Only a paltry three out of 429 traffickers named in police and legal documents, related to over a hundred cases of human trafficking in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, have been convicted in the past 10 years, a new study has shown.
The research, carried out by analysing case documents such as chargesheets, FIRs and police general diaries related to 198 human trafficking cases, found that out of 429 named offenders only three (or less than 1%) were convicted with punishments ranging between five and seven years of imprisonment. 10 accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence while 68 alleged traffickers were given bail.
Activists said that the research provides enough evidence to understand why human trafficking continues to grow unabated in the country.
â€śThe low conviction and high acquittal figures found in the research cast doubts in the efficacy of investigations by law-enforcement agencies in human trafficking cases,â€ť said Snigdha Sen, who conducted the analysis.
â€śThe findings reaffirm the belief that traffickers enjoy a high degree of impunity because of the lacklustre investigation, and lack of retribution encourages them to carry on with their crimes that leads to surge in incidents of human trafficking,â€ť she added.
For this analysis, Snigdha collaborated with several organisations such as HELP from Andhra Pradesh, Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra from West Bengal and Partners for Anti Trafficking(PAT) â€“ a consortium of eight community-based organisations in West Bengal.
The study also found that 31 out of the 429 alleged traffickers appeared to be repeat offenders who were accused in multiple cases of human trafficking, and all their victims were children and adolescents. These 31 had committed 91 (or 19%) of the total crimes analysed for the research.
â€śThe research clearly indicates that currently, traffickers â€“ who are in the business of recruiting girls and young women and selling them off in other states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Telangana or Goa, have little accountability to the system. As they grow wealthier, they recruit others to join them in spotting, recruiting and trafficking other vulnerable children and adolescents," said co-researcher Roop Sen, a human rights activist who has been working on the issue of human trafficking for over 20 years.
"The reason these investigations are so prolonged and prosecutions are so weak is that over 99% of these cases are investigated by the police of local police stations, who have restricted time and resources for their investigations. They restrict their investigations to the local precincts,â€ť he added.
Speaking about the research, Shivani* who is associated with Andhra Pradesh-based survivor leaders collective Vimukthi added, â€śI returned home after spending four years in a shelter home but I am stigmatised in my own community. People are treating me and my family as if we are some anti-social elements while the trafficker who made me to suffer so much is roaming free. I want these traffickers get punished.â€ť
The situation in Andhra Pradesh
Speaking to TNM, N Rammohan from HELP said, "The main issue here is that the state government is yet to respond on our demand, on compensation for survivors. Only four Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) exist in the state and they are not given any staff and have no power."
"The AHTUs don't even have the power of a police station. They have no right to arrest anyone, no right to file an FIR, no rights to make a General Diary entry or file a chargesheet. Then what can they do? Nothing happens," he adds.
Rammohan says that this is a major failure.
"Additionally, survivors have to engage advocates with their own money when the Public Prosecutor should provide for that. It is a long process to find and submit evidence in court. So there is greater burden on survivors. As a result, they will give up fighting the case. Sometimes, survivors get married and stop coming to court," he says.
The activists argue that compensation must come from the state government even before conviction, if investigation officials are able to establish that a person was trafficked, despite whoever the accused is. This, they say, helps the survivor financially, to fight their case in court and ensure more convictions.
"The Public Prosecutor is also not fulfilling his role of filing a petition for compensation in court. No one is doing that. This is another major reason for a lack of convictions," he adds.
*Name changed to protect identity.