SILIGURI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cases of Indian children being smuggled to the United States are a reality, a U.S. diplomat said on Friday, reacting to a media report that police had busted an international child trafficking racket operating in the southern city of Bengaluru.
Police on Tuesday said they had arrested 16 members of a gang suspected of sending at least 25 children from the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat illegally to the United States using fake documents in order to acquire visas.
Craig L. Hall, U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he was not aware of this case as the visas had reportedly been acquired from the U.S. consulate in Chennai but said there had been similar cases in the past.
"We have seen examples of this," Hall said on the sidelines of an international conference on human trafficking in eastern town of Siliguri.
"Last year, the United States issued more a million visas to Indians who were travelling to the United States and among those million, there were very likely cases of children being smuggled and trafficked into the U.S."
According to a report by the New Delhi Television (NDTV), the children were matched with adult couples and made to pose as a family, presenting false documents at the U.S. consulate to get the required visas for their journey.
The adult couples then flew to the United States with the children, left them there and returned to India.
The suspected traffickers told police they were reuniting the children with their parents in the United States, all illegal immigrants, NDTV reported. But it quoted police officials as saying they believed the children were being sold.
Hall said the U.S. consulate in Kolkata was thorough in the way it granted visas and that dozens of applications were rejected annually based on suspicions that human trafficking was involved.
"I know in our consulate in Kolkata, we have good relations with the law enforcement agencies and we have a team in the embassy dedicated and watching out for cases like this and when we suspect them, we investigate together with the Indian authorities," said Hall.
"Dozens of applications have been blocked as we have thought them to be very suspicious. We feel confident that we have good systems in place and this is something we are vigilant about."
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 5,466 cases of human trafficking registered in 2014, an increase of 90 percent over the past five years. Activists say this is a gross under-estimation of the scale of the problem.
Thousands of Indians - largely poor, rural women and children - are lured to big cities each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into domestic or sex work or to industries such as textile workshops.
In many cases, they are not paid or are held in debt bondage. Some go missing, and their families cannot trace them.
Hall said New Delhi and Washington were working together to combat human trafficking and welcomed plans by India to draft a new anti-trafficking law and the creation a central agency to better coordinate between various states and institutions.
Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org