Special Feature: World Day against Trafficking in Persons

UNODC Deep Dive Dialogue: "Survivors must be an integral part of the response to human trafficking," say experts


UNODC South Asia presents its latest e-feature, the "Deep Dive" Dialogues, an effort to foster an open dialogue between leading changemakers and to bring to you the best of insights on security, justice and health.

New Delhi, India/July 30, 2018: Calling for stronger collaborations to address trafficking in persons, an eminent panel of experts convened by the UNODC Regional Office for South Asia underscored the need to make survivors an integral part of the dialogue and response to the issue.   

In an exclusive interaction with UNODC's  Samarth Pathak , Dr. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, Ms. Shireen Vakil, Head-Policy and Advocacy, Tata Trusts, and Mr. Sergey Kapinos, Representative, UNODC South Asia also emphasised the importance of an effective legal implementation framework to address human trafficking and welcomed ongoing efforts by the government in this direction.

Watch the complete video here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NroiMxv_R74

Following are selected excerpts from the discussion 

Q: How has the situation with regard to trafficking in persons evolved over the last five years?

Shireen Vakil: I think one of the biggest changes with regard to the issue of human trafficking is the use of technology. In the past, whilst it was done very much directly through middlemen, or through people that the victims kind of knew, now the whole area of technology makes it much harder to identify and track who the traffickers are. Moreover, traffickers can now reach the people, the women and the girls, much more directly. I think that has been one major change: the ability of technology to connect across countries has gotten much easier.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: I comment from a different perspective. Two things characterise what is happening in India: one is that as the squeeze of enforcement tightens on countries around India, the demand is being funnelled into India and other countries where enforcement is lax. Point number two: what I have noticed over the past four years in India is that there is a lot less fear about reporting. While the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics point to a large number, I do not think that is really directly correlated to more crime as much as more reporting. I think both these aspects are clearly defining public policy responses and action. Therefore, there is much more visibility of these crimes and there is clearly a larger demand funnelling into India, because of our perception of our laxed enforced marketplace, if you want to call it that.

Sergey Kapinos: If we look at a span of not 5 but 10 years, the difference will be more vivid and more conspicuous. Trafficking in Persons is really a global crime, and its scale, unfortunately, is on the rise. We can now talk about more than 500 global flows of trafficking. Moreover, the channels for trafficking in drugs are also being used for trafficking in prisons, and vice versa. Now, the challenge is that the composition of crime has also changed: ten years ago, the main focus of the traffickers was sexual exploitation, and a vast majority of victims were women. But now, more and more children are becoming victims of trafficking and our latest statistics show that 28% of all victims of trafficking are children and 21% are men. This is another trend towards increasing the percentage of forced and bonded labour. Nearly 4 out of 10 victims of trafficking are aimed at forced labour.  The other challenge is corruption--it is corruption which enables traffickers to penetrate and cross borders, and this should be tackled as well.

Q: Dr. Chandrasekhar, how do you perceive the political response to this issue?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: As I said, I am a technologist and my entire career in politics has been about technology. I was exposed to this issue in 2014, because of a citizen who came to me with this problem. And I was shocked by the apathy, the lack of knowledge and the general insensitivity not just of the political class but also of the next level, the administrative and the bureaucratic class.

This represents the biggest and the clearest danger in any fight against trafficking or to protect children, which is that the top layer of policy making in this country has been, for many years, almost silent to this issue- following the ostrich in sand mentality to this, by being in complete denial. However, in the past few years, both the media in India and the political class have woken up to this being not an aberrational situation, but a huge crime that is being committed under their noses.

The Trafficking in Persons Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, so I think the policy makers have woken up to the issue. It is belated, but it is better late than never, as they say. There is a lot of catch-up that needs to be done especially with regard to the institutional response on the issue of enforcement. There is also a lot more to be done in terms of actually helping resolve the issue of financial vulnerabilities of the victims. I think as a nation we are waking up to this problem.

Q: Ms Vakil, what is the impact of human trafficking from the victims' point of view? What are some of the vulnerabilities that the victims face, especially the women and children?

Shireen Vakil: The impact is huge, really, because the victim's whole life is kind of devastated. And in many cases, there are a very large number of children, both girls and boys. Traffickers prey not only on the economic situation of the victims, but also on people's dreams and aspirations. Often, it is a known person, who lures the victim, either with promises of money or going to a big city, wearing lipstick, learning English and a lot of stuff like that.

Then of course, when they get them, they don't pay. The victims are often subjected to, even if it is not for sexual exploitation or labour, to a lot of harassment and violence. And even when they are rescued, there is often a huge amount of stigma on them. Many times, even their own families do not take them back. They have no other livelihood; there are not a lot of places of shelter for them either. So the vulnerabilities are definitely economic in nature. And that is why you see where people get trafficked from. Especially when you have situations, where let us say there are disasters (floods, droughts) or in conflict situations, people are much more vulnerable.  For the victims, there are huge health issues-mental as well as psycho-social issues- as they really have nowhere to belong. The statistics in India show that about 60% of trafficking victims are children, out of which 45% is for labour. There is also a skewed sex ratio and a lot of trafficking for brides. So it's really quite bad and I think much more really needs to be done.

Q: How do we bring survivors of human trafficking into the response and into the dialogue?

Sergey Kapinos: I believe the most effective way is to address it systematically, which means to begin with policies--developing victim-centred policies. In this sense, I believe that the most important element is building partnerships between the government and civil society. If this is done and if the status or image of a victim is not stigmatized, then it will be a way to develop a role model for all victims, which would address not only the victims or potential victims but society in general.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: The answer to the question is- just by examining what has happened in India in the last three years -every response by the Government of India has been a consequence of the victim or the victims' families rising up and saying silence is not a solution, apathy is not acceptable. I have worked with many victims and their families, and they have an important role to be used - 'used' not in a negative way - to trigger a very apathetic institutional network into waking up. You saw in Gurgaon, when the families stood up and forced the government both at the centre and the state to take action. In Karnataka, for example, it was the very brave mother of the victim who decided that she can go on camera and talk about the experiences to force the prosecution into action.

So the centre piece for any action in India, to really galvanize and move forward at a faster pace to make up for all the lost years, is to get the victims involved in this dialogue. This is to create urgency, a sense of responsibility within the police, prosecution and the judiciary. I believe the victims have an important role in telling other victims that it is not okay to be silent, it is not okay to be under a self-imposed taboo or stigma. It is not a stigma, it is a crime and it is obligatory on the part of the families to go out and do the right thing.

Shireen Vakil: Definitely, survivors should be involved as a part of the systematic response. For instance, there are anti-human trafficking units at different levels and survivors should be a part of that, especially the trafficked children- who are doubly vulnerable, in all sorts of ways.

Then, there is the issue of rehabilitation. For instance, the kind of places you have for rescued women are often like jails or detention centres! And they do not want to be there, they just want to get out. But the system just doesn't respond to it. So we need to look at different ways, different means, and hear from them. Similarly, as a prevention mechanism, there is work to be done on the law enforcement side as well but this is a social issue. There is a lot of work that can be done with the community-by having survivors work with younger girls or getting people who are forced into harsh labour situations to interact with communities. It is important to create awareness that this could happen to anyone, that this is what a victims needs to do, or that this is how a case of trafficking can be reported. Survivors should be a part of our dialogue and response.

Q: The Lok Sabha passed the Trafficking in Persons Bill last week. What are your thoughts on it and how big a development is this in the fight against trafficking?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: Here is my view on this: I think there will be the required or the anticipated debate and discourse about whether the bill is perfect or not. I have been in Parliament for 12 years and I can assure you that no Bill that has been passed has been perfect from the get go. For me, this is an important moment in the overall evolution of India as a much more caring country, as a country which is much more responsible about these kinds of crime. This is a bill that is a work in progress. I have absolutely no doubt that over the course of next few years, there will be amendments to the bill. The bill is a centrepiece to the political vision and the national vision that India is no longer open for business to those who want to exploit women, children, boys etc. We need to back this up with the institutional strengths, the capacities and capabilities. But this is a good starting point and I am pleased.

Sergey Kapinos: This is a good initiative, but the point is that there should be space for a public discussion even after the adoption of this bill. One more issue is that in many countries, there is a gap between laws and implementation. There should be an immediate focus on implementation, and some kind of bylaws or standard operating procedures should be envisioned to make these laws workable and have a real impact.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: Indeed. If you see the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) legislation, it was enacted with a great deal of sincerity and good intentions but the gap between the POCSO implementation, the institutional capacities, the need to implement POCSO and the intent of POCSO are very wide. But the reason I am optimistic is that there has been so much debate and discourse and visibility around this bill, which was not there when POCSO was passed.

Shireen Vakil: I think a new bill on trafficking--one that looked at trafficking more comprehensively--was needed. In our country, we have some really good legislation and schemes in place, but the whole problem is that of implementation. In India, nearly 40% of our population are children. Women comprise a chunk of the population as well but look at the resources that we allocate for these groups. Look at the budget allocation for protection, for instance: it is less than even one percent. We have a child protection scheme, district child protection units etc. but the money allocated is very small. So we really do need to invest in these issues as a country. We have to think about it, think about how this bill will be enforced and what structures need to be in place. For instance, who is going to work with the police? It has to be a social worker-for a victim, more harassment is the last thing they need.

Sergey Kapinos: I believe that we should not forget that trafficking persons is a gross violation of human rights and any bill should be focussed on the protection of human rights. Trafficking in Persons is not something that is separated from other developments and processes in the society, and in many cases, this is about social perception of violence or attitude towards women, and children. In this sense, I analyse the crime of human trafficking against the backdrop of gender-based violence.

Q: Mr Kapinos, how does UNODC respond to this issue globally and what are some of the best practices that can be useful in the Indian context?

Sergey Kapinos: UNODC has developed a systematic approach towards countering this kind of transnational crime, one that is based on collecting, collating and analysing information. Without understanding clearly what we are facing, it is impossible to combat any crime. So UNODC conducts regular global and regional studies and shares relevant information with the member states. We also help in accessing different international legal instruments. The next stage is to support governments in implementing the international provisions and adopting laws. But this is not enough-we are also invested and involved in institution and capacity building of the key stakeholders. Another very effective way to address trafficking is through 'mock trials'. We have had some good experiences in India in this direction. UNODC assisted India in establishing anti-human trafficking units within police and facilitated capacity-building for personnel from the Border Security Force and the Seema Suraksha Bal. Indeed, capacity building can be only effective subject to availability of good effective governance mechanism. In this regard, we build bridges between civil society and authorities. This is done in India as well as in other South Asian countries but the scale has to be much bigger. I call upon the government representatives and civil society organisations to be more focused on building such bridges.

Q: How can we strengthen collaborations between the stakeholders-UN, government, lawmakers, civil society and the private sector-to break the silos and collectively address human trafficking?

Shireen Vakil: I think such dialogues are a starting point. It is important that civil society, the bureaucracy, politicians and academia come together to discuss these issues. An important effort has been made by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)--we have conducted a national level study under which data on trafficking in India has been collected. Once that is out, we will be sharing it with the key stake holders, especially at the state level to exchange ideas. Also, there needs to be greater dialogue around the Trafficking in Persons Bill, to bring people together, to make people aware that this is a key challenge that the country faces, especially in terms of the economic and social costs.

The other aspect is that of technology: trafficking in persons is an instance where technology can do a lot of good and also where it can be abused and used to make things even worse. The question is how can we use technology to counter this crime? I think there are ways and means to do that and we should be looking at that.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: One point that I think people have not understood is that this bill will now come to the Rajya Sabha and the odds are that it will be referred to a Select Committee. This Select Committee will then go into extensive public consultation. So, the bill passed by the Lok Sabha is not the bill that will be passed. There is a window for consultation to be there.

As regards the avenues for stronger cooperation, I think like this "Deep Dive" Dialogue, there must be increased collaborations that create a common narrative. I say this because the one thing I have experienced in dealing with NGOs and activists is that everyone looks at it in a small slice. A common narrative can be built by working with the United Nations, working with the activists, Tata Trusts, politicians and Members of Parliament, on something like a strategy document for the nation--a five pager on human trafficking that says here is what we want at a policy level, here is what we want at the institutional capacity level, here is what we want at the inter-state coordination.

So there is a lot that can be achieved with collaboration, let there be no doubt about that. I think it is a good thing to do and I would encourage it. I will be happy to bring more and more Members of Parliament into the dialogue and to collaborate with the UN, NGOs and activists because that is the way to solve problems.

Sergey Kapinos: Moulding partnerships is crucial because trafficking in persons is a multi-faceted phenomenon. All stake holders should be involved. It is important to build partnerships between law enforcement agencies as well, because in some cases, there is no coordination between law enforcement and judiciary, between authorities and civil societies, between civil society and educational institutions. This is also about building partnerships on a regional and international scale--signing good agreements and developing mechanisms for instance. The latest development spearheaded by UNODC is towards involving South Asian countries into a regional information sharing mechanism on international crime, which is of utmost importance. So this project is underway and we are awaiting official endorsements from the governments of South Asian countries. On a global scale this is the third largest global coverage and financial implications crime. The figure for 2016 is that the overall tenure of trafficking in persons is 150 billion USD. One can only imagine what kind of the kind of resources they possess. And it means that the law enforcement agencies of different countries should join hands.

There are good examples of collaborations within the UN system. For instance different UN organizations have joined hands to develop an 'Essential Services Package' for trafficking survivors. This is an outstanding achievement with a focus on victims and there are very good accomplishments in this area. In addition, last year, UNODC established a platform in combatting trafficking in persons, in partnership with UN Women. This is an open platform and any either governmental or civil society entity can join it.