Human trafficking in India and anti-trafficking bill – Explained, pointwise


Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and various civil society groups have campaigned for decades for a strong law to end the menace of human trafficking. In 2017, thousands of trafficking survivors marched a Bharat Yatra alongside students, governments, the judiciary, multifaith leaders, businesses and civil society to demand such a law.

COVID-19 has further intensified the need for the lawTraffickers are taking advantage of prolonged school closures and loss of family livelihood. Although Anti-trafficking policies exist in India, where the system is found lacking is in the implementation of the laws.

Intense of Human trafficking during the pandemic

Government agencies have rescued almost 9,000 children from trafficking since the first lockdown. In other words, 21 children have been trafficked every day over nearly 15 months.

  • Children as young as 12 are trafficked across the States to work in factories in appalling conditions, where owners are turning to cheap labour to recoup their losses from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Childline India helpline received 44 lakh distress calls over 10 months. Over a year, 2,000 children have arrived at its shelter homes and 800 rescued from hazardous working conditions.
  • Child marriages are also rampant — over 10,000 cases were tracked between April and August 2020.
Read more: Needed: an anti-trafficking law
How the Pandemic made children vulnerable to Human trafficking?

A child rights NGO, working with the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights has highlighted the problem of rampant child labour during the pandemic. It pointed out reasons such as,

  • The children and their families faced a loss of income and economic crisis, causing families’ reduced capacity to care for children in the long term.
  • The pandemic has also caused, in some instances, loss of parental care due to death, illness, or separation. Thereby placing children at heightened risk for violence, neglect, or exploitation.
  • This is compounded by an erosion of some checks against child labour and child marriage provided by law, as well as the scrutiny of schools and society.
  • The increase in Internet access in current times has also led to cyber-trafficking. A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on the effects of the pandemic on trafficking mentions that the traffickers are taking advantage of the loss of livelihoods and the increasing amount of time spent online to entrap victims, including by advertising false jobs on social media.
Read more: Pandemic increased vulnerability to human trafficking: U.S. report
Why strong steps are essential to curb human trafficking?
  • Human trafficking is not a crime in itself, but it is also the propeller of several other crimes. It creates a parallel black economy that fuels child labour, child marriage, prostitution, bonded labour, forced beggary, drug-related crimes, corruption, terrorism, and other illicit businesses.
  • Further, the architects of our Constitution established the severity of the crime of trafficking by making it the only offence punishable under the Constitution of India itself, besides untouchability.
    • So, a strong anti-trafficking law is the moral and constitutional responsibility of our elected leaders, and a necessary step towards nation-building and economic progress.
Constitutional & Legislative provisions related to Trafficking in India
  1. Trafficking in Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1).
  2. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for the prevention of human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
  3. Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 has come into force wherein Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code has been substituted with Section 370 and 370A IPC which provide for comprehensive measures to counter the menace of human trafficking.
Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill

The Government of India has proposed the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021. This Bill aims to tackle all aspects of trafficking including the social and economic causes of the crime, punishment to traffickers, and the protection and rehabilitation of survivors.

Salient provisions of the anti-trafficking bill
  • Definition: The bill defines exploitation to include the exploitation of the person for prostitution or other forms. Which includes pornography, forced labour, forced removal of organs, or illegal clinical drug trials.
  • Includes Transgender: The bill extends beyond the protection of women and children as victims. It now includes transgenders as well as any person who may be a victim of trafficking.
  • Victim Definition: The bill does away with the provision that a victim necessarily needs to be transported from one place to another to be defined as a victim of trafficking.
  • Nodal Investigative Agency: National Investigation Agency (NIA) shall act as the national investigating and coordinating agency responsible for the prevention and combating of trafficking in persons.
  • Punishment: The Punishment will be for a minimum of seven years period, which can go up to imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. However, in cases of the trafficking of more than one child, the penalty is life imprisonment. In certain cases, even the death penalty can be sought.
    • More severe penalties in case of aggravated offences, like the death of a victim.
Issues with the draft bill
  • There is no shortage of anti-trafficking policies in India. Where the system is found lacking is in the implementation of the laws.
  • The bill prescribes stringent laws, including the death penalty as an option in some cases. It is not proven that more stringent laws have any greater deterrent effect on crime.
  • Low conviction rates and lengthy trials: There were 140 acquittals and only 38 convictions in 2019, according to government data. This points to a failure of investigation and cannot be solved by the draft Bill’s provision that accused traffickers must be presumed guilty unless they can prove the contrary. Further, trials can drag on for years, with victims sometimes withdrawing their complaints after being intimidated by traffickers.
  • Proper case management must be introduced to give meaning to the “fast track” courts and proper investigation of trafficking cases.
  • To protect and rehabilitate the trafficked persons, the Bill has to include the necessary checks and balances against potential misuse of power by agencies.
  • The bill also has to include periodic reviews of the law and its performance.
  • Above all, the government has to allocate adequate resources for the effective implementation of the existing laws and the bill (if enacted).
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