India: Border guards - critical stakeholders in combating human trafficking

Human trafficking exploits the vulnerability of human beings, especially women and children, in complete violation of their human rights. According to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates, there are at least 2.4 million trafficked persons at any given point in time and annual profits generated from trafficking in human beings are as high as $32 billion. Victims are subjected to a range of exploitation such as commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour, beggary, domestic work, organ trade etc.

In its efforts to support the prevention and control of human trafficking, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with the financial support of the European Union is implementing a global project focused on 'Promoting the implementation of the Trafficking Protocol and the Smuggling Protocol, both supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC)'.

Under this initiative, UNODC in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India and the Border Security Force (BSF) organized a 'National Level Training Workshop for border control officers, front line officers and other relevant actors in victim identification and referral for appropriate treatment and reintegration of trafficked survivors'. The three day workshop took place from 6 to 8 June at the Border Security Force (BSF) Head Quarters in Siliguri, North Bengal.

The training programme for the first time brought together 40 participants from the BSF - manning the Indo-Bangladesh border and Sashastra Seema Bal - manning the Indo-Nepal border. Mr P R S Vijay Raj, DIG BSF delivered the inaugural address and stressed the importance of training border guards who are the first point of contact in  cases of cross border trafficking. He also discussed the importance of victim identification and urged the border guards to effectively differentiate between the victims and the traffickers and not treat victims as perpetrators.

Over the three day workshop, participants learnt about international and national frameworks on human trafficking. Internationally, the UN Trafficking Protocol which complements the UNTOC, deals with the prevention of human trafficking, promotes cooperation among state parties and protects and assists victims. In India, the 1949 UN Convention Against Trafficking gave rise to the first Indian law against trafficking and prostitution - The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA). The goal behind this act was to inhibit the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution as an organized means of living.

The training highlighted the role of border guards in pre-rescue, during rescue and post rescue operations. Major routes used by traffickers across the Indo-Bangladesh border were identified and Benapole, Chapainawabganj, Akhauwra, Poladanga were some of the towns marked as entry points into India. Intelligence gathering through local police stations, panchayats (village councils) and NGOs was established as an effective way to prevent human trafficking.

Representatives from reputed NGOs such as Prajwala based in Andhra Pradesh, Contact Base and Sanlaap from West Bengal interacted with the participants and discussed the importance of the collaboration between border guards and NGOs, where by the border guards are able to successfully identify victims with the help of local NGOs and also refer them to appropriate NGOs as the first step to rehabilitation.

The participants engaged in lively discussions and participated in team building exercises that furthered the importance of effective border vigilance in collaboration with the police, NGOs and the local community to prevent human trafficking.

At the onset of the training many participants felt that victims who lived in such abject poverty might be better off with the promise of 2 daily meals. However, during the course of their interaction with the NGO representatives they got a glimpse into a day in the life of a trafficked victim and realized that no human being should ever go through such physical, emotional and mental torment.

Click here to view the Training Programme

The workshop was conducted under the global project 'Promoting the implementation of the Trafficking Protocol and the Smuggling Protocol, both supplementing the UNTOC' with the financial support of the European Union.