Remarks by Consul General Helen LaFave 4th Anti-Trafficking in Persons Conclave

(As Prepared for delivery)

Honorable Minister for Women and Child Development, Welfare & Social Welfare Ms. Loius Marandi
Honorable Minister for Human Resource Development Ms. Neera Yadav
Dr. P.M. Nair
Colleagues from the Anti-Trafficking Community
Friends and champions of the cause

Welcome to the Fourth Trafficking in Persons Conclave hosted by U.S. Consulate, Kolkata.  The fact that you took time to join us today is inspiring and humbling and our sincere hope is that you will find the deliberations spread over today and tomorrow useful and productive.

I am honored to be in the presence of so many who have dedicated themselves to ensure justice and freedom for the oppressed and marginalized.  I have had the privilege of meeting with many of your organizations, visiting your sites and interacting with your teams, your leadership and the victims you are helping and empowering to regain control over their own lives.  I have been touched by the incredible commitment you show and the overwhelming odds you sometimes face.

Working with so many committed friends has been a most enriching journey for us at the Consulate.  It opened our eyes to the many aspects of a most complex and widespread human tragedy. During the first Conclave in Kolkata in 2012, we focused on trafficking for commercial sex work. In 2013, when the Conclave moved to Guwahati, we looked into the cross-border aspects of human trafficking. This year, in Ranchi, we will try to understand the nuances of trafficking for labor, especially child labor, which, I am told, is of particular concern in this part of India.

Any discussion involving India’s 400 million children—which is one-third of its population—cannot avoid issues like child development, education, safety and health. These are interlinked issues. The Indian state, through policy initiatives backed by budgetary support plays a key role in addressing these. Programs like ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), ICPS (Integrated Child Protection Scheme), SSA (Sarva Siksha Abhiyan) and the mid-day meal initiative work to reduce vulnerability of India’s children and make a huge difference in the lives of a vast number of Indians on a daily basis.

I am happy to note that the Jharkhand state has an ongoing Action Plan for the elimination of child labor.  This plan identifies sectors where children find employment as workers: in hotels, at roadside restaurants, as domestic workers, in brick kilns, coal picking, mining, begging, automobile workshops, building construction, stone crushing, rag picking, etc.

The State Action Plan also says around 33,000 girls—fully or partially illiterate, who come from poor families and are usually below 18 years—are trafficked out of Jharkhand each year. These girls are “forced” to work in household, brothels, restaurants and factories.  I would like to emphasize the word “forced,” and argue—like many of you in this room would—that no one, adults or children, must be “forced” to do anything.  I would go a step further and argue that no child must work.  Childhood is not the time to think about livelihood.

So what kind of numbers are we talking about for Jharkhand? The state’s population as per 2011 census is 33 million. The State Action Plan says 40 percent of these are children, which boils down to a figure of 12.8 million. According to 2011 India Census data, Jharkhand has 91,000 children (in the 5 to 14 years of age group) who are permanent workers, working more than six months in a year. In addition, there are 160,000 children who work between three and six months and 145,000 children who work less than three months in a year. This means at least 400,000 out of Jharkhand’s 12.8 children—or around 3 percent—are currently engaged either as permanent or as seasonal worker. The Annual Health Survey data of 2012-13 for Jharkhand corroborates the 2011 Census data.

So what do these figures and percentages reveal or hide? They say many of our children in Jharkhand and in other states are forced to work when they should be playing and studying. The data indicate that many of them remain vulnerable to severe exploitation.

What the data do not reveal is the nature and identity of the exploiters. It is relatively easier to identify exploiters involved in sex trafficking. Once identified, it is also relatively easier to intervene because a sex trafficker is often directly in conflict the laws of the land.  However, in case of labor trafficking, the exploiter is mostly people known to us or people we care about. They are our parents, cousins, relatives, friends, neighbors, in whose homes, restaurants, shops, or offices and factories we find children employed as workers, often under unacceptable conditions.

So what is our role?

We debate, discuss, and advocate for making policies that will ensure a better deal for our children. The Government of United States is deeply committed to combat all forms of human trafficking which we regard as modern-day slavery. As part of this commitment, the U.S. Consulate Kolkata has been trying to provide a platform where people like you, champions against human trafficking in its various forms, can come together and take the movement and resolve further. This initiative is not confined to Kolkata Consulate. Our missions in India—in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and the Embassy in Delhi—have either hosted similar events or are planning to host one. I can see my U.S. Mission colleagues from Mumbai here today.

At the advocacy and policy level, the State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons report is a global benchmark to learn about the state of human trafficking in the world. Introducing the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry described human trafficking as one of the foremost contemporary challenges, which is…I quote…

“one absolutely inextricably linked to the broader effort to spread the rule of law and face the crisis of failed and failing states, we find perhaps no greater assault on basic freedom than the evil of human trafficking. Whether it comes in the form of a young girl trapped in a brothel, a woman enslaved as a domestic worker, a boy forced to sell himself on the street, or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of this crime have been robbed of the right to lead the lives they choose for themselves, and trafficking and its consequences have a spill-over effect that touches every element of a society.”

In addition to assessments of what almost every government in the world is doing to combat modern slavery, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Reporttakes a hard look at the journey from victim to survivor, making recommendations and highlighting effective practices that, if implemented, could ease the path forward for countless survivors around the world.

We are happy to note the Government of India’s significant efforts to comply with the international standards for the elimination of trafficking. As a follow-up to India’s 2011 ratification of the United Nation’s Palermo Protocol, the Indian government amended the penal code in April 2013 in a manner that greatly improves the country’s laws, broadening the types of crimes considered to be trafficking and establishing more stringent sentences for traffickers. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) continues to establish Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), which are responsible for combining law enforcement and rehabilitation efforts.

Our increased knowledge of the complexity of trafficking shows us the challenges we face, but it also encourages us to cooperate, collaborate, and to come up with systems and protocols that can address trafficking across regions, provinces and national boundaries.

I once again welcome all of you and would like to end my remarks with a quote from President Obama which sets the future agenda:

“As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage. We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams.”

I would also look to challenge each and every one of us.  Many of us see trafficking every day.  Next time you see exploitation, I urge you to stop ignoring it and think about how you can help.

Thank you.