After an eleven-year delay, India finally ratified the UN protocol on human trafficking on 5 May 2011, along with conventions against internationally organised crime and corruption.
Known as the Palermo Protocol, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, was adopted by a UN resolution in 2000 and signed by India in 2002. The Protocol is significant because it gave the first comprehensive definition of human trafficking, and required countries to criminalise the practice, and to adopt legislation to translate the Protocol’s obligations into national law.
Year-on-year, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report has highlighted that India had failed to ratify the Protocol, as had a recent UN report. The concern has been that India lacked a comprehensive definition of human trafficking to provide a common platform for the different Indian states to use in legislation and enforcement. The UN report also expressed concern that there was a shortfall in gender sensitivity. Trafficking has not been regarded as an organised crime, so provisions relevant to such crime are not utilised in enforcement. Also, legislation and enforcement has often failed to distinguish between the trafficker and the victims, so survivors are often punished rather than perpetrators. The hope is that now these will begin to be put right.
Experts in child issues agree that the government announcement is a good thing. For example, in a news release, R.S. Chaurasia of child rights NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan said: “This ratification is a shot in the arm for all the anti-human trafficking activists like us as the lack of a comprehensive legislation and policy in India has often been the reason for the lack of law enforcement and knowledge on the issue.”
“Ratification of this convention means that it is now binding upon India to develop a law that conforms to the International Convention and its provisions. Often, the criminal gangs involved in large-scale kidnappings, abductions and forced labour of children go scot-free as the laws in the country are more biased towards prosecuting the employers or pimps in case of prostitution. But traffickers of forced labour will now come within the purview of the law in the country,” he added.
The lack of effective prosecutions and enforcement has been blamed at least in part on corruption, so the announcement made at the same time that India has also ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption has been welcomed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said “the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption is a reaffirmation of our government’s commitment to fight corruption”. Press reports highlight accusations against various sitting politicians of scams running into billions of dollars, and the end of the eleven-year wait for ratification has been put down to domestic pressure. However, the constant threat of India being downgraded to Tier 3 in the annual Trafficking in Persons report may also have had a bearing.
Dr Joseph D’souza, International President of Dalit Freedom Network, comments, “We welcome this move by the Indian government. Now we are looking for a significant improvement in enforcement and victim care as words are translated into action. Our concern is for millions of Dalits who are being exploited. They make up to 90% of all those trafficked or in bonded labour in India. We value the role of the international community not only in supporting our on-the-ground efforts to address trafficking in India, but also in encouraging the authorities to move toward more comprehensive measures and more effective action.”
Read the British government's response to India's ratification of the protocol.
 Responses to Human Trafficking in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka (UNODC/UN.GIFT: 2011)
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