Child trafficking victims testify by video to quicken trials in India

by Anuradha Nagaraj | @anuranagaraj | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 8 February 2021 13:15 GMT

ARCHIVE PICTURE: A school girl holds a container at Brahimpur village in Chapra district of the eastern Indian state of Bihar July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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Hundreds of child trafficking cases in India have stalled as courts await evidence from victims, prosecutors and campaigners say

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, Feb 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -  Two child trafficking victims gave evidence via video conferencing for the first time on Monday as part of an Indian judicial push to speed up slavery trials and clear a backlog of cases.

Hundreds of child trafficking cases in India have stalled due to delays in hearing testimony from survivors, who often have to travel far from their villages to give evidence in city courts, prosecutors and campaigners said.

But under the pilot project launched by the Supreme Court, two boys rescued from a New Delhi embroidery workshop in 2018 used video conferencing to testify remotely from eastern Bihar state - some 1,000 km (600 miles) from the capital.

Instead, they had a journey of just 40 km (25 miles) from their village to give their video evidence from a local court, said Sandeep Kumar, field coordinator of anti-trafficking charity Centre Direct.

"The in-camera proceedings finished within two hours and the boys went home. Ordinarily, they would have had to travel to Delhi at least one day before to testify. It would have been expensive and they would have simply not gone," he added.

Both boys were aged about 12 when they were trafficked to New Delhi, Kumar added.

About 2,260 cases of human trafficking were reported in India last year, according to government data. These cases involved 6,616 victims, of whom 44% were children.

Born into poverty, many of the children are trafficked to work as slaves in India's multi-billion dollar handicraft industry or into brothels and domestic servitude.

A 2020 petition before India's Supreme Court, which led to the video conferencing pilot, said the need for rescued child trafficking victims to travel long distances to give evidence hampered their rehabilitation and delayed court cases.

Delays mean trafficking survivors often have to wait years to access state government compensation.

Indian courts have been using virtual hearings during the coronavirus pandemic, and the petition called for video conferencing to become the norm in all child trafficking cases.

A lawyer in the case of the two rescued boys said requiring testimony to be given in person before a judge was "impractical, expensive and often just stalls a trial for years".

"If the journey is more than 200 km (125 miles), the survivor should testify through video conferencing," the lawyer added, requesting anonymity because the case is ongoing.

Centre Direct said it had registered more than 500 cases that were on hold awaiting testimony from trafficked children, and executive director of the non-profit Suresh Kumar said the new initiative would "have a huge impact".

"Traffickers operate with impunity, knowing that these cases will never reach their logical conclusion. If the pilot project is successful, it will set a precedent," he said.

Related stories:

Lockdown reveals rampant child labour in India as kids stream home  

India's Taj Mahal, revered temples join anti-child labour push 

Talk to me: counsellors help child workers win justice in India 

 (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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