Strip human traffickers of assets to cripple the illegal trade: Campaigner
MUMBAI: Criminals caught profiting from human trafficking should be stripped of their assets and these funds used to help victims, said a top anti-trafficking crusader, calling for more financial investigations into the multi-billion dollar global crime.
Archana Kotecha, head of the legal department at anti-slavery charity Liberty Asia, said criminal investigations alone were not enough as this may put offenders behind bars but did not do enough to disrupt the illegal industry.
Human trafficking is the world's fastest growing criminal enterprise worth an estimated $150 billion a year, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), with nearly 21 million people victims of forced labour and trafficking.
"Financial investigations are important and must run concurrently with criminal investigations so that you do track the traffickers and disrupt the way networks work by ensuring they are not able to benefit from the profits," Kotecha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a recent interview.
"Their business will continue if they continue to have the money. Arresting and putting offenders behind bars is important, but it is not the only answer. You have to disable their network."
Kotecha said financial investigations could map the money flow - where it is going, who handles it, who banks it - and potentially lead to wealth and asset seizures of traffickers, which should be viewed as proceeds from the crime.
Traffickers, and not the state, should bear the burden of compensating people preyed upon, she said.
"Asset seizures in most countries go back to the state, but we should have laws that say that assets seized from traffickers should go into the victim compensation fund," Kotecha said.
She said courts across the world have awarded millions of dollars to victims forced to work in factories, mines and farms, sold for sex, or trapped in debt bondage.
But in many countries the process is long and complicated. There is little awareness about how to seek funds in India where almost 20,000 women and children were trafficking victims in 2016, up nearly 25 percent from a year earlier, government data showed.
"Nobody has even sat down to evaluate the cost to society of people being trafficked, of how much the society is being bankrupted on this," Kotecha said.
"It is only right that this money makes its way back into society through these individuals."
Integrating financial with criminal investigation would ensure that the closure of one brothel doesn't lead to the opening of another and the business of trading in humans is systematically disabled.
"Often times, even if the case results in conviction for the traffickers and offenders, there is no compensation for the victim. Where does that leave an individual who has to make a life again?" she said.