A United States government report says India has the world's largest problem of human trafficking with hundreds of thousands of sex trafficking victims and millions of bonded laborers, including children, and no national anti-trafficking effort.
The State Department's annual report on human trafficking released worldwide on Tuesday, ranked India for a fourth consecutive year in the report's second-worst category, the so-called Tier 2 Watch List.
Mark Lagon, the new director of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking in Persons, told media persons, "India could be downgraded unless the New Delhi, with which the United States has increasingly close ties, becomes more responsive."
He, however, said, "The relationship, the level of communication between our two governments is such that it can stand some serious frank talk about a problem like bonded labour or sex trafficking. And we are going to lay out, working with them, a kind of action plan, for steps forward on this."
The report ranked several of the United States' Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, in the lowest category and subject to possible sanctions.
The State Department's rankings, mandated by an act of Congress in 2000, authorize only mild sanctions for the worst offenders, and officials in Washington say the main purpose of the exercise is to focus attention on the problem of human trafficking, including forced labour and the international sex trade.
The 2007 report, rating 164 countries in all, lists 16 countries in its lowest 'Tier 3' category, making them subject to possible cutoffs of non-humanitarian US aid, if applicable.
Among countries getting the lowest grade for the first time were US Gulf allies Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar along with Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Malaysia. They joined long-standing offenders including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Burma, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.
Lagon, said the listing of the many wealthy Gulf Arab states reflects a chronic problem in the region, which imports large numbers of foreign workers.
"What we found as a general pattern in this report is an endemic problem in the way foreign workers are treated in the Persian Gulf, in Middle Eastern States," he said.
"Three is a recruitment pattern of unsuspecting people who are offered jobs as secretaries, maids. They end up being sex slaves or put into domestic servitude in an involuntary way. That is seen throughout the region," he continued.
The report grouped Georgia for the first time with what is called the 'Tier 1' countries -- those doing the best job of controlling human trafficking, prosecuting those involved, and supporting and assisting trafficking victims. Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are also newcomers to the Tier 1 group.
The report lists 75 countries, including India, in an intermediate Tier 2 group -- those that are demonstrating a significant' commitment to address their trafficking problems but have not yet achieved international standards -- while 32 countries are on a Tier 2 'watch list' for having shown signs of failing to make improvements.
The report places 16 countries in the bottom Tier 3 -- those governments that have shown no commitment to meeting international standards.