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Nearly 40 traffickers jailed in southern India in rare success for prosecutors

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian court has sentenced 39 people to 10 years in prison each for buying and selling girls in Karnataka state, signaling a rare victory for prosecutors in a country where fewer than two in five trafficking cases ends in a conviction.

Human traffickers, pimps and brothel owners were among those convicted by a district court in Ballari on Tuesday, according to prosecutor Rathod Ramsingh, who said he hoped the verdict would deter others.

"Normally only the pimps get picked up but this time everyone involved in buying, selling and reselling of these girls has been found guilty," Ramsingh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The convicted offenders were also fined 247,000 rupees ($3,630) each by the court on Wednesday.

The prosecution came after Ballari police raided several brothels in 2013, rescuing 43 women and 21 children, including a 13-year-old, and seizing evidence including cash and account ledgers.

Seven of the rescued victims were from Bangladesh and the rest were from Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka and Odisha.

A further 48 suspects in the case are being tried in three separate cases in Karnataka.

Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to non-governmental organizations working in the country.

The U.S. State Department said in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report that investigations, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking were low in India even though the government has stepped up its law enforcement efforts.

Of the 2,075 human trafficking cases that were prosecuted in 2015, 824 ended in a conviction, according to India's national crime records bureau.

Campaigners welcomed Tuesday's verdict, saying it should encourage other victims to come forward.

"This conviction is because of the courage of the survivors, all young women, who walked into the packed courtroom to identify their traffickers and the men who abused them," said Adrian Phillips of non-profit Justice and Care that worked with the police on the case.

"Offenders who previously assumed they would get away with the crime will now know otherwise."

($1 = 68.0749 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)