news / Judicial Programs

Training Indian Judges to Tackle Human Trafficking


14 Jun 2023

The numbers are staggering. Every day, some 50 million people are living a form of modern slavery, trafficked against their will for marriage or forced into labor. In the Asia-Pacific region, more than 15 million people are entrapped in this vicious cycle of abuse, the highest rate of forced labor anywhere in the world. One in every 150 people on the planet suffers this injustice.

Despite these grim statistics, however, conviction rates for the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor are low. In 2014, 40 percent of countries surveyed by the International Labor Organization recorded no or few convictions, and little has changed in the decade since.

These challenges are particularly acute in India, the world’s most populous country and South Asia’s economic engine. “Lack of awareness, lack of training of concerned officers, failure to register cases under relevant laws, and ineffective investigation” are some of the reasons why, according to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs.

To assist the Indian judicial system in increasing its prosecutorial capacity and in keeping pace with human exploitation, the CEELI Institute is working with the National Judicial Academy of India and the U.S. Federal Judicial Center on a “training-of-trainers” program for Indian judges and justices.

In the first phase of the project, eight Indian judges were selected to build a unique curriculum to tackle key elements of the human trafficking challenge—such as how to examine, store, and obtain electronic evidence across borders—based on international good practices and Indian law. During a recent session in Prague, this group reviewed, refined, and finalized their topic-specific curricula.

“Human trafficking is a very sensitive issue,” said Indian Supreme Court Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, one of the program participants. “It doesn’t have any international, national, regional, or even gender boundaries; it’s all-encompassing. For that reason, it can be intimidating from the point of view of a judge.”

“Programs like [the CEELI Institute training] help India’s legal system and its judges,” Justice Amanullah said. “When a judge is more informed, it’s easier for them to know what laws to apply. Laws are useless if they are only on paper.”

As part of this program, the CEELI Institute is also working with another group of Indian judges on cybercrime issues. Two in-person workshops took place at the end of May and beginning of June 2023: one course tackled human trafficking, and a second course focused on cybercrime. In addition to continued discussion on substantive human trafficking and cybercrime issues and exchanges with our team of U.S. federal judges and adult educators, these sessions offered a chance for the judges to present their individual modules to their peers, who will provide feedback to improve each individual session as well as the curriculum as a whole.

Both groups will deliver their sessions during a “pilot workshop” in India in the Fall. The goal of the project is to introduce a new, modern, and pedagogical approach to adult learning in a judicial environment, and to create new curricula on both human trafficking and cybercrime.

Meghalaya High Court Justice H.S. Thangkhiew, another participant in the human trafficking training, said issues such as court capacity and the evolving nature of the crimes make it difficult to investigate and prosecute. “Online, everyone is anonymous,” Justice Thangkhiew said. “For India’s judicial system to deal with this scenario, judges must equip themselves for when these cases come to their court.”

Laws like the 2000 Information Technology Act and Article 360 of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses transborder kidnapping, give judges tools to prosecute human traffickers. When laws or legislation are insufficient, it is judges who must intervene, program participants said.

“When statutory legislation is unavailable, gaps are being filled by legal judgments,” said Justice Thangkhiew. “First instance judges who try similar cases can look for examples from higher courts to try them using these precedents.”

Judge K.C. Barphungpa, a district judge in the Indian state of Sikkim, said her biggest challenge was a packed docket. “Indian courts are heavily, heavily overloaded,” she said. Programs like the CEELI Institute’s training initiative are designed to enhance judicial capacity and give Indian judges the tools they need to try human trafficking cases fairly and efficiently.

“The methods they have taught us will go a long way to help judges improve their skills, strengthen the way they interact with victims of human trafficking, and even help to expedite such cases,” said Judge Barphungpa.

Justice Thangkhiew added: “We still have a long way to go, and technologically enabled crimes are adapting so fast. But India’s courts are also adapting as new challenges arise.”

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