//India on US 'special watch list' for human trafficking

India on US 'special watch list' for human trafficking

Washington, Jan 23 (IANS) India figures among 39 countries placed on a US "special watch list" of nations deemed to warrant special scrutiny of their anti-trafficking efforts under a 2003 US law.

The government of India has made some progress in combating its significant problem of human trafficking since the release of a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for 2006, the state department said while releasing an interim assessment of these countries for 2007.

However, the government still needs to go further in designating and empowering a national agency or office, specifically tasked with carrying out an effective law enforcement response to trafficking crimes committed throughout India, it said.

Some of these countries could be downgraded to the lowest "Tier 3" – countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards under US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act (TVPRA) of 2003 – in the upcoming June 2007 TIP report if their anti-trafficking efforts this year are determined to be inadequate, it warned.

Besides India, the 2007 interim assessment covers Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Central African Republic, China, Cyprus, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates.

On India, the interim assessment said that despite estimates of a significant debt bondage situation in the country, New Delhi reported no arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of employers using bonded labour. Similarly, it did not provide evidence of any rescues of bonded labour victims.

India, however, did make moderate progress on addressing child labour between September and November. Delhi Police rescued 140 children working in zari factories and rice mills, but it is unclear how these children have been rehabilitated.

In October, the government also enacted a ban on the employment of children in domestic work or the hospitality industry with penalties including three months to two years incarceration and the possibility of fines, it noted.

Referring to India's anti-trafficking efforts, the interim report said that in September 2006, the Indian government responded to the need for a central anti-trafficking law enforcement effort by creating a two-person federal "nodal cell" responsible for collecting and analysing data of state-level law enforcement efforts.

The cell is responsible for identifying problem areas and analysing the circumstances creating these areas and monitoring action taken by state governments for combating trafficking in these areas. It is also to organise coordination meetings with nodal police officers of the states.

The government has provided significant in-kind contributions to a two-year programme by the US government funded United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh. The programme focuses on raising the awareness of police and prosecutors on the problem of trafficking and to build their capacity to investigate and prosecute people involved with trafficking, it said.

But law enforcement activity to combat human trafficking remains confined to the state level and continues to be relatively low in comparison to the estimated extent of the situation.

However, in June, two former state ministers in Jammu and Kashmir were arrested for trafficking in minor girls for commercial sexual exploitation, along with other senior government officials. Two traffickers in Delhi were also convicted and sentenced to three and seven years in prison, and another was arrested in August, it said.

In November 2006, the parliamentary committee returned the amendments to the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act to the ministry of women and child development for revision.

The committee asked the ministry to clarify language, provide a clearer delineation between criminals and victims, prioritise programmes and resources for expanded rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and recommended passage of the bill with those changes, the interim report noted.