Washington: A top US senator has slammed India for its alleged complicity in human trafficking.
Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the annual trafficking report shows some progress by India but the official complicity is widespread.
He also questioned the recent decision of the State Department for placing India in Tier-2 list and not below that.
"The (annual Trafficking in Persons) report highlights some progress (by India), but official complicity in trafficking is widespread, victim protection is inadequate and inconsistent," said Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The Indian government has not repealed its policy restricting travel of Indians identified as trafficking victims by the US. I mean, that's appalling," he said during a Congressional hearing this week on the report.
Welcoming the new leadership of India, he said, "We have great hopes for the way our relationship is going to evolve and their country and their country is going to evolve. They have an estimated 12 million slaves in their country - more than, by far, any country in the world."
"How in the world are they a tier-2 country? How can that be?" Corker asked.
Ambassador Susan Coppedge, Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, at Department of State, said India certainly has a significant human trafficking problem, and it extends across forced labor, bonded labor, sex trafficking of adults and children. The numbers are staggering.
"We continue to press the Indian government, through the report and through our diplomatic efforts, to make changes in their system to further address laws and also victim services and protection services," she said.
Not satisfied, Corker asked how India can possibly be a tier-2 company if such conditions exist in the country.
"So again, this is one that feels very much, somewhat like our civil nuke deal back seven or eight years ago where we broke rules to enter into an agreement that probably at the time was not appropriate, to be honest -- this feels very much like that in this report. I just want you to tell me why a country with the kind of record they have is a tier two country," Corker said.
Coppedge justified putting India on tier two and not any other ranking as New Delhi has taken several steps to address the problem of human trafficking.
"One of the things the government of India has done is provide repatriation paper, essentially, to those who are freed from bonded labor to certify that they are no longer indebted or in service to the person they were indebted to through the bonded labor," she explained.
"So they present that documentation; they provide
services and benefits to victims of bonded labor, and then they also help them with payments to get them back on their feet and back integrated into society. And we talk about those efforts with respect to bonded labor in the report and as being significant," Coppedge said.
"They have also changed a policy that we pressed them to change for years, and that was when they raided brothels they would arrest everyone in the brothel, including the victims. And now government officials that we met with in India have told us they now screen for trafficking indicators, they don't arrest the young women who may in fact be victims of trafficking," she said.
So they have made that significant effort to change their policy and better provide victim protection efforts once victims are identified. It is very challenging to screen for victims of trafficking because the trafficker has made them afraid to come forward. And so that change in government policy has helped, she said.
"This does not mean there aren't still areas for improvement in India. There certainly are," she said, adding that the US has pressed for them to reactivate and refund their anti-human trafficking unit.
Noting that those work very well in some parts of the country, but they don't work so well in others, she said, "we've asked them to rededicate their efforts in the areas where that is not working as well. So there are things we are still pressing on".
"One of the recommendations is that they establish special courts for human trafficking cases because the court system there is somewhat bogged down and slow-moving, as one would expect in a country of that size. So that's another recommendation for an area where improvement is needed. But we also take stock of improvements that have occurred," Coppedge said.
(With PTI inputs)