Nearly 40 traffickers convicted in southern India in rare success for prosecutors

Human traffickers, pimps and brothel owners were among the 39 people convicted by a district court in Ballari with sentencing due on Wednesday.
Human traffickers, pimps and brothel owners were among the 39 people convicted by a district court in Ballari with sentencing due on Wednesday.ST FILE PHOTO

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 40 people were found guilty on Tuesday (Jan 17) of buying and selling girls in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, signalling a rare victory for prosecutors in a country where fewer than two in five trafficking cases ends in a conviction.

Human traffickers, pimps and brothel owners were among the 39 people convicted by a district court in Ballari with sentencing due on Wednesday, according to prosecutor Rathod Ramsingh, who said he hoped the verdict would deter others.

"Normally only the pimps get picked up but this time everyone involved in buying, selling and reselling of these girls has been found guilty," Ramsingh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The prosecution came after Ballari police raided several brothels in 2013, rescuing 43 women and 21 children, including a 13-year-old, and seizing evidence including cash and account ledgers.

Seven of the rescued victims were from Bangladesh and the rest were from Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka and Odisha.

A further 48 suspects in the case are being tried in three separate cases in Karnataka.

Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to non-governmental organisations working in the country.

The US State Department said in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report that investigations, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking were low in India even though the government has stepped up its law enforcement efforts.

Of the 2,075 human trafficking cases that were prosecuted in 2015, 824 ended in a conviction, according to India's national crime records bureau.

Campaigners welcomed Tuesday's verdict, saying it should encourage other victims to come forward.

"This conviction is because of the courage of the survivors, all young women, who walked into the packed courtroom to identify their traffickers and the men who abused them," said Adrian Phillips of non-profit Justice and Care that worked with the police on the case.

"Offenders who previously assumed they would get away with the crime will now know otherwise."