MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The video testimony of a Bangladeshi trafficking victim rescued from an Indian brothel will help convict her alleged trafficker, and such depositions should become a part of efforts by both countries to curb trafficking, activists and lawyers say.
The 24-year-old woman, who was trafficked by her husband and rescued from a Mumbai brothel in 2014, gave her deposition last week by video link from Dhaka. It is probably the first time this was done in a cross-border trafficking case, said lawyer Kalpana Heere in Mumbai.
"Typically, when the victim is from Bangladesh, she is repatriated after 21 days, and while we have her statement, it is not as powerful as a deposition in person," said Sanjay Macwan of the non-profit International Justice Mission, which helped set up the video conference with the victim.
"The video conference is now our great hope of bringing more convictions against traffickers in cross-border cases if we can find a way to do it cheaply and easily," he said.
South Asia, with India at its centre, is the world's fastest-growing and second-biggest region for human trafficking after Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Bangladesh is a major source and transit country, with thousands of women, girls and young men being trafficked to India and some Gulf Arab nations.
Traffickers or "agents" often take advantage of poor communities, luring victims from villages with promises of good jobs and a better life in cities, only to sell them into forced marriage or bonded work as prostitutes or maids.
More than a quarter of the women and girls who are trafficked to Mumbai, India's financial hub, are from Bangladesh, activists say. India signed an agreement with Bangladesh last year to strengthen cooperation and information sharing to ensure speedier investigations and prosecutions of traffickers and organised crime syndicates in either country.
Of the 5,466 trafficking cases in all of India in 2014, while charges were filed in almost 95 percent of cases, the conviction rate was only 45 percent, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
In cross-border cases, it can be hard to convict the trafficker after the victim has been repatriated, said Heere.
"The victim is the star witness, and if we can't question her in court, then it is difficult to bring a conviction," she said. "With a video conference, we have very good chances."
At least 25 victims of trafficking who were repatriated to Bangladesh are willing to testify through similar video depositions if allowed, Macwan said.
"We are already using video depositions in terror cases. We want to show that trafficking is just as serious, and victims of trafficking are just as important in the eyes of the law," he said.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Ros Russell)
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