According to the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) India witnessed an increase in reported cases of human trafficking by almost 20 pc in 2016. Due to the vagueness in the definitions of the Bill, it might be misused and used against victims.
An estimated 60,000 children are trafficked in India every year, most of them being girls. Many of the girls who are trafficked are used as domestic help or sold into prostitution.
After a long wait on July 26, the Lok Sabha passed a crucial law to deal with human-trafficking. The Anti-Trafficking Bill (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) 2018 was introduced in the House by Women and Child Development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi.
Minutiae of the Bill
The Bill lays down a stringent punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment for aggravated forms of trafficking, which includes buying or selling of persons for the purpose of bonded labour, bearing a child, as well as those where chemical substances or hormones are administered, and a survivor acquires life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS.
The Bill further proposes to establish a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau (NATB) for coordinating, monitoring and surveillance of trafficking cases. It provides for a Relief and Rehabilitation Committee and Rehabilitation Fund with an initial allocation of INR 100 million. It prescribes forfeiture of property used or likely to be used for the commission of an offence. “Trafficking is a borderless crime but jurisdiction issues come in the way of investigation. This Bill provides for the NATB to effectively address this aspect,” said Maneka Gandhi.
The problem of trafficking in India
According to the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) India witnessed an increase in reported cases of human trafficking by almost 20 pc in 2016. There were 8,000 cases of human trafficking that were reported, while 23,000 victims were rescued in the same year with 61 pc of them being children. In December 2017, the NCRB came out with its annual crime report for 2016. It said 8,132 cases involving human trafficking were reported in India with 3579 (44 pc) of these cases recorded in Bengal alone. Rajasthan came second with 1,422 cases, according to the report.
The US State Department in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2018 placed India in Tier 2 and urged the country to increase prosecutions and convictions for all forms of trafficking, including forced and bonded labour, and of officials allegedly complicit in it. According to them, “The government of India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
Why is the bill seen to be flawed?
Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor called the bill “regressive and paternalistic”. He said the bill does not make a distinction between victims of human trafficking and migrants who have been smuggled. “The bill must also differentiate between those who are trafficked into sex work, and adult, consenting women who have entered sex work,” he said.
The bill also fails to address the issue of illegal organ and skin trading, which is a form of human trafficking. Thousands of victims in India have complained of being duped after being lured to migrate and sell their organs for hefty money.
A recent case of Ajit Krishnan (name changed) from Kerala, came into light, when he was lured into selling his kidney for INR 700,000 but got only INR 200,000. Krishnan was transported to Colombo by an organ trafficker. However, the organ trafficker later went missing.
CPI’s Badaruddoza Khan raised the issue of protection of transgenders under the new Act, Gandhi responded in a manner that doesn’t behoove a minister, said trans activist Meera Sanghamitra. Sanghamitra further said that the Act “unfortunately refused to understand the complex set of differences and dynamics between “adult trafficked persons” (who need to be liberated and rehabilitated with their consent) and “adult sex workers” (whose ‘choice’ of livelihood within their complex circumstances needs to be understood and respected by also allowing them access to a range of skills and livelihood opportunities to choose from).”
A recent study ‘RAIDED’ conducted by the Maharashtra-based NGO SANGRAM and sex workers’ collective VAMP, revealed that out of a sample of 243 women picked up in raids in Maharashtra, 193 were adult consenting sex workers, who were incarcerated in rehabilitation homes against their wishes. Under the proposed law, this process will become more brutal for sex workers. Through such forced incarcerations, the Bill will in fact end up in criminalising the livelihoods of the poor instead of affording them greater socio-economic protection and empowerment.