India: Significance of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to address human trafficking

Interview with Mr G K Pillai, Union Home Secretary, Government of India

In May 2011, Government of India ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three protocols. India is one of the five countries in South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and very recently Nepal, to ratify the UNTOC.

The UNTOC was adopted by General Assembly in 2000 and came into force in 2003. The Convention is the first comprehensive and global legally binding instrument to fight transnational organized crime. The UNTOC is further supplemented by three Protocols, which target specific forms of organized crime:

1) The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,

2) The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air,

3) The Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition

On the occasion of the Indian Government ratifying the UNTOC, UNODC interviewed the Union Home Secretary, Mr G K Pillai, to understand the significance of the UNTOC and its three protocols for India, especially in the context of addressing human trafficking in the country and South Asia.

1) Please elucidate your views on the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its related protocols and its significance for India.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three supplementary protocols are comprehensive global instruments in the fight against transnational organized crime, through promotion of international cooperation to effectively prevent and combat transnational organized crime. The Central Bureau of Investigation, Government of India, has been designated as the Nodal Authority to receive and respond to all requests for assistance as a single point of contact and to act as liaison between the Ministry of External Affairs and other State parties on matters relating to the Convention as well as the Protocols.

Ratification of the Convention and its related Protocols would give India the opportunity to become a Party to future negotiations in the matter and ensure that the resolutions adopted under the Convention/Protocols are in the long term interest of the country. The Government of India believes that signing and progressive ratification of the UNTOC and its related protocols will enhance the level of international co-operation among the various State parties to the Convention in the fight against various forms of organized crime with transnational character, which are endangering not only the lives and liberties of citizens, but also affecting the very foundations of peace, progress and well being of nations and their societies in an increasingly globalised world.

The activities sought to be criminalized by the Convention/Protocols are already acts of criminal offence in India. However, in case, during the course of implementation, it is pointed out or experienced that certain further legislative/administrative/regulatory steps or mechanisms are required to be out in place, to effectively implement any particular provision(s) of the Convention or any of the Protocols, the Government of India will initiate and take such measures in accordance with the fundamental principles of our Constitution and legal system.

2) After ratification of the Convention and related protocols by India, what in your view will change, especially in terms of tackling organized crime like human trafficking?

Ratification of the Convention and related Protocols would help in combating and preventing cross border human trafficking and early repatriation of the survivors of trafficking. So far, neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Maldives are yet to ratify the Convention. Ratification by these countries would  further enable effective checking/curbing of human trafficking in the South Asian region.

3) What in your view is the extent and magnitude of human trafficking in India - both internal and external trafficking?

The movement of trafficked persons from Indian states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is reportedly high with the major destination points being Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Goa. Recently, various reports have been received regarding trafficking of children from the North Eastern states. Recently, in addition to sexual exploitation, trafficked persons are used for forced labour, some are forced into marriages, some fall prey to organ transplanting rackets and some children end up in Middle-East countries as camel jockeys.

It is difficult to estimate the magnitude of the problem because of the clandestine nature of operations. However, intra-country trafficking is the principal mode and is estimated to account for over 90% of the total volume.

4) Are there any recommendations you would make to the Government's existing strategy to address human trafficking from a national as well as a regional perspective?

The mandate for prevention and combating trafficking in persons has received significant attention from the Government of India, which has adopted a multi-pronged strategy by building strong linkages and partnerships with various stakeholders including civil society, NGOs, international organisations, the corporate sector etc to build an integrated response to combating trafficking and related transnational organized crime.

India has already ratified the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, 2002 and the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare, 2002 in South Asia.

At the national level, India plans to set up 332 Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) at  the District Level. There are Nodal Officers appointed for each state. Even the Ministry of Home Affairs has identified a Division to work as Nodal Authority for human trafficking. These efforts will link up to regional initiatives.

Recognising the insidious nature of trafficking and lack of socio-economic support for survivors of trafficking, the Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to address the issue. A combination of measures is being undertaken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, (MWCD) which include a legislative framework in the form of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA, 1956) and other criminal law provisions, schemes and programmes for awareness generation, capacity building and empowerment of vulnerable groups.

The MWCD has also been implementing the 'Ujjawala' Scheme, which is a comprehensive scheme for prevention of trafficking and rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims. Under the 'Ujjawala' Scheme, survivors of trafficking and their children can avail safe shelter with basic provisions of food, clothing, counselling, medical care and legal aid. The Scheme provides vocational training and income generation activities also. Under the prevention component, it focuses on formation of community vigilance groups/adolescent groups.

5) What in your view is required to increase prosecutions/convictions of human traffickers?

To increase prosecutions/convictions of human traffickers, awareness generation and sensitisation among law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judicial officers and NGOs is essential. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has taken steps to sensitise police personnel, prosecutors and other social development departments, such as Labour, Health, Women and Child etc. In this connection, MHA in association with Bureau of Police Research and Development, (BRR&D) has conducted six regional level training of trainer (TOT) workshops. States are in the process of imparting further training to police personnel and prosecutors at state/district level.

The Government of Maharashtra state has set up a dedicated fast track court in Mumbai, which is functioning very effectively in securing conviction of traffickers.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has also sanctioned a comprehensive scheme "Strengthening Law Enforcement Response in India against Trafficking in Persons" focusing on training and capacity building, wherein it proposes to establish 332 Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) throughout the country.

6) How do you see the Government of India's role in fostering and enhancing international cooperation in order to tackle organised crime in South Asia?

The ratification of the UNTOC and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, would be very useful in South Asia, as it would provide the legal basis for co-operation on issues related to human trafficking.

India is committed to foster and enhance international/regional cooperation to tackle organized crime in South Asia, as it has high stakes involved.

Within the SAARC, trafficking in women and children is a serious issue and the two Conventions have already been adopted at the SAARC level, namely (i) The SAARC Convention on Combating and Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, 2002 (ii) Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, 2008. India has ratified both these Conventions.

The scope of the SAARC Convention focuses on trafficking in women and children for commercial sexual exploitation. However, since the definition of trafficking under the UNTOC being broader in scope, it would address trafficking in general as well as issues relating to forced labour, slavery, servitude or the removal of organs and hence it will address other forms of organized crime as well.

7) What role do you foresee for UNODC, especially in the implementation of the UNTOC and related protocols in India?

UNODC may provide technical assistance to enable countries to forge consensus in the implementation of the Convention/Protocols. It may facilitate organizing regional trainings which could serve as forums for sharing experiences and best practices. UNODC may share its expertise and the various tools it has developed with Governmental agencies/authorities, providing them technical support to carry out their role effectively during the implementation process.

UNODC may also assist in projecting and disseminating India's position to other State parties in a suitable manner and with an appropriate perspective.


Read our previous web story: India: Government ratifies two UN Conventions related to transnational organized crime and corruption

Click here to know more about the UNTOC and its three protocols.