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Trafficking in Persons


The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, trafficking in persons was a significant problem. NGOs alleged that corruption at the enforcement level helps to perpetuate the problem. The country was a significant source, transit point, and destination for numerous trafficked persons, primarily for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor.

The country was a destination country for Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls trafficked for the purpose of labor and prostitution. Internal trafficking of women and children was widespread. To a lesser extent, the country is a origin for women and children trafficked to other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the West. The country serves as a transit point for Bangladeshi girls and women trafficked for sexual exploitation to Pakistan, and for boys trafficked to the Gulf States to work as camel jockeys. NGOs reported that sexual exploitation of children for sex tourism increased sharply in the states of Goa and Kerala.

Child prostitution occurred in the cities, and there were an estimated 500,000 child prostitutes nationwide. More than 2.3 million girls and women were believed to be working in the sex industry within the country at any given time, and more than 200,000 persons were believed to be trafficked into, within, or through the country annually. Women's rights organizations and NGOs estimated that more than 12,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000 women and children were trafficked into the country annually from neighboring states for the sex trade. According to an ILO estimate, 15 percent of the country's estimated 2.3 million prostitutes were children, while the U.N. reported that an estimated 40 percent were below 18 years of age. A large proportion of the women forced into sexual exploitation were tribals.

Trafficking in, to, and through the country largely was controlled by organized crime.

There was a growing pattern of trafficking in child prostitutes from Nepal and from Bangladesh (6,000 to 10,000 annually from each). Girls as young as 7 years of age were trafficked from economically depressed neighborhoods in Nepal, Bangladesh, and rural areas to the major prostitution centers of Mumbai, Calcutta, and New Delhi. NGOs estimate that there were approximately 100,000 to 200,000 women and girls working in brothels in Mumbai and 40,000 to 100,000 in Calcutta.

In West Bengal, the organized traffic in illegal Bangladeshi immigrants was a principal source of bonded labor. Calcutta was a convenient transit point for traffickers who send Bangladeshis to New Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh, and the Middle East.

Within the country, women from economically depressed areas often moved into the cities seeking greater economic opportunities, and once there were victimized by traffickers who forced or coerced them into the sex trade. In some cases, family members sold young girls into the sex trade. Extreme poverty combined with the low social status of women often resulted in the handover by parents of their children to strangers for what they believed was employment or marriage. In some instances, parents received payments or the promise that their children would send wages back home.

Many indigenous tribal women were forced into sexual exploitation. According to the Indian Center for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP), more than 40,000 tribal women, mainly from Orissa and Bihar, were forced into economic and sexual exploitation; many came from tribes that were driven off their land by national park schemes. Press reports indicated children were routinely trafficked from Assam into Haryana and other North Indian states for sexual slavery under the pretext of entering into arranged marriages.

The number of women being trafficked to other countries was comparatively low.

Some boys, often as young as age 4, were trafficked to West Asia or the Persian Gulf States and became camel jockeys in camel races. Some boys end up as beggars in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj. The majority of such children worked with the knowledge of their parents, who received as much as $200 (9,300 Rs) for their child's labor, although a significant minority simply were kidnapped. The gangs bringing the jockeys earned approximately $150 (6,975 Rs) per month from the labor of each child. The child's names were usually added to the passport of a Bangladeshi or Indian woman who already had a visa for the Gulf. Girls and women were trafficked to the Persian Gulf States to work as domestic workers or sex workers.

The National Commission for Women reported that organized crime played a significant role in the country's sex trafficking trade and that women and children who were trafficked frequently were subjected to extortion, beatings, and rape. How women were trafficked varies widely: Although some were abducted forcibly or drugged, most were trafficked through false offers of marriage, employment, or shelter. Poverty, illiteracy, and lack of employment opportunities contributed to the trafficking problem, although organized crime was a common element in all trafficking incidents, as was police corruption and collusion. Although corruption was endemic in the country, there was no known anti-corruption initiative that was linked specifically to corruption as it related to trafficking during the year. NGOs alleged that ignorance, a lack of political resolve to tackle it, and corruption at the enforcement level perpetuated the problem.

Although the police were charged with enforcing the country's laws on prostitution and trafficking in women and children, NGOs, observers, and sex workers have viewed police actions as part of the problem. Sex workers in Mumbai and Calcutta claimed that harassment, extortion, and occasional arrests on soliciting charges usually characterized police intervention. NGOs, victims, and the media continued to identify corruption at the enforcement level as an impediment to swifter and fairer justice for trafficked women and children.

Victims of trafficking were subject to threats, including emotional blackmail, violence, and confinement, as well as the threat of apprehension by authorities, detention, prosecution and deportation.

The penalty for traffickers was prescribed by the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA). If the offense had been committed against a child (under 16 years), the punishment was imprisonment for 7 years to life. If the victim was a minor (16 to 18 years), the punishment was from 7 to 14 years. Other penalties under the act range from minimum terms of imprisonment of 1 year for brothel-keeping, to minimum terms of 7 years to life imprisonment for detaining a person, with or without consent, for prostitution.

The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), supplemented by the Penal Code, prohibits trafficking in human beings and contains severe penalties for violations. The Constitution also prohibits trafficking in persons. The ITPA toughened penalties for trafficking in children, particularly by focusing on traffickers, pimps, landlords, and brothel operators, while protecting underage girls as victims. The ITPA required police to use only female police officers to interrogate girls rescued from brothels. The ITPA also required the Government to provide protection and rehabilitation for these rescued girls. In addition, under the ITPA, prostitution is not a crime; the ITPA criminalizes only solicitation or engaging in sex acts in or near a public place. Some NGOs noted that this ambiguity, which was intended to protect trafficking victims, instead was exploited to protect the sex industry.

However, the country's prostitution and trafficking laws were selectively enforced by police; clients and organizers of the sex trade tended not to be penalized, while prostitutes found soliciting or practicing their trade in or near (200 yards) public places were arrested. Due to the selective implementation, the "rescue" of sex workers from brothels often led to their revictimization. Using the ITPA's provisions against soliciting or engaging in sexual acts, police regularly arrest sex workers, extort money from them, evict them, and take their children from them. Clients of prostitutes, by comparison, largely were immune from any law enforcement threat, as clients committed a crime only if they had engaged in a sex act with a sex worker in a public place or had had sex with a girl under the age of 16 years (statutory rape). Therefore, although the intention of the ITPA was to increase enforcement efforts against the traffickers, pimps, and border operators, the opposite occurred. Implementation of the ITPA's provisions for protection and rehabilitation of women and children rescued from the sex trade was extremely poor. NGOs familiar with the legal history of prostitution and trafficking laws regarded the failure of the judiciary to recognize this inequity in the law's implementation as a continuing "blind spot." Over the last several years, arrests and prosecutions under the ITPA increased slightly, while all indications suggested a growing level of trafficking into and within the country.

NGOs and others alleged that police did not act effectively against brothels suspected of enslaving minors, and did not coordinate with NGOs. Therefore, the police action often worsened the situation of girls and women indebted to traffickers and brothel owners. Girls rescued from brothels were treated as criminals. In many cases, the police or the staff of government remand centers, where they were housed temporarily, abused them sexually. In most cases, arrested prostitutes were quickly returned to the brothels after the brothel operators paid bribes to the authorities. In still other cases, arrested prostitutes were released into the custody of traffickers and madams posing as relatives. In these cases, the debt owned by the girls to the brothel operators and traffickers further increases as the costs of bribing or legally obtaining release of the girls is added to their labor debt.

NGOs also have demanded that special ITPA courts for speedy resolution of cases allow videotaped testimony so that underage victims need not be summoned back for trial. For example, videotaped testimony was allowed during a Mumbai trial.

The Government continued a campaign to improve police training and sensitivity to trafficking issues. According to NGOs, there were improvements in investigations and arrests of traffickers in Mumbai and Calcutta. During the year, police and NGOs rescued 12 minor girls from brothels in New Delhi. There were roughly 80 NGOs in ten states around the country working for the emancipation and rehabilitation of women and children trafficked into the sex trade. A group on child prostitution established by the NHRC includes representatives from the National Commission for Women, the Department of Women and Child Development, NGOs, and UNICEF. It continued to meet throughout the year to devise means of improving enforcement of legal prohibitions.

Some NGOs were very knowledgeable about the trafficking situation and could identify traffickers and the locations of girls being held captive by brothel owners. However, most of these NGOs were reluctant to trust the police with this information due to the past conduct of police in brothel raids and the likelihood that many trafficking victims would be arrested and revictimized rather than assisted by such raids. Press reports in August said the 37 girls had been successfully rescued due to the joint efforts of the state government of Maharashtra and a local NGO.

Efforts to improve NGO coordination were being made in Calcutta, where 10 NGOs met monthly as part of the Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (AATSEC) forum. Every 3 months, the group attempted to meet with its Bangladeshi and Nepalese counterparts. Calcutta NGOs such as Sanlaap also were seeking to build stronger working relationships with local police.

The Government cooperated with groups in Nepal and Bangladesh to deal with the problem. Training and informational meetings took place under the AATSEC and the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. The NHRC asked the committee that oversees the Hajj (pilgrimage) to require individual passports for children instead of allowing them to be included on that of their escort, in order to reduce trafficking of children. NHRC also advised the Government of West Bengal to make efforts to educate Muslims about child trafficking. In addition, the Central Police Academy conducted, in conjunction with local state police academies, improved training designed in part to sensitize officers to the problem of trafficking and strengthen police responsiveness to trafficking victims.