The US state department has said in a new report that children as young as 14 are recruited and used by non-state armed groups, referring to terror organisations, against the government in Jammu and Kashmir.
The latest “Trafficking in Persons Report 2019”, released on Thursday, also said children aged just 12 are forcibly used by Maoist rebels to handle weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and in some cases, act as human shields.
The report further said Maoist rebels indulge in sexual slavery in their camps, citing several women and girls earlier associated with Maoist groups.
The use of “child soldiers” for propaganda was particularly rampant in the left-wing extremism (LWE) affected states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the report said.
Asserting that India doesn’t fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, the US has kept it in the Tier 2 category of countries on the basis of its efforts. India has been placed in the Tier 2 category on human trafficking for almost a decade.
To put things in context, Tier 2 ranking is given to those countries which have not fully complied with human trafficking measures but are making efforts. Tier 1 are those countries who have fully complied with the measures.
The report said physical violence against trafficking victims – in terms of both forced labour and sex trafficking – is prevalent in India and “some traffickers force women and girls to conceive and deliver babies for sale”.
“Traffickers exploit millions of people in commercial sex within India. Traffickers target Indian women and girls but also fraudulently recruit significant numbers of Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls to India for sex trafficking. Additionally, traffickers exploit women and girls from Central Asian, European, and African countries in commercial sex, especially in Goa,” the report said.
It said that “India is a source of child sex tourists and a destination for child sex tourism”.
The report added, “Traffickers kidnap and force Indian and Nepali women and girls to work as ‘orchestra dancers’ in India, especially in Bihar state, where girls perform with dance groups until they have repaid fabricated debts. Traffickers exploit women and children in sex trafficking in religious pilgrimage centres and in tourist destinations.”
The report pointed out that human traffickers are increasingly using online technology to facilitate sex trafficking and fraudulent recruitment.
“Some traffickers kidnap children from public places, including railway stations, entice girls with drugs, and force girls as young as 5 years old in sex trafficking to take hormone injections to appear older,” it said.
In this, the report observed, some corrupt law enforcement officers have a major role to play as they “protect suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement efforts and take bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims”.
Not just that, the report noted that traffickers arrange sham marriages within India and West Asian states to subject females to sex trafficking.
According to the report, authorities have recently identified Indian forced labour victims in Armenia, Portugal, Gabon, and Zambia, and Indian female sex trafficking victims in Kenya.
“Traffickers exploit Rohingya, Sri Lankan Tamil, and other refugee populations in sex and labour trafficking. Traffickers subject some boys from Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh states to forced labour in Nepal,” it added.
Criticising the Indian government, the US state department said that “the government decreased investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers, and the acquittal rate for traffickers increased to 83%”.
It added, “Law enforcement decreased victim identification efforts, and the government reported it had only identified approximately 313,000 bonded labourers since 1976 — less than four percent of NGOs’ estimates of at least eight million trafficking victims in India, the majority of which are bonded labourers.”
It further said: “NGOs estimated police did not file FIRs in at least half of reported bonded labour cases, and inconsistent with NGO reports, 17 of 36 states and territories did not identify any bonded labour victims in 2017 or 2018.”
Citing data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the report said that in 2018, the Indian government reported 1,830 trafficking cases under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a continued decrease from 2,854 cases in 2017 and 5,217 cases in 2016.
The US report has a specific mention of the CBI probe into the sexual abuse of girls and boys in shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The CBI, the report said, completed investigations into the 16 most abusive shelters and filed charges in 12 additional cases. The CBI filed an additional 19 FIRs against some of the 94 other state-funded shelter homes in Bihar.
“Despite this action in Bihar, the lack of investigations into suspected trafficking crimes and broader physical and sexual abuse of trafficking victims at government-run and -funded shelters in other states due to widespread negligence created an atmosphere of impunity for shelter employees and government officials to engage in trafficking,” the report said.
The report particularly blamed Indian police for widespread impunity for trafficking crimes.
“Some police and administration officials maintained the view that society had the right to put lower caste individuals in bonded and child labour, which sometimes impeded identification and investigation of such cases. NGOs across multiple states reported politically connected individuals, including local and state politicians who held workers in bonded labour in agriculture and on brick kilns, successfully avoided prosecution. Some law enforcement reportedly received bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims in exchange for alerting the traffickers of forthcoming raids,” it said.
“The lack of sufficient political will across many states to address bonded labour stymied efforts nationwide,” it added.
Prakash Singh, a former police chief of Uttar Pradesh, said: “The problem is definitely there. It is an acknowledged fact which has been accepted by the Indian government that Naxals use children for carrying items or even using them as informers.”
Singh added, “Yes, Indian police have problems but they have a very thankless task to perform, where they have to follow orders of the political class. But I think Indian police are doing a better job than the US police.”