The Time to Act Against Child Trafficking is Now: Evelien Hölsken

Envision this: Your fundamental rights and freedom has been snatched away from you. You are being forced to work against your will, and persistently live under the threat of uncertainty and violence; eventually ending up as a slave. This is the reality for millions of children, women, and men who are trapped in the global human trafficking industry.

Human Trafficking is a complex global and national problem harming its victims physically, psychologically and financially. The ambiguity of the definition makes it difficult to gather statistics and allows governments, organizations, and researchers to claim that there are millions of trafficking victims worldwide on the basis of little more than hyperbolic deductions. While trafficking is a crime that can take many forms; the most conniving form of it is sex trafficking comprising of 76% of human trafficking cases in India.

An estimated 1.2 million children are forced into the vicious circle of forced child prostitution. This has gained prominence in rural and poor sections of India where girls are viewed as a burden on their parents due to poverty and lack of social education, and are often sold or married off, thereby paving way to sex trafficking.

For traffickers, girls have been the primary targets of immoral trafficking in India. What makes the business of human trafficking unique is that women and girls sold into sex trafficking earn profits for their procurer and traffickers over a great number of years, unlike the profits earned from drugs and narcotics that are sold and used only once.

The amount of prosecutions against those involved in these crimes is significantly low in India. Cases are often dropped due to lack of evidence and the insufficient capacity of the courts and legal system to deal with the multitude of cases. Traffickers are motivated by high profits and the low risk due to weak law enforcement and low levels of prosecution.

Victims face low protection and are reluctant to cooperate with investigators, as they fear retaliation from their trafficker. Even after victims are rescued and a criminal case is lodged, the subsequent prosecution often does not result in conviction. Instead victims are harassed and intimidated, in addition to poor investigations, slow trials and insensitive court environments. This calls for specialized training for lawyers that deal with human trafficking cases along with effective data collection for the purpose of prosecution.

While India has more people enslaved than any other country, it has made significant progress in introducing measures to tackle the problem. The government has significantly put efforts in identifying the number of victims and getting traffickers convicted, as well as providing sufficient budgets for shelter programs for female and child trafficking victims. However, the conviction rate and the number of prosecutions was disproportionately low relative to the scale of trafficking in India. In 2015, there were only 55 cases that actually led to convictions. That’s 1.2 million children in prostitution vs. 55 legal cases!

To tackle human trafficking, punishment of offenders must be pursued along with legal action to seize the assets and profits of traffickers. Until the entire chain feels the heat of the prosecuting agencies with active support from NGOs and Civil Society, our children will continue to be threatened by this social evil.

It’s hard to say if one universal trafficking law can be enforced for a country as large and regionally diverse as India. At the same time, factors like corruption and lack of training and resources make it difficult to ensure that programs are effective.

As American politician Alexis Herman rightly mentions, “If we can’t begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labour, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future.”

The time to act is now.