Less than 1 percent of India’s trafficking survivors win victim compensation, stymied by low awareness of the scheme and the high burden of proof it takes to succeed, new research shows.
According to a survey by five lawyers in collaboration with anti-trafficking charity Sanjog, India awarded compensation to less than 100 victims of trafficking between 2011 and 2019.
“This is shocking because these numbers do not cover even 1 percent of the estimated number of victims of sex and labor trafficking,” said researcher Pompi Banerjee of Sanjog.
Quoting crime data that shows there were 38,503 victims of trafficking between 2010 and 2017, the research — released this month — shows that 107 survivors applied for compensation since 2011, with courts awarding compensation to another 102.
Only 77 received the money.
Banerjee said that few applied because the “burden of proof” was on the victim — from prompt reporting of the crime to cooperating with police investigations and deposing in court.
Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to charities working in India.
India is considered one of the worst hotspots in the region and efforts to snare the criminals and compensate victims have mostly failed.
Every state has its own version of the scheme, with compensation running from 100,000 rupees ($1,400) to 1,000,000.
Yet the raft of schemes offer negligible help, anti-trafficking campaigners said, since most survivors lack the life skills and backing to benefit.
“Many survivors also choose not to file for compensation because they fear being stigmatized,” said Subhasree Raptan, coordinator of Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra, a charity that works on rehabilitation.
“They don’t want everyone to know what happened to them. Sometimes, they are threatened by traffickers.”
Ten months after she was rescued, Habija Sardar is in two minds about applying, worried it will be tedious and costly.
“Going for the court hearings, hiring a lawyer will cost me a lot of money to start with,” the 25-year-old said in a phone interview from her home in West Bengal state.
“Compensation money will definitely help me, but I am worried about how long it will take.”
With heightened awareness key to the scheme’s success, Sunil Chauhan, director of the National Legal Services Authority, said more and better legal aid was being offered to survivors.
“There has been a paradigm shift in compensation from being dependent on the accused paying if he or she was convicted, to the state paying,” Chauhan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are encouraging victims to apply for interim relief, even if their court cases have not started, and providing lawyers to help them.”
Trisha Papra, 26, has just started looking for a lawyer to claim her compensation, a decade after she was rescued from a brothel.
“I got to know only now, so I want to give it a shot,” the mother of two said. “I have suffered enough.”
Reporting by Anuradha for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change.