Putting a Plug on Human Trafficking: Role of NGO’s


(An Indian Perspective)

Sajid Sheikh* and Isha Gandhi**


The vision of this study is to explore the issue of human trafficking, how it affects India, and to create a viable solution that will encourage the nation to effectively reduce the instances of human trafficking. Human trafficking is nodoubt a gross violation of human rights and thus a very sensitive issue which needs to be handled with utmost care and protection. It is one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations which require urgent action. This research paper discusses about defining human trafficking, the current severity of the issue, the reasons of the problem, the existing legal framework of the nation, Role of Non-Governmental Organisations to combat the issue and finally recommend actions that can be taken to reduce the problem.

Keywords: Human trafficking, India, Slavery, NGO’s, Legal Framework


“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Nelson Mandela[1]


The history of slavery traces the history of the slave trade from ancient times to the present. Slavery was a legally recognized system in which people were legally considered the property or chattel of another. A slave had few rights and could be bought or sold and made to work for the owner without any choice or pay. After human beings came into existence, with the passage of time human race developed its conscious and mental ability and became one of the sophisticated social creature of all times. Having an inherent sense to have a life with dignity and to serve the fellow members of the race, the mankind tried to establish certain set of obligations and limitations within their community so that the essence of humanity deliver collectivism instead of individualism. With such a bent of mind he created a set of rules, norms, values, moral and ethics, that an individual has to accept and follow, being a member of the same creature. This spirit of collectivism led to the emergence of society and social values. However, over the time, the snags in having access to limited resources and the pertinent struggle for survival and greed led to the violations of these social norms and values. The social interest lost its battle over individual interest. “The consequence of these teething violations led towards vulnerabilities, marginalisation and the losing prosperity and well being of mankind.”[2] Human trafficking in the present century, is one of the worst kind of exploitation and abuse that human being ever had or thought of.

Defining Trafficking

The dictionary[3] meaning of ‘trafficking’ denotes ‘a trade in something that should not be traded in’. Thus, we have terms like drug trafficking, arms trafficking and human trafficking. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (Trafficking Protocol) that was adopted in the year 2000 which came into force in December 2003, has perhaps brought the much-needed and widespread consensus on a working definition of trafficking at the global level. India is also a signatory to this.  Article 3 of this Protocol defines trafficking as:

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.  Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”[4]

Trafficking in Human Beings: A Global Threat

The threat of Human Trafficking has existed in the world for ages in the forms of slavery. Prima facie, it seems to belong to the history of slave trade but, its existence at the present day is horridly overwhelming. It is a universal subject involving many different angles. Fighting against human trafficking is to fight against massive international crime. Human trafficking is the second biggest crime industry in the world after the industry of drugs and guns.[5]. The fact that slavery – in the form of human trafficking – still exists in the 21st century shames us all. [6] The slavery has not ended but it continues in the exploitative structure of human trafficking, especially on the exploitation of women and children. Human trafficking “exploits the dream of millions for a better life for themselves and their children. Traffickers steal this hope to turn people into commodities in a perfidious trade that, despite our efforts, continues to operate with impunity.[7]

Human Trafficking in India:

Human Trafficking is forbidden by the Constitution of India[8]. Yet India is a source, destination and transit country for human trafficking principally for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, and with the declining sex ratio, trafficking for marriage is becoming another pull factor for trafficking of women and girls. The evil system of bonded labour continues despite legislation to combat it[9]. UNODC report[10] ranks India as a high destination country.  A high origin country means that people from India are trafficked to other countries, while a destination country would refer to people from outside India being brought into the country and harboured there.  From these reports, it is evident that there is a problem in South Asia, including the country of India.

Even though the crime of human trafficking for any purpose is both under-recorded and underreported, the 2004 Trafficking in Persons report estimated at least 600,000 to 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders every year, the majority being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation.[11]

Movement of persons is mostly from Nepal and Bangladesh into India and sometimes beyond, through the borders that these countries have with India which are porous and very long. There are about twenty check posts across the length of the Bangladeshi border which is 4,156 kms long. Crossing the border is not a cumbersome process, and money may change hands. With Nepal, there are fourteen legal entry points, but illegal cross border movements take place easily. Since India has an open border policy with Nepal, trafficking may be difficult to identify[12]. Bangladeshis don’t have similar access, but trafficking from both these countries takes place.

There are so many international instruments governing the issue but the stones will be unturned till the domestic legislation does not step up and take strict action towards combating such menace. Domestic laws even now lack a shared understanding of trafficking. Not all domestic laws define trafficking[13]. Although India has a specific law[14] on trafficking, it does not define trafficking, but defines ‘prostitution’ to have the usual attributes of trafficking for sexual exploitation.[15]

Existing Legal Framework Available to combat Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking is prohibited under the Constitution of India, 1950. Article 23 of the Constitution specifically prohibits “traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour”. Article 24 further prohibits employment of children below 14 years of age in factories, mines or other hazardous employment. We have other fundamental rights which have been enshrined in the Constitution relevant to trafficking. Article 14 enforces equality before law, Article 15 deals with prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, Article 21 pertains to protection of life and personal liberty and Article 22 protects from arrest and detention except under certain conditions.

Article 39 of Directive Principles of State Policy[16] states that men and women should have the right to an adequate means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work; that men, women and children should not be forced by economic necessity to enter unsuitable avocations; and that children and youth should be protected against exploitation.  Further, Article 39A directs that the legal system should ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities.  Moreover, Article 43 states that all workers should have a living wage and there should be appropriate conditions of work so as to ensure a decent standard of life.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 contains more than 20 provisions[17] that are relevant to trafficking and impose criminal penalties for offences like kidnapping, abduction, buying or selling a person for slavery/labour, buying or selling a minor for prostitution, importing/procuring a minor girl, rape, etc.[18]

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), initially enacted as the ‘Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956, is the main legislative tool for preventing and combating trafficking in human beings in India.  However, till date, its prime objective has been to inhibit/abolish traffic in women and girls for the purpose of prostitution as an organized means of living.  The Act criminalizes the procurers, traffickers and profiteers of the trade but in no way does it define ‘trafficking’ per se in human beings.  The other relevant Acts which address the issue of trafficking in India are the Karnataka Devdasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982; Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; Andhra Pradesh Devdasi (Prohibiting Dedication) Act, 1989; Information Technology Act, 2000; the Goa Children’s Act, 2003; and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2006.  Beside these, there are also certain other collateral laws having relevance to trafficking.  These are the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929; Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956; Probation of Offenders Act, 1958; Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986; and the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994.[19]

Indian judiciary has been quite upfront in dealing with the cases related to trafficking in human beings. In Vishal Jeet v. Union of India[20] the Supreme Court while putting on record the growing exploitation of young women and children for prostitution and trafficking reported that in spite of the stringent and rehabilitative provisions of law under various Acts, it cannot be said that the desired result has been achieved. The honourable court ordered for an objective multi-dimensional study and a searching investigation into the matter relating to the causes and effects of this evil and requiring most rational measures to weed out the vices of illicit trafficking. On the directions given by the Supreme Court, the Government constituted a Central Advisory Committee on Child Prostitution in 1994.  Subsequently, State Advisory Committees were also setup by State Governments.  The outcome of the latter case was constitution of a Committee on Prostitution, Child Prostitutes and Children of Prostitutes to look into the problems of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children and of children of trafficked victims so as to evolve suitable schemes in consonance with the directions given by the Apex Court.

In Gaurav Jain v. Union of India[21], the Supreme Court ordered to constitute a Committee to make an in-depth study into these problems and evolve such suitable schemes for Rehabilitation of trafficked women and children. A permanent Committee of Secretaries was formed to review the progress of the implementation on annual basis, and to take such other steps as may be expedient in the effective implementation of the schemes. The court taking a proactive view believed and hoped that the directions would relieve the human problem by rehabilitation of the unfortunate fallen women caught in the trap of prostitution; their children would be brought into the mainstream of the social order; these directions would enable them to avail of the equality of opportunity and of status, with dignity of person which are the arch of the Constitution.

Combating Trafficking: Role of Non-Governmental Organizations

Although human trafficking is recognised as a gross violation of human rights, current national and international anti trafficking policies are often instruments to fight organised crime and do not effectively address the roots causes of trafficking nor do they deal with the human rights violations that trafficking causes. A human rights based approach requires unconditional support and assistance for trafficked persons and opposes anti-trafficking measures that can harm the human rights of trafficked persons or other affected groups.

In Budhadev Karmaskar (3) v. State of West Bengal[22], the Court has rightfully stated that “We are fully conscious of the fact that simply by our orders the sex workers in our country will not be rehabilitated immediately. It will take a long time, but we have to work patiently in this direction. What we have done is to present the situation of sex workers in the country in the correct light, so as to educate the public. It is ultimately the people of the country, particularly the young people, who by their idealism and patriotism can solve the massive problems of sex workers.”

What can an NGO offer?

It cannot be argued that all the stake holders have to join hands together to solve this burning issue. The approach as to what can be done to combat this menace of trafficking is the question in front of all of us. There are many big NGOs like Shakti Vahini, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Prajwala etc. and some having international collaborations also, which are working for this cause and they are doing great. We like a drop should take small steps to work for a big cause after all “With the falling of drops, the pot eventually gets filled up”. Within the anti trafficking field, NGOs should play the role others do not play. Cooperation among all stakeholders is essential. NGOs need cooperation with all actors in the anti trafficking field and can offer their support to other actors. NGOs can support identification of trafficked persons and adequate support, including legal, psycho-social and basis support & (Safe) referral and (re)integration of trafficked persons. They can also help trafficked persons in making a decision on cooperation with the authorities. Due to their direct social support services and direct contact with trafficked persons, NGOs can win the confidence of their clients; which often leads to the willingness to testify and better witnesses in court. NGOs can also provide accurate information and contribute in raising awareness like providing information to national Rapporteurs and coordination bodies.

What should NGOs do and not do?

NGOs should not be expected to; provide information or refer trafficked persons to the law enforcement without the consent of the person involved; get involved in criminal investigations neither file or provide information on criminal aspects of a case, or take over the role of the government/other actors – but rather offer alternative services. The independency of NGOs is vital and should be respected. NGOs should be able to raise a critical voice – regardless their funding – and be supported to implement activities based on the grass roots experience (field work) and not dictated from above.


Following preventive measures needs to be taken by NGOs:

  • To facilitate and improve the safe return and social inclusion (reintegration) of trafficked persons and to provide direct and indirect support (legal, social, psychological);
  • To educate/inform potential victims (risk groups) about the risks of trafficking and educate professional groups about trafficking in human beings, including the identification and treatment of trafficked persons;
  • To raise awareness, influence public opinion and advise and stimulate governments and other key actors and to take action towards a human rights based approach to anti-trafficking;
  • To fill the information gap on the situation of trafficking in human beings, by providing accurate statistics and case studies and by analysing and conducting research on the issue, in particular on root causes.

Apart from these measures which are must for prevention, there are few less highlighted and less acted upon measures which are strongly recommended. Following are such measures which if acted upon; the day is not far when every person can breathe the care free air of freedom:

  • Social Assistance: Social assistance needs to be provided to trafficked persons. The type of support provided depends on the individual situation, the specific needs of the person concerned and, of course, on the available services and resources. At the beginning of each contact with a trafficked person, an individual Needs Assessment is made. Support services vary from crisis (emergency) intervention to the implementation of long-term assistance programmes. Services include: running a hotline, arranging for a safe return home, meeting women at the airport, the railway or coach station, addressing immediate needs such as clothing, food and other basic necessities, facilitating contacts with consulates or embassies to obtain new identity or travel documents, assistance with contacting family members, arranging a safe shelter, providing emotional support, counselling and psychological support or referral, providing healthcare or legal aid, support during court cases and assistance in organising education or in finding a job.
  • Psychological Assistance: Apart from social assistance it is very important that the victim gets psychological assistance from a well trained Psychologist to get the fear out and live a normal life. NGOs can tie up with such Psychologist who can provide these services pro bono.
  • Helplines: NGOs can also provide helpline services where anyone aware of such implicit activity can contact and then the agencies such as the police or the local authorities, to represent and advocate for the interests of the trafficked persons concerned can be called for help. There is existence of ZIPNET (Zonal Integrated Police Network)   in order to monitor missing children and orders  for registration of FIR in all cases of missing children[23].
  • Awareness for female foeticides: NGOs should work on the issue of female foeticides; Of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthdays. As a result of this human trafficking has become common in various states of India where teenage girls are being sold for cheap money by poor families, being treated as sex objects with more than half of such cases going unreported[24].
  • Assisting Magistrate, Police etc in rescue of victims: Yes, an NGO can move the Magistrate and seek orders to rescue any person
    • Under section 16 of Immoral Trafficking (Prevention)Act, 1956, Magistrate can
    • Under section 15 of the Act, SPO can carry out research of victims and even accused with assistance of two or more respectable persons from the locality where NGOs are the most preferred agencies.
    • The said act gives legal right to NGOs to provide assistance to Police agencies in investigation, verification and interviews of the rescued persons.
    • NGOs have legal right to be a part of rehabilitation process also. The law provides protection to such bona fide helps.


It is difficult to conclude whether human trafficking has increased or decreased in recent years due to a lot of factors. There is an increase of data collection and more research conducted, and registration figures often show increases. It still remains difficult to define the exact scope of human trafficking in India. Despite the fact that there is little reliable data on trafficking in human beings, it is quite evident that thousands of persons are being trafficked within, to and from India every year. Trafficked women, men and children are exploited and forced to work or offer certain services under exploitative and often slavery-like conditions.

The work done by our nation’s various governmental and non-governmental organizations is highly appreciable but there are many gaps unfilled. But the question still remains as to the efficacy of the measures provided. We should not wait for the incident to happen; we should work on the cause to cut it from the nub. Indians live in democratic societies that value freedom, we must work together to ensure that all of our citizens can enjoy freedom and that each person’s human rights are respected.

* Sajid Sheikh, CEO & Founder, LawLex Organization (India)
** Isha Gandhi, Managing Director, LawLex Organization (India)


[1] 1st President of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize (1993)

[2] Najar, JL, Human Trafficking in India, Availble at <http://www.countercurrents.org/najar031114.pdf> , Last accessed on December 10, 2014

[3] Oxford Dictionary available online at <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/>

[4] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 3- Use of terms, p42

[5]Kempadoo, Kamala, et al (2005). Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered. New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights. (Paradigm Publishers. London.)

[6] UNODC (2006b). Trafficking in Persons. Global Patterns. April 2006. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Vienna. Austria.

[7] Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director on July 30, 2014, UNODC marks first human trafficking day with call for countries to step up fight against this crime. Available at <https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2014/July/unodc-marks-first-human-trafficking-day-with-call-for-countries-to-step-up-fight-against-this-crime.html>  Last Retreived on December 10, 2014

[8] Article 23- Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour: (1) Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

[9] The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

[10] UNODC Report “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns” Appendix 3 <https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/HT-globalpatterns-en-appendices.pdf>

[11] US Department of Health and Human Services (2004) Human trafficking fact sheet: Trafficking Victims Protection Ac of 2000. Retrieved December 5th 2014 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/about/factsheets.html

[12] Adapted from Trafficking in Women and Children in India, Orient Longman, New Delhi (2005) pp 10-12.

[13] The Immoral Traffic(Prevention Act) 1956.

[14] Ibid

[15] t is hoped that the amendment that is on the cards will take this into consideration. The Goa Children’s Act, 2003 has a definition on trafficking, but that is limited a) to the State of Goa in India, and b) to child trafficking only.

[16] Constitution of India, 1950

[17] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[18] Integrated Plan Of Action To Prevent And Combat Human Trafficking With Special Focus On Children And Women, Available at <http://wcd.nic.in/INTEGRATEDPLANOFACTION.htm> (Last visited on December 10, 2014)

[19] Ibid

[20] (1990) 3 SCC 318

[21] (1997) 8 SCC 114

[22] (2011) 10 SCC 277

[23] Kamaljit vs State of NCT of Delhi, Crl. Appeal No. 28/2007 and Crl. M.A. Nos. 336 and 338/2007

[24] Human Trafficking Rising Due To Female Foeticide: Court <http://nlrd.org/womens-rights-initiative/news-on-womens-rights-violence-against-women/human-trafficking-rising-due-to-female-foeticide-court>