Centre is revising its rehabilitation scheme for forced or bonded labourers to include transgender and other marginalised people, speed up court proceedings, and increase compensation for rescued workers.
Under the new policy, the government will boost the scheme’s annual budget to 470 million rupees ($7 million) from 50 million rupees, according to an official statement released late on Tuesday.
The new scheme “aims to address new forms of bondage such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour, for which females, disabled and transgenders are mercilessly used,” Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said in the statement.
India abolished bonded labour in 1976, but the country is home to almost half the world’s 36 million slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index produced by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.
Many are from poor rural areas and are lured with the promise of good jobs, but end up sold into domestic work, prostitution, or to brick kilns, textile units and farms.
In many cases, they are unpaid or held in debt bondage, forced to work without wages until they pay off loans they have taken to secure their jobs.
Rescued bonded labourers often face delays in receiving compensation, and trials to bring perpetrators to justice can be bogged down by varying laws in different states.
Under the new rules, which are the first revision to the scheme since 1999, rescued male bonded labourers will receive 100,000 rupees each, compared to 20,000 rupees before.
Rescued women and child workers will be paid 200,000 rupees, while women, children, and transgender and disabled people who have been trafficked or rescued from brothels will receive 300,000 rupees.
The government will also ensure that bonded labour cases are tried and the judgements delivered on the same day, the statement said.
Rights groups welcomed the changes and said they hoped the court requirements would result in more convictions of traffickers.
“While we have had thousands of bonded-labour rescues, there have hardly been any prosecutions, which are the main deterrent” for traffickers, said Chandan Kumar, a worker rights expert with the charity ActionAid who has campaigned against bonded labour.
“This is a very progressive and ambitious provision, but we have to see how it is implemented, given the manpower requirements it will need at the district levels.”
More than a quarter of a million bonded labourers have been compensated since the earlier scheme was put in place in 1978, according to government data.
Between 1978 and 2015, the union and state governments collectively spent nearly 2 billion rupees on rehabilitation assistance.