New Delhi, India: Calling for collective action to protect and assist victims of human trafficking, senior government officials and experts from India, Bangladesh and Nepal emphasised the need to institutionalize a regional referral mechanism to boost joint efforts at a convening hosted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) South Asia and the Ministry of Home Affairs earlier this week.

Marking the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, UNODC South Asia, UNICEF and UN Women also extended their support to the landmark “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) Platform in the presence of representatives from the Governments of India, Nepal and Bangladesh, law enforcement agencies, United Nations, foreign missions in India, and civil society.

Unveiling the initiative, Mr. Sergey Kapinos, Representative, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia said, “UNODC’s latest report identifies more than 500 different flows of trafficking, and children make up for almost 1/3rd of all victims worldwide. There is a need to act now to collectively address this issue. The aim of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) platform is to promote strong alliances between governments, civil society, security forces, academia and media to fight human trafficking.We can all benefit by strengthening regional mechanisms of sharing knowledge, information, intelligence and good practices. UNODC is committed to addressing human trafficking through 4 Ps: Prosecution, protection, prevention and partnerships. By working together we can give victims of trafficking a voice and help them regain dignity and freedom.”

Mr. Sergey Kapinos, UNODC Regional Representative for South Asia, unveiling the Trafficking in Persons platform in New Delhi.

Extending support to the TIP platform in an engaging presentation, Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament, India, underscored, “I am pleased to know that UNODC South Asia has decided to create a unique Trafficking in Persons Platform. From the perspective of law enforcement and rehabilitation, this platform is a landmark initiative that will help create synergies between partners. I support this initiative and look forward to seeing it in action soon. Human trafficking can end if every country decides to collaborate in the spirit of shared responsibility.” Ms. Rebecca Tavares, Representative, UN Women in India and Ms. Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India also endorsed the TIP Platform, stressing on the need for concerted efforts to curb the crime.

The TIP platform is envisaged as a common policy forum for dialogue, discussions, and advocacy to devise, enforce and strengthen effective measures to combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons and to protect victims. The Platform seeks to develop a mechanism to help create synergies between partner entities, facilitate exchange of information and good practices and encourage joint responses and actions to address the issue. UNODC Regional Office for South Asia will serve as the repository and the secretariat for the TIP Platform.

Mr. Sergey Kapinos, UNODC Regional Representative for South Asia and Ms. Rebecca Tavares, UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives after signing the joint declaration.
Mr. Yuri Afasaniev, UN Resident Coordinator in India, said, “In terms of SDGs, I would like to remind that the framework calls for very specific targets: SDG5, SDG8, SDG 16 call for an end to trafficking and violence against women and children. Identifying victims is priority number one and it is good to see that governments of India, Nepal and Bangladesh are working together to combat this crisis.India has been very proactive in its response to trafficking.”

Trafficking in persons poses a serious threat to human rights and development, and is a grave global social challenge. More than 21 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide today, and human trafficking generates $150 billion in profit every year. Nearly 79% of all detected trafficking victims are women and children. According to UNODC, trafficking for sexual exploitation and for forced labour remain the most prominently detected forms, but instances of victims being trafficked for begging, for forced or sham marriages and organ removal have also come to light.

Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), India, delivering the special address at the occasion.

The Government representatives of India, Bangladesh and Nepal reflected on the issue and their national responses to trafficking. Mr. SK Gupta, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, said, “MHA is committed to combat human trafficking with all its might. In 2006, MHA had setup an anti-trafficking nodal cell. At the international level, India has also ratified the convention on transnational organised crime and the human trafficking protocol. We look forward to receiving a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) from UNODC to address human trafficking at the borders. The Ministry extends its support to UNODC and other stakeholders to address human trafficking.” Mr. Kedar Neupane, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Nepal, said, “The Government of Nepal is analysing that the growth of Nepal is not just a source country for TIP, but also a transit and destination for trafficking. One of the new developments in the field of anti-trafficking is that we have upgraded the police and women and child centres. Nepal is also moving to ratify the UN Trafficking in Persons protocol, and we request the support of UNODC in this regard.” Brig. Gen. Md. Mahfuzur Rahman, Additional Director General, Border Guard Bangladesh, said, “The key challenges to human trafficking in Bangladesh are the long and porous border, increasing business links (formal and informal), unintegrated approach, language barrier and time taken for identification, verification, coordination and execution. We need greater collaboration and assistance to rehabilitate and rescue victims of trafficking.”

UNODC South Asia assists Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka to develop comprehensive and sustainable responses to trafficking in persons. Such responses include prosecution of perpetrators, protection and assistance of victims and, most importantly, prevention measures. UNODC South Asia reiterates the need for all countries to stand and act together against human trafficking in the spirit of shared responsibility, with the message: “Act now to end human trafficking and violence against women and children.”

(Samarth Pathak is a New Delhi-based public advocacy specialist with a keen interest in human rights, international relations, politics and SDGs. His writings have appeared in The Guardian, Reuters Alertnet, Dawn, The Kashmir Times, Hardnews and The Asian Age. Views expressed are personal. Connect on Facebook and Twitter.)

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.