As NRC-CAA Continue to Divide, Anti-Trafficking Bill Could Unite

If govt cares about ‘persecuted minorities’ it should also pay heed to a highly vulnerable group – women & children.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Approximately 16 million girl children are believed to have been trafficked into the sex trade. Photo used for representational purpose only. 
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The latest re-analysis of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of 2018, by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), reveals that 49 percent of persons trafficked were children. Thanks to the efforts by the State and civil society, there has been a significant decline in trafficking numbers from 2016 to 2017 (as per the NCRB data), but the decline has almost flat-lined from 2017 to 2018. In terms of absolute numbers, the number of trafficked children were:

  • 2016: 9,034 children
  • 2017: 3,553 children
  • 2018: 2,834 children

Even the NCRB data is not under-reportage, it is 2,834 too many.

Given the hidden nature of human trafficking, it is almost impossible to understand the full scope and scale of the issue globally. According to the anti-trafficking advocacy group Stop The Traffik, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is one of the most trusted sources on trafficking, and their latest report on forced labour says 40.3 million people are victims of trafficking, trapped in modern-day slavery. Of those 40.3 million, 24.9 million were exploited for labour, and 15.4 million were trapped into forced marriages. For perspective, there are 5.4 victims of modern-day slavery for every 1000 persons in the world. The economic valuation of trafficking globally was estimated at USD 150 billion back in 2015.

The Global Trafficking Crisis

Almost 80 percent of all worldwide trafficking is for sexual exploitation, with an estimated 1.2 million children being bought and sold into sexual slavery every year. India, as a nation, is still being used by traffickers as source, transit and destination country. Women and girls are the main victims of human trafficking in India. They are then forced into prostitution, forced marriage, and domestic work. There are approximately 10 million sex workers in India, out of which 100,000 belong to Mumbai alone, which is Asia’s largest sex industry centre. 300,000 to 500,000 are children under 18 years of age, who are involved in the sex trade.

This government, in its previous term, showed initiative and tabled The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018, also known as the Anti-Trafficking Bill, and got it passed in the Lok Sabha in July 2018 in the Monsoon Session. But it never got passed in the Rajya Sabha, and consequently, it lapsed with the 16th Lok Sabha.

Even as this government aims to give fast-tracked citizenship to selective persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh through the contested Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it would do well to show concern for one of the most persecuted minorities intra-country – women and children. It should use its strength for an issue which is likely to see large scale consensus – elimination of the trafficking of the women, children and vulnerable groups.

What the 2018 Anti-Trafficking Bill Addressed

The Anti-Trafficking Bill that was tabled in 2018, was a substantial enhancement from the previous anti-trafficking family of laws, that is, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, and other laws like the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956 and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976. All these defined and criminalised trafficking and related offences. But their remit was specific to bonded labour and prostitution. And human trafficking goes beyond child labour and prostitution.

The then tabled Bill also introduced steep economic deterrence for traffickers, special action plan for prevention via international cooperation (recognising the cross-border nature of trafficking), and most importantly, it introduced the rehabilitation of the victim as a justiciable right. That was a first.

Basically, the Bill spoke to the living reality of trafficking. A dispassionate rationale of the then Bill on those counts, and other counts, can be found here.

It is time for a new improved version of the Bill to be drafted. It needs to be a comprehensive anti-trafficking Bill, which centres human right and dignity. It should address the concerns with reference to the 2018 Bill. A comprehensive law will put the legal architecture, resources, paraphernalia and trained personnel on ground to tackle the organised nature of the crime that is trafficking, address the prosecution and conviction of traffickers, and adequately embark on a skills’ training of the rehabilitated victims of trafficking for a dignified life.

A Legal Solution for a Socio-Economic Problem Isn’t Enough

Another area of abysmal under-performance has been the victims’ compensation provision. A recent study by Sanjog, reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, reveals that India has compensated less than 1 percent trafficking victims in the past eight years. Lack of awareness with reference to the compensation provision amongst victims and victims’ support agencies is a major reason for the abysmal performance. A comprehensive law would also provision resources for the awareness and execution.

Now, at the helm, is Ms Smriti Irani, the Minister of Women and Child Development, who represents a very high profile constituency too. Hence, this Budget Session would be perfect for tabling the Bill and working towards its passage.

However, a legal solution for a socio-economic problem is only half the solution. One is acutely aware that human trafficking at source-point has an umbilical connection with poverty, indigence, lack of livelihood options.

A Bill That Can Unite Indians

The latest round of National Sample Survey has revealed the decline in consumption expenditure at the household level, which de facto means, an increase in poverty. That, some of the poorer states, that is, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha are source points, speaks to this reality of poverty’s connection with trafficking. Hence, human trafficking is as much predicated on socio-economic factors, as on law and order (or the lack of it). Within the legislation, the socio-economics of trafficking also need to be worked on and community intervention needs to be foregrounded.

When the country is divided on legislations like CAA, tabling the new improved Anti-Trafficking Bill, taking all parties into confidence through dialogue, would be the perfect antidote. If there’s any issue that can unite the country in these fraught times, the scourge of trafficking, the plight of women and children, should be it.

The need for tabling a comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Bill cannot be emphasised enough.

(Biraj Swain is a senior international development expert, media critic and ethicist. She works on governance, social development and human rights in South Asia, East Africa and the UN. She can be reached at Biraj_swain@hotmail.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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