Only three out of 429 traffickers convicted in last 10 years: Research

 Only three out of 429 traffickers convicted in last 10 years: Research

Lack of legal support to survivors and prolonged trails give impunity to traffickers, a major reason behind increasing cases of human trafficking in India

Only three out of 429 people named as “traffickers” in police and legal documents related to over hundred cases of human trafficking have been convicted in the past 10 years, finds a new research, providing enough evidence to understand why human trafficking continues to grow unabated in the country.
The research, carried out by analysing case documents such as charge sheets, FIRs and police general diaries related to 198 human trafficking cases, found that out of 429 named offenders only three (or less than one per cent) were convicted with punishments ranging between five and seven years of imprisonment whereas 10 accused have been acquitted due to lack of evidence in cases that continued over several years. The research revealed that 68 traffickers have been given bail, and in investigations linked to five traffickers have been continuing for over a decade now.
“The low conviction and high acquittal figures found in the research cast doubts in the efficacy of investigations by law-enforcement agencies in human trafficking cases,” said Snigdha Sen, who conducted the analysis by studying legal documents availed from courts and police stations of cases involving over 173 survivors of human trafficking from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
“The findings reaffirm the belief that traffickers enjoy a high degree of impunity because of the lacklustre investigation, and lack of retribution encourages them to carry on with their crimes that leads to surge in incidents of human trafficking,” added Sen who has, for this analysis, collaborated with several organisations such as HELP from Andhra Pradesh, Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra from West Bengal and Partners for Anti Trafficking (PAT) – a consortium of eight community-based organisations in West Bengal. These organisations have come together to support survivors of human trafficking for their rehabilitation and protection under an access to justice programme called Tafteesh.

The evidence of traffickers enjoying impunity is strengthened from the research as it found 31 out of the 429 traffickers appear to be repeat offenders who are accused in multiple cases of human trafficking, and all their victims were children and adolescents. These 31 have committed 91 (or 19%) of total crimes analysed for this research.
“Impunity of traffickers is one of the key reasons why West Bengal is not being able to arrest human trafficking despite several good initiatives and efforts by the Government, including the police and NGOs. The research clearly indicates that currently, traffickers – who are in the business of recruiting girls and young women in this state and selling them off in other states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Telangana or Goa, have little accountability to the system.
As they grow wealthier, they recruit others to join them in spotting, recruiting and trafficking other vulnerable children and adolescents. The reason these investigations are so prolonged and prosecutions are so weak is that over 99% of these cases are investigated by the police of local police stations, who have restricted time and resources for their investigations. They restrict their investigations to the local precincts, and do not take the investigations to destination states to look for evidence to show nexus between traffickers in West Bengal and pimps and brothel owners in destination states,” said co-researcher Roop Sen, a human rights activist who has been working on the issue of human trafficking for over 20 years.
“It is critical that all cases of human trafficking are investigated by Anti Human Trafficking units, which are meant to be specialised in investigations of trafficking case. The AHTU in the CID in West Bengal has done a commendable job in investigations of trafficking crimes, which have reflected in successful convictions. It would augur well for the governments of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh to notify AHTUs in districts where there are high number of cases of trafficking to strengthen investigations and prosecutions. The decision by the Ministry of Home Affairs to have the NIA to look into human trafficking cases is a positive move. However, a key step to build an integrated system of law enforcement would be to build a coordination mechanism between AHTUs in the states and the NIA,” he added.
Speaking of the research, Salma Khatun*, who was trafficked at the age of 13, said, “I know that the traffickers involved in my case are enjoying impunity. But I am surprised to know that the status is almost the same in most of the cases studied for this research. It’s quite disheartening to know that and I think it’s now been normalised that traffickers will roam free without any fear.” Now, 22, Khatun is a member of survivors’ leaders collective Bandhan Mukti from where, she says, she draws courage to continue with her fight.
Nusrat*, a survivor whose trafficker has recently been convicted for five years of imprisonment, said, “I could not even imagine that it would ever be possible to get this trafficker punished through a trial conducted via video conferencing. But it happened, and the criminal is in jail now. I would have been much happier had the trafficker awarded life imprisonment. Nargis is associated with another group called Utthan Survivor Leaders’ Council.
Shivani*, who is associated with Andhra Pradesh-based survivor leaders collective Vimukthi, added, “I returned home after spending four years in a shelter home but I am stigmatised in my own community. People are treating me and my family as if we are some anti-social elements while the trafficker who made me to suffer so much is roaming free. I want these traffickers get punished.”

*Names of survivors have been changed to protect their identity


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