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Trafficking
US warns India, calls for swift action
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The USA says India has the world's largest human trafficking problem, but, for the fourth consecutive year, it left its ally off a blacklist of nations seen not meeting the minimum standards in fighting the problem of what Washington calls "modern-day slavery."

Mark Lagon, senior U.S. advisor on trafficking in persons, on Tuesday said there are "hundreds of thousands of sex trafficking victims and millions of bonded laborers, including forced child laborers" in India. He criticised the absence of a national anti-trafficking effort, official recognition of bonded labour, and poor efforts against sex trafficking.

"The world's largest democracy has the world's largest problem of human trafficking," he said, adding that the U.S. needed to engage in a "very serious dialogue with India" on this issue. "The relationship, the level of communication between our two governments is such that it can stand some serious frank talk about a problem like bonded labor or sex trafficking," he said. "And we are going to lay out, working with them, a kind of action plan, for steps forward on this."

Speaking at the release of the "2007 Trafficking in Persons Report" on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of society, most often innocent women and children, exploiting and abusing them and profiting from their suffering."

Besides India, 31 other countries are listed on the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List," the second worst category in the report. Some other countries in this category include China, Russia, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Egypt. Pakistan and Bangladesh are on the "Tier 2" list.

Like India, Mexico, and Russia are also on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year. The report warns that if these countries don't take steps to improve it can be demoted to a Tier 3 Watch List, making it vulnerable to sanctions.

As part of these sanctions, the U.S. government may withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance. Countries that receive no such assistance would be subject to withholding of funding for participation by officials and employees of such governments in educational and cultural exchange programmes, the report says.

Lagon admitted "multiple factors" were taken into consideration before a decision was made on the degree of censure. Saying there were "many different variables that are taken into account in everything we do at the State Department," he added: "I would be perpetuating a fraud to say that we don't look at multiple factors in our relationship with countries any time we take a step on a particular issue like human trafficking."

The report cites the heroic example of Kailash Satyarthi of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) who worked to rescue 92 Bengali children enslaved in goldsmith and jewelry factories in New Delhi. "The children were forced to eat, sleep, and labor in workshops, 10 to a room," Mr. Lagon said. "Dangerous chemicals were used for making gold ornaments in the same rooms that they were kept 24 hours a day. Most of the children were under the age of 14. According to the children, many were physically and sexually abused."

"Just days after this rescue which didn't result in any arrests in India, the factory owners, managers, and their thugs showed up at BBA's shelter with iron rods, sticks, and bricks. They tried to recapture the children. Shelter staff were injured. When police finally responded, no one was arrested," he said, adding,

The report is usually met with skepticism from some who question the United States' right to reprimand other nations on human rights. But, Lagon said, the "goal of this report is not to punish. It's to stimulate government action in concert with the USA to end modern-day slavery."

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