The importance of convictions in fighting modern slavery

Several weeks ago a District Magistrate gave a sentence of seven years in a case that our office was involved in, according to The Hindu:

The owner of a quarry from Malakacheruvapalli in Chickballapur district was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for confining 42 people in his quarry as bonded labour.

International Justice Mission (IJM) which brought the case to light, in a release, has said the owner was sentenced by the Civil Judge and JMFC, Bagepalli, under Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Section 344 of the Indian Penal Code Section (wrongful confinement) and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The charges against the owner included confinement, payment below minimum wages, children not being allowed to go to school and a pregnant woman in labour not being allowed to go to a hospital.

IJM believes this is the longest sentence ever recorded for holding slaves in India. 

IJM pursues prosecution as a deterrent against future crime. As IJM’s Vice President of Government Relations Holly Burkhalter noted in a review of Siddharth Kara’s book  Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, IJM firmly believes that convictions form an important part of a total strategy for ending human trafficking by not just punishing but my fundamentally changing the risk profile of engaging in illegal behavior.

Prison sentences, on the other hand, can jolt traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners into reconsidering their assessment of profit and risk, and deter them from using children or coerced adults in the labor pool. Indeed, in the course of investigating child sex trafficking in South and Southeast Asia, securing relief for victims, and working with local prosecutors to bring perpetrators to justice, we at the International Justice Mission have found that even a relatively small number of convictions can contribute to perpetrators’ finding a different way to make a living.

She goes to to explain that Kara, whose background is in finance, “believes that ‘the most effective way to reduce aggregate demand is to attack the industry’s immense profitability by inverting its risk-reward economics, that is, by making the risk of operating a sex slave operation far more costly.'”

In Kara’s own words in his TED fellows interview argues that convictions are key because they are a key way to attack a key vulnerability of the slavery business model:

There are vulnerabilities here that can be exploited, in that it’s occurring in relative daylight. It happens millions of times a day. The locations in which it happens are relatively fixed, and you can’t go too far underground because consumers aren’t going to follow you there. And other reasons why this is the vulnerable point, where if you intervene intelligently and carefully, you can not only liberate the slave, which means you also cut off all future cash flows, but you can gather the requisite evidence and information required to successfully prosecute and convict, which elevates the real risk.

So there you are attacking profits and elevating risk, which is inverting that compelling formula we talked about. So this is the argument I make, based on understanding how it works, of what should be done, to more effectively respond.

So that’s why convictions are so important to us.

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