The Practice of Human Trafficking in India

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Human trafficking is an issue that has received increased attention in recent years. Around the world, politicians have highlighted the problem as a justification for policies that restrict immigration. For example, the President of the United States argues that a border wall is needed partly to prevent smugglers from bringing victims of human trafficking across the border. Additionally, many opponents of immigration in Europe believe that stronger immigration policies are needed for similar reasons. Indeed, human trafficking is a problem that touches all regions of the world; and despite the role that it has played in debates about immigration, often times, the issue primarily occurs within a country’s own borders. When studying human trafficking in the country of India, one can see how this horrific practice is carried out both within and outside of the country. Specifically, victims of human trafficking in India are often forced into hard labor in the country’s manufacturing industry, and if not, they work either inside or outside of the country in the sex industry. The issue of human trafficking in India can primarily be traced back to the caste system, and it has an extremely negative psychological impact on its victims.

The three main motivations of human trafficking in India are the commercial sex industry, forced labor, and arranged marriages. During 2016, at least 7,570 individuals were taken and forcibly placed to work in the sex industry (U.S. Department of State, 2018, p. 1). In addition, many Indian people are captured and forced to work as laborers, with statistics suggest that around 11,212 people are victims of this practice. Because the identified number of human trafficking victims was approximately 22,955, this means that almost half of those victimized by human trafficking were eventually placed in forced labor. Victims can range from young children, who are placed to work in factories, to adults, who are involved in debt bondage — a form of indentured servitude. Another area in which individuals may find themselves victims of human trafficking have to do with forced marriage. India still culturally accepts the practice of arranged marriage. However, most times, this marriage does not take place until the bride and groom are of a certain age. Even so, there are those who will pay a purchase price for a bride, perpetuating the idea of forced marriage.

As previously mentioned, indentured servitude is a primary form of human trafficking in India. Also referred to as debt bondage, this practice takes place when an individual owes a debt of some kind to the trafficker. For example, a smuggler may steal the passport of an Indian citizen who receives a visa to work in another country and force him or her to work in order to get it back. In essence, the trafficker withholds pay from the victim and s/he does not allow the victim to have any freedom other than going to and from work. In addition to either placing the victim in the sex worker industry or in forced labor, the trafficker may find a place for the victim in debt bondage or in a forced marriage.

When calculating numbers regarding human trafficking in India, one must consider not only the varying reasons for human trafficking but also the people greatly affected by this crime. Not only do those native to India see themselves at risk for falling prey to human traffickers, but they also see those from neighboring countries affected as well. Of the previously mentioned 22,955 victims of human trafficking, 8,651 were boys; 5,532 were girls (U.S. State Department, 2018, p. 1). Considering that half of the victims of human trafficking will end up in the sex trade industry, one can safely assume that some of these boys will end up in that line of work. Next, when adult victims are concerned, 7,238 women and 1,696 men found themselves the victims of human trafficking (U.S. State Department, 2018, p. 1). Most of the victims of the 2016 report were of Indian descent, but 38 Sri Lankans, 36 Bangladesh citizens, 38 Nepali, and 76 victims were from other countries near India’s borders. Therefore, just as it is in other countries, human trafficking involves individuals from a multitude of regions around the world.

Watson (2018) contends that at any point in time, India’s human trafficking victims actually number around 18 million (p. 1). A little of a quarter of this number involve children. While the reasons for human trafficking have been listed previously, one definitive reason has not been presented. India is a country that makes a great deal of money on manufacturing products at a very low cost. Therefore, in order to keep costs down, factory owners want to do whatever they possibly can to keep worker pay at a minimum. This drives one part of human trafficking as those who are in forced labor not only fail to see pay for their efforts, but they are carefully monitored so that they do not attempt to leave the job (Goswami & Lagon, 2013, p. 52).

In fact, Watson claims that one reason why this practice is so prevalent in India is due to the fact that the elite classes – the wealthy who often own the factories – continue to perpetuate the need for cheap – or free – labor (2018). Victims of human trafficking in India are often from the poorest of families. Even if possible, their families could not afford to buy their freedom. Watson (2018) states, “approximately seventy percent of the trafficking victims in India belong to Scheduled Castes or Tribes – also called ‘Dalit’ classes – and are among the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in India” (p. 1). Watson acknowledges the fact that the Dalit people are the most vulnerable simply due to their station in life, but the author also points to the ability of the elite classes of India to perpetuate this vulnerability. When one thinks of human trafficking, he or she often thinks of the individual who is abducted and whisked away to a faraway location.

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Watson proposes the idea that the elite business owners of India need not utilize these methods. Rather, because many of the Dalit class are already overwhelmingly poor, they may owe tremendous debts to their creditors. In order to collect the debt, the wealthy will place the debtor or a debtor’s family member in a forced labor situation. In this way, the wealthy can collect the debt while still making a profit at their business because the indentured servant works for free (Kumar, 2013, p. 116). This practice is perpetuated by the cultural belief that the wealthy are fit to reign over the poor. They may believe they are “divinely ordained” to rule over the Dalit class (Watson, 2018, p. 1). The largely uneducated Dalits do not generally contest this belief, and the cycle continues over and over. Women of the Dalit class are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking. In addition to a lack of education, women of the Dalit class do not have the right to very many – if any – possessions; therefore, if they find themselves in debt, they are highly unlikely to be able to pay the debt. Next, they may be desperate to acquire some type of material wealth, and the wealthy may find this a way to exploit the female Dalit. Furthermore, the wealthy recognize that Dalit women often do not know how to find justice or fight for their basic human rights. To be frank, the Dalit woman is often an easy target for human trafficking, and the smuggler knows exactly what to do to make this idea into a reality.

While debt bondage and/or forced labor is one of the chief reasons for human trafficking in India, Watson contends that the sex industry accounts for about eighty percent of human trafficking victims (2018, p. 1). Those who find themselves in this situation may suffer from a number of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and herpes. Girls and women from Nepal and Bangladesh often find themselves in the midst of India’s sex trade (Watson, 2018, p. 1). Very rarely is protection used in this demographic, so the incidence of any STD is high. In addition, those who find themselves in this demographic of human trafficking may also experience great instances of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Tuberculosis is also a prevalent illness among those victims of human trafficking.

On the very surface, victims of human trafficking may experience a lack of their basic needs – personal hygienic needs may not be met; victims may suffer from a lack of sleep and nutritious food (Human Trafficking Search, 2018, p. 1). A lack of medical care is also a chief characteristic of an individual who is a victim of human trafficking. Combine this factor with the idea that these individuals may often acquire many different illnesses including STDs, and it is understandable that the victim of human trafficking is vulnerable to detrimental health problems.

However, this is only the beginning of the issues that a victim of human trafficking may face.

The human trafficking victim may find themselves experiencing a lot of psychological issues. At a minimum, the victim may experience depression, anxiety, and fear regarding his or her daily life (Deane, 2010, p. 492). Some victims of human trafficking are also physically abused, and this can also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the victim. Due to their living situation, the victim of human trafficking may also find themselves experiencing memory loss or other types of cognitive impairment. Some will even attempt suicide as a means of getting out of their present situation.

Clearly, the practice of human trafficking in India has a profoundly negative impact on its victims. Whether they are forced into the sex industry, hard labor, or arranged marriages, victims of human trafficking in India experience substantial blows to their physical and mental health. Although human trafficking in India displays similar patterns as human trafficking in other countries, a good portion of the problem can be traced back to the caste system and the way it shapes relations. Indeed, the trends of human trafficking in India shows how solving the problem requires more in-depth solutions than halting immigration.

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