Only three out of 429 traffickers in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have been convicted in the past 10 years, according to a new study that analysed case documents such as charge sheets, FIRs and police general diaries related to 198 cases of human trafficking.
The study was conducted by several NGOs such as HELP in Andhra Pradesh, Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra and Partners for Anti-Trafficking (PAT) - a consortium of eight community-based organisations in West Bengal.
It found that 68 human traffickers have been given bail, and investigation linked to five accused have been continuing for over a decade now.
The study also revealed that 31 out of the 429 human traffickers appear to be repeat offenders who are accused in multiple cases of human trafficking, and all their victims were children and adolescents.
These 31 have committed 91 (or 19 per cent) of total crimes analysed for this research.
The study found that out of the 429 named offenders only three have been convicted with punishments ranging between five to seven years of imprisonment, whereas 10 have been acquitted due to lack of evidence in cases that continued over several years.
Investigation in the rest of the cases is underway.
"The low conviction and high acquittal figures found in the research cast doubts in the efficacy of investigation by law-enforcement agencies in human trafficking cases," said Snigdha Sen, who conducted the analysis by studying legal documents availed from courts and police stations.
Sen, who is also an activist, studied these cases that involved more than 173 survivors of human trafficking from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
"The findings reaffirm the belief that traffickers enjoy a high degree of impunity because of the lacklustre investigation, and lack of retribution encourages them to carry on with their crimes that leads to surge in incidents of human trafficking," she added.
The research indicated that currently, traffickers - who are in the business of recruiting girls and young women and selling them off in Maharashtra, Delhi, Telangana or Goa - have little accountability to the system.
"As they grow wealthier, they recruit others to join them in spotting, recruiting and trafficking other vulnerable children and adolescents. The reason these investigations are so prolonged and prosecutions are so weak is that over 99 per cent of these cases are investigated by police of local police stations, who have restricted time and resources for their investigation," said co-researcher Roop Sen, a human rights activist who has been working on the issue for over 20 years.
These NGOs, who conducted the study, have come together to support survivors of human trafficking for their rehabilitation and protection under an access to justice programme called 'Tafteesh'.
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