Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As you have indicated, my name is Robert McDougall. I am currently in charge of the South Asia division in Global Affairs Canada, and I'll be providing remarks on behalf of the department.
My colleague David Drake, the director general for counter-terrorism, crime and intelligence, is also present. He can answer your questions on Canada's multilateral engagement and on the international normative framework around trafficking in persons.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today regarding the committee's plans to undertake a new study on human trafficking in India, with a focus on sex trafficking.
An issue of global importance, human trafficking is a crime and a serious violation of human rights that disproportionately affects women and girls. Global estimates of victims of human trafficking range from 21 million, according to the International Labour Organization, to 45 million, according to the Global Slavery Index. The real numbers are hard to identify accurately given that the crime is often poorly understood by the general public, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
This can lead to victims being seen as criminals and prosecuted for crimes rather than being provided with the assistance needed. Victim identification is also a serious challenge. Human trafficking is a largely hidden crime and victims are often fearful or unable to self-identify to authorities or other first responders.
This global finding is reinforced in the case of India by conservative social norms in many parts of the country, inter alia, concerning the treatment of women and girls.
In 2016, the Indian Ministry of Women & Child Development reported that almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India, an increase of 25% from 2015, with the highest number of victims recorded in the eastern state of West Bengal. Outside experts estimate that the number of women and children victims in India is in fact in the millions. India is a source destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Forced labour constitutes India's largest trafficking problem.
The majority of India's trafficking problem is internal. Those from the most disadvantaged social strata such as low caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups are most vulnerable.
India is also a destination country; victims are also reported from several neighbouring countries. For example, Bangladeshi migrants have been subjected to forced labour in India through recruitment fraud and debt bondage. Nepal, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan also provide women and girls who are subject to both labour and sex trafficking in major Indian cities.
Finally, India is also a transiting country. According to open sources, following the April 2015 Nepal earthquakes, Nepali women transited through India and became increasingly subjected to trafficking to the Middle East and to Africa.
India's ministry of home affairs has revised its strategy on guiding anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) to ensure more effective identification and investigation of trafficking cases and coordination with other agencies in referring victims to rehabilitation services. Several state governments have created or reactivated their own AHTUs, although the majority of districts remained without AHTUs.
Moreover, in recent years, India has improved efforts at collecting data on trafficking investigations, persecutions, and convictions. On the other hand, while the government has investigated and prosecuted some cases of official complicity, independent analysis indicates that it remains widespread.
The Indian government continues to fund shelter and rehabilitation services for women and children throughout India, and has issued additional directives to states to find and rescue missing children, some of whom may be trafficking victims.
In order to address human trafficking globally, the Government of Canada was an early adopter of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, ratifying both the convention and the protocol in May 2002. India, I would note, ratified both in May 2011.
Under the protocol, states parties are encouraged to implement a 3P approach: prevention, prosecution, and protection. Canada has added a fourth P to its work: partnership. Human trafficking is a global problem that must be addressed through collaborative partnerships in all regions.
Presently, through Global Affairs Canada's anti-crime capacity building program, Canada is supporting the work of international organizations to combat trafficking in persons through three projects in the Caribbean and Latin America. Investment in those projects totals $2.1 million.
The complexity of this crime requires a multi-disciplinary approach and a collaborative response encompassing legislative, programming, and policy measures.
This crime of human trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls. For young girls, sex trafficking can have particularly far-reaching impacts, including impeding their education, increasing their risks of early and forced marriage, early pregnancy, and putting them at a higher risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
At the heart of Canada's international assistance is the promotion of gender equality and rights, as well as the empowerment of women and girls. Canada is committed to working with global partners to ensure that these principles guide us in our efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
Canada does not have a bilateral development assistance program in India. It ended in 2009 at the request of the Indian government. Canada does, however, provide development assistance through partnerships between Indian and Canadian non-government organizations and through multilateral programs.
Through the partnerships for development innovation branch, Canada invested $2.1 million in 2015-16 to support 15 projects in India.
The main programming sectors include innovative food security research, improving the health of children, integrating community development, and advancing governance and human rights with a focus on gender equality.
Partnership programs in India have a number of aims.
First, they aim to reduce violence against women. Oxfam Canada's creating spaces program addresses violence against women in both informal and formal settings with interventions that aim to counteract domestic violence, and early and forced marriage, as well as strengthen support services for women and girl survivors.
Second, they aim to find innovative solutions to nutrition and food preservation problems.
Third, they aim to test innovative solutions to health issues, including developing tools for earlier diagnostics, advancing affordable health care solutions, and promoting mental health care.
Fourth, they aim to support community health education and economic growth, such as providing free ophthalmic examinations to children.
Fifth, they aim to create self-sufficient communities with satisfactory standards in education, health, sanitation, food security, income generation, women's rights, environmental sustainability, and political stability.
Canada continues to contribute indirectly to the achievement of development results in India through its core funding to multilateral and global organizations, such as the World Bank, the United Nations and its agencies, and the Asian Development Bank. In fiscal year 2015-16, Global Affairs Canada contributed approximately $32 million to India through long-term institutional support to such international organizations.
Canada's International Development Research Centre, or IDRC, also has an active presence in India, supporting a number of research projects focused on reducing violence against women and promoting gender equality.
Projects have explored issues such as violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, police procedures when dealing with victims of rape and sexual violence, and child sexual abuse.
Others have focused on the interaction between economic growth and its impact on women's economic opportunities, and the unpaid care economy and its impact on women's economic empowerment.
This research fills knowledge gaps, informs discussions, and assesses programs and policies to effect policy change.
By the way, I understand in this context that the IDRC has indicated it would be happy to appear before your committee if called.
The Canadian High Commission in Delhi also supports local projects and advocacy initiatives to advance women's economic and political empowerment; the elimination of violence against women and girls; and ending child, early, and forced marriage.
For example, in 2015-16, through the Canada fund for local initiatives, the high commission supported a local organization with $15,000 to increase coordination and capacity among stakeholders to address human trafficking in the state of Maharashtra. Canada fund projects aimed at addressing child, early, and forced marriage have also raised awareness of trafficking issues.
In conclusion, all that said, more needs to be done. The fight against human trafficking will remain a priority for Canada globally. In that context, we will continue to be alert to opportunities to advance this cause in India, in collaboration with other foreign governments and with civil society partners in both countries.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.