Identify Promising Practices and Challenges in Integrating or Separating Services for Victims of Human Trafficking and Gender Based Violence
Discrimination and violence have always been a major form and process of oppression, and Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) reflects that dark side of the society at large.
Both the victims of TIP and GBV often suffer similar and intersecting forms of abuse, however, at the screening process these multiple vulnerabilities are often not identified and hence care is delayed. While the needs for services are similar for both the groups, certain victims might even need additional care (mental) and support (legal and financial).
In line with this understanding, FXB India Suraksha conducted a qualitative research under the U.S. State Department (TIP Office) supported “Optimizing Screening and Support Services for GBV and TIP” with technical support from The Asia Foundation to identify promising practices, gaps and challenges in integrating or separating services for victims of trafficking in persons and gender-based violence. These 18 months research project conducted across three countries – India (6 states), Nepal, and Sri Lanka hope to improve capacity among local research groups to take on evidence-based policy advocacy, and compare the best practices emerging from stakeholders and service providers in these country contexts. The research will provide a comprehensive report highlighting key findings and recommendations with country specific in-depth analysis.
Changing trends in the processes involved in TIP
- Change in modus operandi: The modus operandi of trafficking has evolved, and technology-enabled trafficking – online trafficking – is an emerging trend. A shift in the hotspots for commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) is also observed in the research. Along with the traditional brothel based CSE the new spaces emerged are private apartments, hotels massage parlours, and beauty parlours.
Challenges in screening and identification of the victims of TIP and GBV–
- Absence of appropriate protocols: There is lack of properly written protocols with the stakeholders who are responsible for identification of victims of TIP and GBV. Hence, most of the stakeholders rely on certain methods for identification/screening of the victims.
- Screening and identification of victims by law enforcement agencies (LEA): LEA screen victims of TIP on the basis of complaint made by Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs), investigating cases of run away and missing children, raid and rescue operations carried out at the hotspots, intervening in (also with the help of Anti-human Trafficking Units [AHTU]) cases where groups of/or any person or children seem suspicious and through local/community information. For GBV victims the identification is primarily based on complaint lodged by victims or their family members.
- Screening and identification of victims by other stakeholders: The response of other stakeholder (NGOs, shelter homes and government officials) in screening TIP victims includes – no screening done by the concerned stakeholders to screening done (by some stakeholders) with the help from police and AHTUs, raid and rescue operations, victims counselling, and through community information. For GBV the victims generally seek help from the stakeholders.
- Perception as barrier to identification: It was asserted in the stakeholders’ and victims’ interviews that existing gender prejudices among the LEA did affect appropriate identification of the victims of TIP and GBV, as rather than believing the victim’s narrative the LEA often questioned the authenticity of the incident occurred.
- Gender biases and social norms as an obstacle to appropriate screening –Gender imbalance in screening/identification of the victims was pointed out by majority of the interviewees (stakeholders) during the primary research. As asserted by the interviewees, most of the screening/identification of the victims (TIP and GBV) are skewed towards women and children. This is influenced by the perception among the stakeholders and also patriarchal social norms, which forbids men (and transgender) from seeking help.
- Lack of meticulous training of law enforcement agencies: Even though training of LEA, especially amongst police officials, are being conducted under various Government of India and NGO initiatives yet interviewed officials suggested a need for more rigorous training to increase the efficiency and promptness in the actions of Police officials while handling TIP and GBV cases. It was pointed out that trainings should be more focused and should include topics apart from legal provisions only such as gender sensitive response, protocols and procedures, mandates of different stakeholders, knowledge on services available etc. while intervening in cases of TIP and GBV by Police. Also, Prosecutors and lawyers should be given such trainings to make the justice-delivery system efficient during court trials.
Gaps and challenges in the legal framework-
- Inconsistency in legal age definitions of child: There exists inconsistency in the laws regarding the legal age limit that determines whether a victim is a child or not. Different acts give different definitions of child with different legal age bar such as Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, Protection of children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, etc. This inconsistency creates more confusion than clarity among the law enforcement agencies, especially in trafficking of children for labour.
- Absence of a comprehensive law for TIP: This poses a big challenge for law enforcement and prosecution who use different sections from Indian Penal Code (IPC) to establish a TIP crime.
- Lack of understanding of the term ‘consent’: There still lies confusion around the term “consent” among the stakeholders and mostly among the first responders i.e. the police officers. Even though Section 370 IPC (Trafficking in Persons) immaterializes consent of a victim in determination of the offence of trafficking, the research finds that this section is not taken into account by law enforcement officials.
Access to and provisions of services by TIP and GBV victims –
- Geographical accessibility to services: Stakeholder interviews suggests that services are concentrated in cities or urban areas as compared to rural areas, limiting access to services for victims in their native places especially in rural areas.
- Access to services based on gender: In terms of accessing services based on gender, services are not available for all genders including transgender persons except in the case of children.
- Access to services by victims of all forms of trafficking: Services in the country are not equal for all trafficking victims; more importance is given to victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) than any other forms of trafficking such as forced labour. The interviewees also felt that investigation procedures and conviction rates are more for victims of CSE than victims of forced labour or any other exploitation.
- Barriers to accessing services by victims: Stakeholders shared that victims do not identify themselves as a victim and fear of retaliation to themselves or their family stops them from accessing services. While interviews with victims suggest that lack of knowledge on available services, fear of stigmatization or shame, lack of knowledge about rights, feeling of isolation, and lack of social support act as barriers in accessing services.
- Level of communication with victims: NGOs and shelter homes have a fair level of communication with victims of TIP or GBV once they are under their service provisions as found out from service providers and victims’ interview. However, some victims shared dissatisfaction with the guidance they received from lawyers and police personnel during their case proceedings.
- Preferences of victims for rehabilitation: Preferences of victims before institutional or non-institutional rehabilitating are taken into account by NGOs and shelter homes as revealed during service providers’ interview. Home investigation of rescued victims, family counseling in matters of domestic violence and production of children before the Child Welfare Committees are some of the procedures followed by NGOs and shelter homes before rehabilitating them. However, for victims their opinion is never sought by the law enforcement agencies especially in domestic violence cases.
Inter-sectionality between TIP and GBV-
- Commonality of experiences: The study revealed a strong intersectionality between TIP and GBV in terms of their vulnerability. Experiences of mental, physical, sexual, and economic abuses are common between both TIP and GBV victims nonetheless the intensity and the perpetrator causing such vulnerabilities are disparate for TIP and GBV victims.
It was observed that the understanding/or knowledge about GBV leading to TIP is much more prominent among the respondents than TIP leading to GBV.
Integration and separation of services for TIP and GBV victims-
- Integration or segregation of services: The research found that there are three separate opinions as expressed by the interviewees (stakeholders and victims).
- 12 interviewees (including victims) were in favour of integration of services, considering the commonality between the needs and experiences of TIP and GBV victims.
- 21 interviewees (including victims) suggested keeping the services separate for both TIP and GBV victims considering their needs and experiences of both the victims are varied. According to them, the intensity of violence experienced by TIP victims differs from GBV victims. However, the interviewees suggested for possible integrating of few potential services like legal aid and medical facilities
- 27 interviewees suggested for having separate services under a common location for both GBV and TIP victims so that access to services becomes smooth and less time consuming.
- The rest of the interviewees either did not respond to the question or had no opinion about the same.
COVID- 19 situations-
- Challenges of GBV victims in accessing services: The nation-wide lockdown made reporting of cases as well as seeking of services by victims of GBV a big challenge as they could not reach out to the service providers physically due to lack of transportation. However, stakeholders’ interview suggested that the organizations running emergency helpline services experienced a surge in number of distress calls from women during the lockdown. The calls were made especially about violence faced by women in the domestic space.
- Lack of availability of data: NGOs shared that there had been an upsurge in cases of GBV but had no statistics to support it. They anticipated a rise in cases of trafficking after easing of the lockdown.
- Increase in vulnerability of children and adolescents: Stakeholders’ interviews revealed that the vulnerability amongst children and adolescents increased due to the closure of schools. Cases of child marriage were suspected to have increased during the lockdown. Interviews with stakeholders working in communities practicing prostitution as a tradition shared that the vulnerability of children increased during the lockdown due to lack in mobility and income generation among families.
- Lack of protocols to be followed during emergencies or disasters: Lack of any written protocol on provisions and accessibility to services for victims of GBV to be followed by service providers and law enforcement agencies during such pandemic crisis like Covid-19.
- The training courses/programmes for law enforcement agencies especially for Police should not only focus on legal provisions and mandates but also include multi-sectoral convergence approach for strengthening the response mechanisms and timely delivery of services to victims of TIP and GBV.
- Border/Immigration officials lack knowledge on laws/procedures to be followed in intercepting TIP victims at borders/airports etc. They are also not aware of inter-agency services and systems available for such victims. Therefore, more focused and rigorous trainings of such officials were recommended. Also, they were suggested to be made part of inter-agency discussions and meetings while building strategies to combat cross-border TIP.
- Assessment of vulnerable areas/hotspots to trafficking should be identified at district level and strategies should be planned accordingly in terms of prevention, screening, identification and investigation by police.
- Improved coordination between different agencies, institutions, organizations, departments are highly recommended for smooth and better accessibility to services by victims of TIP and GBV.
- Strengthening capacities of village leaders/Panchayats, village headmen (esp. in the hilly districts of Manipur which are exempt from the Panchayati Raj system), religious leaders etc. so that they could effectively perform the role of first responders in preventing TIP at the village-level.
- State governments should allocate sufficient shelter homes as per requirement in the districts for all victims of TIP and GBV irrespective of any gender.
- Timely allocation of funds to shelter homes for better services to victims. Stakeholders’ interviews suggested for separate services for TIP victims, especially those rescued from CSE, for few years and then provide integrated services such as shelter home or other rehabilitative services based on their needs and preferences. Also, majority of the interviewees (stakeholders and victims) recommended for a common location with different departments and specialized units established under the same roof in order to make service provisions easily accessible for both the victims of TIP and GBV.