The Cabinet has given its nod to the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill that is likely to be introduced in the second leg of the Budget Session.
The Budget Session of Parliament began on 5 March.
The anti-human trafficking Bill aims to solve the massive problem of trafficking, and the move was long overdue in India. According to the Global Slavery Index 2016 published by an Australian rights group, more than 18 million people in India are living in conditions of modern slavery.
According to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 8,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2016. More than half the victims – 54 percent, to be precise – were trafficked for the purpose of forced labour and sexual exploitation.
Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who has worked closely with trafficking victims, called the Bill a historic step by the Union government that will help in “eradicating modern day slavery.”
What Does the Bill Aim to Do?
The Trafficking of Persons Bill aims to look at making India a leader among South Asian nations in combatting human trafficking. It addresses the issue of trafficking from the point of prevention, protection and rehabilitation.
More importantly, it creates a distinction between the trafficker and the trafficked, ensuring victims are not wrongfully detained.
The Bill also proposes to provide rehabilitation to the victims and raise the quantum of punishment for the accused from seven years to 10 years. It also proposes to have designated courts in every district for time-bound trials and protecting the trafficked victims at the earliest.
This law has been in the making for the past two years, and has been piloted by the Women and Child Development Ministry headed by Maneka Gandhi.
Features of the Bill
The Bill broadly discusses the following features:
1. Aggravated forms of trafficking, which includes trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, begging, trafficking by administering chemical and substance on a person for early sexual maturity. The Bill also includes trafficking for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage.
2. The anti-trafficking Bill aims at maintaining the confidentiality of the victim/witness and the complainant. This helps in trans-border and inter-state rescue operations.
3. The Bill proposes to provide time-bound trial and repatriation of victims. It seeks to provide help within a period of one year.
4. Immediate protection of rescued victims and their rehabilitation. The victims are entitled to interim relief immediately within 30 days to address their physical, mental trauma and further appropriate relief within 60 days from the date of filing of chargesheet.
5. A rehabilitation fund would be created for the first time. Rehabilitation would not be based on criminal proceedings initiated against the criminal.
6. The Bill aims to have designated courts in each district for the speedy trial of cases.
7. The anti-trafficking Bill creates dedicated institutional mechanisms at the district, state and central levels. These will be responsible for prevention, protection, investigation and rehabilitation work related to trafficking. The National Anti-Trafficking Bureau will perform the task of international coordination.
8. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) will also perform the task of Anti-Trafficking Bureau at the national level under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
But Is the Bill as Good as it Seems?
The introduction of the Bill is definitely a step in the right direction to curb the problem of human trafficking in India, but NGOs and community-based organisations, which were a part of the consultation process while the Bill was being formulated, argue that the Bill has left some very important areas untouched.
Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation
Sex trafficking is one such issue. Even as the number of victims of sex trafficking was as high as 16 million, the Bill does not mention the word ‘sexual exploitation’ or ‘prostitution’ anywhere.
"The UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 says that 54 percent of human trafficking takes place for commercial sexual exploitation. But victims of sex-trafficking will not be considered victims if India’s new Trafficking Bill is passed in the Parliament. " - Ruchira Gupta, founder and president, Apne Aap
The Bill neither has any punishment for customers or clients nor does it have a provision to prevent the trafficking of marginalised girls and women.
Further, the Bill argues to prevent trafficking from the point of prevention, protection and rehabilitation. But it has has no earmarked budget to provide shelter, food, clothing and legal protection to girls and youth of backward classes who are most vulnerable to trafficking.
Vulnerability Is a Big Concern
Another major shortcoming of the Bill is that it has failed to remove Section 8 of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) under which women are punished for soliciting in a public place for no fault of their own. The reality is that they are vulnerable because they are hungry, homeless, and unskilled.
According to Ruchira Gupta, this scenario is going to be extremely confusing for frontline social workers and victims to understand, and, of course, the police officers and lawyers who continuously use ITPA’s Section 8 to arrest women.
The Bill also proposes to set up special courts for prosecution of offenders. But a similar plan was proposed after the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case, and the courts have not been functioning as effectively as they were deemed to. Further, the Nirbhaya Fund has also been fairly under-utilised.
The anti-trafficking Bill does not mention missing children anywhere. However, the NCRB data on missing children is startling. In the year 2016, around 2.90 lakh children were reportedly missing, of whom more than 50 percent are girls. A large number of them are drawn into trafficking.
However, the concerns can only be effectively answered once the Bill is tabled and the law is implemented.
Suggested Amendments to the Bill
Ruchira Gupta of NGO Apne Aap has recommended a few necessary changes in the proposed Trafficking of Persons Bill.
1. Improving Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code’s definition of trafficking of persons. The definition should be based on the UN Protocol that addresses the issue of vulnerability.
2. Prohibiting the purchase of sex and servitude. If the buyers of sex are not punished then the supply will never stop. This industry is a highly demand-driven industry; thus, to solve the problem, even buyers of sex workers should be punished.
3. The Bill also speaks of repatriation but fails to mention the psycho-socio and economic rehabilitation of the victim.
4. Section 8 of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956 criminalises women who are made to stand in public spaces by the traffickers. These women should be treated as victims and not offenders.
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