From our Editor-in-Chief: Putting modern slavery on the news agenda in India

by Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 13:33 GMT

A survivor of slavery who wished to remain anonymous, poses for a picture in New Delhi, India, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton.

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You’ve just returned from a trip to India. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were up to?

We held our third annual training course on trafficking and slavery for a group of Indian journalists. This time, we chose Delhi as the location. Journalists from all around the country came for the week-long course, which involved field trips and guest speakers such as Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Laureate, a group of women survivors of trafficking, and a visit to a girls’ home in central Delhi.

How did the training go?

The journalists started off not knowing much about trafficking and slavery. By the end of the week, when they left the classroom, they were full of story ideas to follow up on and pitch to their editors. We hope that we’re going to see these stories across papers in India in the next year. We had a mixture of mainly text journalists from all over the country there.

Did you get to up to anything else while you were there?

I spent a couple of days with our journalists in Chennai planning stories and investigations for the year. Next up is an in-depth investigation on the diamond industry in India. Watch this space.

So you were training journalists to report on slavery, and also working with our own staff who report on the issue. Can you tell us a bit about this approach?

Stories from our staff go out on the Reuters news service to an international audience while training journalists in countries to cover the issues that we focus on means we also get coverage on these topics at national and regional levels. The combination of the two allows us to have the impact that we do.

How we train journalists to report on modern slavery

by Belinda Goldsmith

Bringing 11 journalists from all corners of India to Delhi for an annual week-long training course on trafficking and slavery proved to be an inspirational event. This was the third such course held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in India with sponsorship of the C&A Foundation. The first course was held in Mumbai in 2016 and the second course in Chennai last year. Every year journalists leave the week brimming with story ideas and pitches for their editors on how to cover this critical issue that devastates the lives of millions of Indians.

The week started with journalists discussing the difference between trafficking and smuggling, between forced labour and worker exploitation, and between sexual slavery and sex work. At the hub of many discussions was India’s first anti-trafficking bill which was approved by cabinet in February and is now awaiting parliamentary approval. Campaigners hope the new law will crackdown on this illegal crime in India by introducing life jail terms for human traffickers, preventing victims such as women and girls forced into brothels from being jailed, and setting up a rehabilitation fund to help survivors rebuild their lives.

One of the key figures behind the bill, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, was a guest speaker at the course who told journalists that told the bill was a major step forward in India where slavery was ignored for decades – but stressed  it was not the end of the fight. For India is home to more slaves than any other nation with global estimates putting the number at about 18 million. Every year in India, 100,000 children go missing. Indian government data shows reports of human trafficking, often organized by criminal gangs, rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 from the previous year, to 8,132 cases.

“Trafficking is such a huge national crime that these criminal gangs operate everywhere,” Satyarthi told the journalists in an hour-long discussion at his offices in Delhi.

Other guest speakers on the course included a group of five women survivors of slavery, some of whom were trapped in bonded labour in brick kilns while others were forced into the sex trade. Now freed, they spoke of the need for help to rebuild their lives with none of the group having received any assistance from the government. Rejimon Kuttapan, from Equidem Research and Consulting that specializes in human rights and labour rights consultancy, spoke about slavery in the Gulf. Ravi Kant, founder of the anti-trafficking group Shakti Vahini, spoke about domestic servitude and sexual slavery.

The journalists heard about ways to use multi-media and data to bring stories about trafficking and slavery to life – while protecting the identity of victims whose lives might be at risk. They discussed story ideas and the best way to talk to survivors and victims. They talked about the difference between journalism and advocacy, and the need for journalists to always find the truth and give both sides of any story.

"It was five days of intellectually stimulating session with exchange of new ideas. Many thanks to Thomson Reuters Foundation for organising such a thought-provoking workshop on a sensitive subject. I am sure the course will add value to my profession ads I would implement the lessons learned in my day-to-day life," said one of the participating journalists Reshmi A R, head of content at Sakshi English News Portal in Hyderabad.

Visit Trafficking | Thomson Reuters Foundation News for our daily coverage of modern slavery.