes delayed for multiple years. MWCD continued to provide state governments with funding for NGO- and government-run shelter and rehabilitation through the Ujjawala program for female sex trafficking victims (operating 134 shelters, compared with 148 in 2018) and the Swadhar Greh program for women in difficult circumstances (operating 413 shelters, compared to 514 in 2018). The central government allocated 144 million INR ($2.03 million) to the Swadhar Greh program in the first five months of 2019-2020, compared to (226 million INR ($3.18 million) allocated to the program in 2018-2019. States had not utilized any of the funding as of July 2019, compared to 15.9 million INR ($223,940) utilized in 2018-2019. MWCD ran One-Stop Centers (OSCs) for female victims of all crimes, including sex trafficking. During the reporting period, the government allocated $44 million to improve access to OSCs and establish an additional 728 centers. It did not report if the 506 centers that were operational during the reporting period assisted any trafficking victims, and some NGOs previously reported the centers were ineffective and difficult to access.
Media, NGOs, and authorities continued to document a persistent lack of oversight and negligence in government-run, government-funded, and privately run shelters that sometimes resulted in abuse and trafficking of residents. In several cases, such homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse, at times due to alleged political connections. Nearly 380,000 children resided in more than 9,500 CCIs nationwide, and the government took some steps to document and begin increased oversight of these shelters during the reporting period. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights completed its mapping of India’s approximately 9,500 CCIs and reported one-third lacked registration and therefore operated with little or no oversight. Moreover, it reported CCIs subjected the majority of child residents, including trafficking victims, to corporal punishment, substandard food, and inadequate medical and legal assistance, and that they did not provide education or skills training. In response to this audit, the government closed 539 CCIs between 2018 and 2019 and registered others but did not report whether it filed any criminal charges against the owners and where it referred the residents. In February 2020 the Minister of Women and Child Development directed senior state officials to inspect all CCIs and implement the required monitoring and evaluation, including regular review of abuse complaints. CWCs were designed to routinely monitor victim shelters and provide updates on victims’ cases, although their efficacy varied across states. Ujjwala and Swadhar Greh homes had similar levels of non-registration. Due to a reported loophole in the law, if the government did not act on a shelter’s application in a prescribed timeframe, the organization automatically gained licensure. Whenever a license application is accepted the home must go through several inspections, but it was unclear whether authorities conducted these inspections in practice. Allegedly, some corrupt officials purposely missed the licensing deadline to allow inadequate but politically connected organizations to gain licensing. In the states that allowed audits of Ujjwala and Swadhar Greh homes, the audits documented that many homes violated minimum hygiene and safety standards, did not provide psycho-social support or educational opportunities, and operated without proper registration. Moreover, in some instances the shelters functioned as hostels and charged non-victim residents for accommodation. In Odisha, only three or four of the approximately 73 Swadhar Greh and Ujjwala homes actually housed the women the programs targeted, such as trafficking victims. Many Odisha shelters that provided livelihood training for residents used it exclusively to generate revenue for the organization. Ninety-one percent of Ujjwala and Swadhar Greh homes in Odisha state and 56 percent of shelter homes in the Delhi capital region did not have proper registration. Due to unsafe conditions and abuse by caretakers, authorities reported multiple cases in which residents, including children, ran away from these shelters during the reporting period. While some NGOs in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Telangana states offered assistance in developing SOPs for shelter monitoring and management, state governments did not prioritize these initiatives; some high-level central government officials, however, supported such SOPs. MWCD did not report an update on its drafting of a child protection policy to prevent abuse in government-run and -funded shelter homes the Supreme Court had ordered it to create in September 2018. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) implemented its SOP for identifying and responding to bonded labor cases.
Four states had child-friendly courtrooms or procedures, including some that allowed victims to testify via video conference, which improved victim participation in cases. In other cases, inadequate implementation of victim protection measures and legal assistance enshrined in law, including witness protection, led victims to refuse to participate in trials. Moreover, NGOs reported that judges closed many cases because the government did not provide adequate financial assistance to enable victims to participate in trials. While victims could obtain restitution from their traffickers in criminal cases, courts rarely awarded it. Judges could order compensation to trafficking victims through a variety of government schemes, usually funded by the central government and administered at the state level, but rarely did so. NGO analysis of government crime data showed that among 38,503 trafficking victims identified between 2010 and 2018, judges only proactively awarded compensation to 102 (less than 1 percent). In addition, state and district legal offices did not regularly inform trafficking victims that they were eligible to receive compensation. As a result, NGO analysis of the same government crime data showed that among 38,503 trafficking victims identified between 2010 and 2018, only 107 victims applied for compensation (less than 1 percent). For example, between West Bengal state’s creation of a trafficking victim compensation scheme in 2012 and August 2019, it only awarded compensation to three trafficking survivors, including in one case in September 2019 awarding a victim 603,500 INR ($8,500). Some states, including as allowed in the central government’s 2016 bonded labor scheme, controlled how victims could use this compensation, such as requiring them to put it into annuity schemes. During the reporting period, the Calcutta High Court ruled against West Bengal’s policy that limited victims to small, monthly withdrawals over 10 years.
The central government funded a program through which district officials identified bonded labor victims and provided them with “release certificates” that provided access to non-monetary assistance and, upon conviction of their trafficker, to compensation. In 2016, the government amended the program to include female sex trafficking and child forced labor victims as recipients and mandated local district authorities to provide victims immediate monetary assistance up to 20,000 INR ($280), regardless of the status of the related court case. The release of the overall compensation amounts (between 100,000 INR ($1,410) and 300,000 INR ($4,230) based on the victim’s demographics) remained contingent upon conviction of the trafficker or conclusion of magistrate processes, which could take several years. The government did not adequately implement any stage of this program, and when states did implement the program, it was often due to sustained NGO advocacy. Some states had SOPs to address bonded labor cases. The Delhi government formulated an SOP to rescue bonded labor victims. Tamil Nadu issued an SOP as a step towards eradicating bonded labor in the state by 2021. The government did not report whether any other states had bonded labor SOPs.
The government did not report how many release certificates it provided during the reporting period, compared to approximately 2,300 provided between March 2018 and March 2019. The disbursal of mandatory release certificates varied greatly between states, but in many states officials did not issue release certificates without significant advocacy from high profile NGOs, which could take multiple years. Several NGOs reported that for the more than 3,000 release certificate applications they filed between them with the Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh state governments from 2018 to 2019, the governments only provided mandatory release certificates in 43 percent of cases and mandatory interim compensation in 26 percent. In Rajasthan state, human rights lawyers reported that as of July 2019, the child bonded laborers identified and removed from exploitation in 3,600 of 6,000 cases from 2012-2019 had not received release certificates by July 2019. In Bihar, Haryana, and Telangana states, more than 70 bonded labor victims identified during the reporting period did not receive release certificates, despite persistent advocacy. In Tamil Nadu, by contrast, some NGOs reported great success collaborating with the government and securing release certificates, although some smaller NGOs had less success. In Karnataka, some NGOs only secured certificates from the government in approximately 14 percent of cases. In two notable cases, Telangana state officials provided 67 release certificates to children removed from bonded labor in a bangle factory, and Odisha and Karnataka states provided release certificates to 211 bonded laborers removed from a brick kiln. Some NGOs noted Uttar Pradesh state improved provision of the interim compensation to bonded labor victims. Authorities continued to misidentify bonded labor or treat it as labor exploitation, child labor, or minimum wage violations and not provide victims the mandatory 20,000 INR ($280) owed upon identification. Some police were unaware these protections applied to trafficking victims whom traffickers had trapped with force or other forms of coercion. For example, Gujarat state officials denied release certificates and compensation to nearly 100 trafficking victims because the employer had used physical force instead of debt to compel them to work. Arunachal Pradesh authorities refused to recognize or provide mandatory release certifications and compensation to bonded laborers identified by NGOs because it claimed it had eradicated bonded labor in 1998. The central government reported it had adequate funding to provide initial compensation to all identified bonded laborers, and the 2016 scheme required each state to have a permanent fund with at least one million INR ($14,080) at all times for district magistrates to use exclusively for bonded labor victims. However, Bihar claims the central government has not reimbursed them for prior bonded labor compensation and many states did not have the established fund, which delayed compensation. NHRC could and did order law enforcement and district officials to provide release certificates to bonded labor victims. While NHRC was often effective in securing release certificates when NGOs or bonded labor victims requested its assistance, it required significant time and persistent follow-up from NGOs. Although the NHRC could issue orders to state and local officials to provide release certificates to individuals, there was no penalty for noncompliance.
Due to a lack of proactive victim identification, the widespread tendency to handle bonded labor cases administratively in lieu of criminal prosecution, and stalled bonded labor prosecutions, authorities recognized full compensation remained extremely difficult. In Telangana state, the government did not provide full compensation to any of 1,174 bonded labor victims removed from exploitation from 2012-2019 because it did not convict any traffickers under the BLSA. In April 2019, an Indian high court awarded full compensation to one bonded labor victim upon conviction of her trafficker—the only provision of full compensation since the fund’s 2016 amendment. While the 2016 scheme also required states to provide non-cash benefits, including employable skills training, provision of such services remained weak or nonexistent.
Foreign victims had the same access to shelter and services as Indian nationals. Government policy on foreign victims dictated their return to their country of origin at the earliest possible time. Authorities detained foreign sex trafficking victims in shelters until deportation, and both repatriation of foreign victims seeking to return home and deportation of victims could take years due to bureaucratic constraints. Some officials refused to repatriate victims until they had provided testimony in prosecutions against their traffickers. The government reviewed its 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Government of Bangladesh on identification and repatriation of Bangladeshi trafficking victims. The lengthy and complex approval system forced some Bangladeshi victims to languish in Indian shelters for six years before repatriation. The government provided some funding to NGOs to repatriate child trafficking victims but did not offer financial assistance for repatriation of adults. Some embassies facilitated repatriation of Indian trafficking victims. Six Indian embassies abroad, primarily in the Gulf, had shelters that could temporarily house female migrant workers with serious indicators of forced labor. Suspected trafficking victims in the two embassy shelters in Oman reported the shelters did not provide adequate food and basic amenities or allow the victims to contact family. Reportedly, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana coordinated with India’s foreign missions in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries to repatriate some trafficking victims during the reporting period.
Authorities did not have procedures to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations and arrested, fined, penalized, and deported some adult and child trafficking victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. Penalization of trafficking victims was not systematic, but penalization most often occurred against sex trafficking victims for immigration violations and prostitution offenses. The government required Indians who received a visa from a foreign government indicating the person was a trafficking victim in the foreign country or was a family member of a victim to provide documentation of the trafficking experience in order to renew their passports or travel. In 2016 and 2017, the government stamped the passports of some recipients of the foreign government’s visas, for both trafficking victims and their eligible family members, identifying them as trafficking victims involved in a particular investigation or civil or criminal case. While the stamp requested authorities permit the visa holder to travel without hindrance, some NGOs familiar with this practice noted it made some victims fearful of reprisal and penalization and served as a deterrent to victims interacting with authorities. Some victims previously cited lengthy delays, requests from the government for private or otherwise sensitive information, and inconsistent application of the policy when attempting to renew their passports.