Prevent Human Misery Rather Than Avenge
December 14, 2021

Prevent Human Misery Rather Than Avenge

December – Universal Human Rights Month

“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act
to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

– Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

51 countries formed the United Nations in October of 1945 following the end of World War II. After the world witnessed the horrific acts of genocide and bloodshed, the U.N. formed the Commission on Human Rights. In 1946 Eleanor Roosevelt, who spent more than a decade championing poverty alleviation and civil rights as First Lady, became the first Chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

In 1948 the Commission created the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, which established a set of universal rights to which every human being is entitled. Although the declaration was not a binding, enforceable treaty, it served as a model for legislation in many countries.

Articles 1, 3 and 4 of the declaration relate to freedom – everyone is born free and should be treated as such, everyone has the right to live in freedom, and nobody has the right to enslave another.

As Americans, we are legally guaranteed the right to freedom through our country’s founding documents and subsequent laws. But others around the world are not entitled to these same basic human rights. Despite being law, the enforcement and protection are unequally distributed leaving the poor even more vulnerable to exploitation.

There are a number of brave organizations working around the globe to break the literal and proverbial chains of slavery – International Justice Mission, Justice Ventures International, Human Trafficking Institute – to name a few that The Rees-Jones Foundation has supported. These organizations attack slavery and bonded labor from all angles through rescue, restoration and judicial efforts. All are important aspects, but as Eleanor Roosevelt asked, when will we prevent rather than avenge?

International Justice Mission, or IJM, is one of the largest organizations in the world working to rescue, restore and protect individuals from slavery, bonded labor, and human trafficking. Its work in India, which the Foundation has supported for more than a decade, has resulted in the rescue of over 23,000 individuals. But IJM has its sights set on a more ambitious goal dubbed “2030 Vision”, which aims to rescue millions, protect half a billion, and make justice for those in poverty unstoppable.

One branch of IJM’s 2030 Vision seeks to correct the root causes of present day slavery – specifically, to protect 323 million people in India from violence[i] by the year 2030. As an aside, India is the second most populous country with over 1.3 billion people. For perspective, there are 329.5 million people in the U.S., which means that IJM and its partners plan to protect a population almost the size of the United States.

Protecting individuals from falling victim to slavery, bonded labor or trafficking is best understood through the lens of how it’s able to happen in the first place.

In Indian society, the established caste system and ethnic groupings have created a historically disadvantaged class of people, which often means these individuals, who represent a quarter of the Indian population, are subjected to unequal application of the law. Perhaps consequently, the caste and tribe population accounts for the vast majority (an estimated 90 percent) of bonded laborers.

Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of IJM, wrote a book called “The Locust Effect” with Victor Boutros, executive director of Human Trafficking Institute. Although dramatic improvement has taken place since “The Locust Effect” was published in 2013, the book still illustrates how those living in poverty are exploited by the more powerful in their community through violence, threats, torture and even murder. The cycle of abuse is never ending because those charged with upholding and enforcing the laws that are designed to prevent such abuse simply don’t.

20 pages into “The Locust Effect”, Haugen shares his experience meeting a small group of individuals who were freed from bonded labor in India. Not only were the young people tricked into their captor’s brick factory, subjected to unimaginable abuse and torture, but once freed, the government refused to prosecute the perpetrators. Despite the magistrate accompanying law enforcement and IJM on the rescue operation, despite capturing the rescue on video, despite numerous eye-witnesses (including the magistrate) and victim testimony, despite an army of lawyers, investigators and caseworkers pleading on their behalf and offering assistance, despite all of this, the police refused to file charges against the captor.

Sashmeeta, an attorney who left her lucrative legal career to join IJM, worked the aforementioned case, and noted:
          The worst part is that there is nothing special or exotic about the outcome in this case. There will be no outrage,
          no scandal – nothing in the media about it. Not a single police officer, prosecutor, magistrate, clerk, or judicial
          official will be reprimanded, exposed, or held accountable in any way for the failure. We have worked hundreds of
          these cases, and this is normal.[ii]

It’s worth noting that IJM has witnessed remarkable transformation – especially in the last few years – in terms of the willingness of government and law enforcement to work in partnership with IJM and proactively through its own initiatives to address these issues and crimes. The aforementioned story seeks to illustrate how incredibly broken the system remains in parts of India.

Slavery, which includes bonded labor and trafficking, is illegal in India.[iii] But according to IJM, “the lack of enforcement of these laws has allowed powerful criminals to enslave and exploit the poor without consequences”.

The Crime in India Report issued by the National Crime and Records Bureau, an Indian government agency responsible for collecting and analyzing crime data, provides the most recent data available. It states that in 2019, the government reported 2,088 trafficking cases under Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized sex trafficking and some forms of labor trafficking.[iv] Of those, the government completed prosecution in 600 trafficking cases, which resulted in the conviction of 306 traffickers in 160 cases. However, also in 2019, the acquittal rate for trafficking cases was 73 percent meaning the government acquitted 1,329 suspects in 440 cases.

Extrapolating the NCRB data for 2019, only 28.7 percent of all trafficking cases were prosecuted, and a mere 7.6 percent of all trafficking cases garnered a conviction. It’s worth noting that the number of cases are not a representation of number of victims nor suspects as cases can have a multitude of both. The NCRB reported 6,571 victims of human trafficking in 2019.

By focusing efforts in Indian states where IJM has built relationships with law enforcement and members of the judiciary, IJM has been able to come alongside stakeholders to make tangible changes in the system that dissuade would-be perpetrators of trafficking. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s sustained barrage on the people of India, investigations and rescue operations on suspected brothels and labor sites continued throughout 2020 in five states. Through IJM support, government and law enforcement professionals restrained 28 suspected perpetrators of bonded labor, and 240 suspected perpetrators of sex trafficking. Through its own initiatives and casework efforts, Indian government officials were able to restrain an additional 13 suspected perpetrators of bonded labor, and 204 suspected perpetrators of sex trafficking. Additionally, IJM reports that police are conducting more advanced investigations than in the past, which has resulted in taking down an entire network of traffickers as opposed to just arresting a brothel manager or single participant.

A vulnerable population and lack of law enforcement are contributing factors to the prevalence of slavery throughout India. IJM believes that by strengthening justice systems and building a network of partners, it can deter criminals and protect people from ever being abused in the first place.

“Protection”, as defined by IJM, is the array of benefits that accrue to people in poverty through a transformed justice system. This means that people are protected from violence when the justice system acts as a deterrence to perpetrators, is attractive for victims to report crimes and pursue cases, performs well on those cases, and has the confidence of key stakeholders.

IJM credits its years of relationship building for its ability to rescue 7,574 people from abuse in 2020, resulting in the highest number of victims rescued in IJM India’s 21 year history.

IJM is currently operating in seven cities throughout India where it trains and works alongside local law enforcement to investigate suspected traffickers, conduct rescue operations, and support prosecution efforts. Through its India Project last year, IJM trained over 20,000 individuals, including local officials, judicial system professionals, NGO workers and others, on enforcing the law in order to protect themselves and others in their communities against violence. With success in several of the cities, IJM is transitioning its casework to partner NGOs and beginning work in new cities.

The enduring goal of IJM is to end slavery. With an estimated 8-20 million persons enslaved in India alone, IJM is facing a goliath of sorts. But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’”

Foundation Involvement

The Rees-Jones Foundation has partnered with a number of organizations seeking to end slavery in countries around the world after Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, spoke at the church Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones attend over a decade ago. Since 2009, the Foundation has granted more than $20.7 million to IJM to rescue and restore victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems.

To learn more about the state of trafficking in India, you can access the U.S. State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report for India here.

[i] Violence refers to slavery, bonded labor, human trafficking, and other forms of human exploitation and abuse.

[ii] Haugen, Gary A., and Victor Boutros. “What Are We Missing?” The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015, p. 27.

[iii] Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized sex trafficking and some forms of labor trafficking did not explicitly address labor trafficking.

[iv] The government did not report what sections of the Indian Penal Code were included in the data, and the government reported the same number of cases for West Bengal in 2018 and 2019 because West Bengal did not provide new data.

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