The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, passed by the Lok Sabha in July this year, has generated interesting conversations and debates around the country. Increasingly, our news platforms and social media newsfeeds are bursting with stories of the Anti-Trafficking Bill.
Extensively cogitated as the world’s second biggest criminal enterprise after the illegal drugs trade, human trafficking today is a sickening reality posing a threat to a nation’s development, economic growth, sustainability, peace and prosperity, and unfortunately, India is not immune to it. Moreover, as a gross violation of human rights, it reduces people to objects to be bought and sold at meager prices leaving them with little or no control over their existence.
Not only is trafficking a gruesome crime in terms of the adverse effects it has on its victim(s) and society as a whole, it is also ubiquitous and the truth of many lives in the country. According to National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 8,132 cases of trafficking were reported in 2016, an increase of approximately 25 per cent compared to 2015 (6,877 cases), and majority of victims of trafficking are children. What makes the situation worse is that many trafficked children do not realize for years that they have been trafficked.
It is nearly impossible to have an agreement on the accurate gamut of this sinister issue, regardless of the figures available. What matters is that these statistics is a representation of number of human lives ruined. And what matters the most to me today, as an advocate against these injustices, is that this horrific issue is now receiving more of the attention it deserves. We are finally talking about it and recognizing the prevalence of this menace in our country, and passage of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in Lok Sabha is an active proof of that – it is a reflection of the necessity to take action. But this is only half the battle won. The Bill awaits desperate approval by Rajya Sabha.
As India celebrated its 72nd Independence Day earlier this year, the question we as Indians must ask is “What is Independence to one who is not free”? “What about that child who is sold at a price much lesser than cattle, pushed into prostitution, beggary, forced labour, slavery, forced marriage, etc., and exploited in ways unimaginable?” Consequently, being a part of the largest democracy in the world, it is to also figure how one cannot be absorbed in a mere curative approach and ask “What is being done to remove the circumstances that survivors of trafficking face”, and subsequently “What is being done to prevent trafficking of persons in the first place”?
The existing law on trafficking contained in Article 370 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 provides for mere criminalization of the offence of trafficking which is not enough to address the problem at a glance – whereas, the Bill looks at Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation facets making it not only victim-centric in nature, but also provides protection to witnesses as well as a complainants.
This said, it is imperative to understand the Bill’s anti-trafficking response wherein the drafters have clearly identified prevention as a crucial purpose by dedicating an entire chapter on Prevention. The Bill takes a holistic approach to ending trafficking, by recognizing prevention amongst Protection and Rehabilitation as one of the most important components for reducing the incidents of trafficking.
The Bill aims to address the root causes of vulnerability to trafficking through variety of preventive measures on local, national, and international level.
Amongst the many noteworthy preventive measures that the Bill proposes to undertake, the foremost is the formation of Anti-Trafficking Units to prevent and combat trafficking at national and international levels. The State and District Anti-Trafficking Committees proposed to be formed under the Bill are obligated to take all measures to implement programs, plans, strategies and schemes relating to prevention of trafficking.
The Bill adopts implementation of educational programs as key to beating human trafficking, particularly for communities at high risk of vulnerability. It is a smooth task for traffickers to manipulate people at high risk of trafficking who have nowhere to go, have no basic essentials and in many cases no hope. Education is a strong preventive measure in that regard.
It also recognizes the complexity of trafficking as a crime, which cannot be tackled in vacuum. The Bill seeks to prevent the horror of human trafficking with a collaborative effort by governments, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and above all communities. In so doing, it ensures accountability of concerned agencies through regular review and appropriate action.
The Bill proposes to undertake measures for vulnerability mapping to uncover the push and pull factors of trafficking and work on preventing those challenges before the problem arises. One of the ways it aims to do this is by formulating State-wise Annual Report on Trafficking of Persons as an effective tool in preventing potential trafficking especially in States where Source-Transit-Destination linkages exist.
The Trafficking of Persons ( Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 also puts the social responsibility on the corporate sector to implement various programs to prevent trafficking to ensure that Companies do not turn a blind eye to human trafficking. It acknowledges the organized nature of the crime, and as a solution proposes attachment and forfeiture of property, breaking the backbone of the organized trafficking syndicates and leaving them paralyzed at national and international level.
It is difficult to tell how many people can be helped in this way but carefully implemented prevention programs can certainly diminish the risk of vulnerability to trafficking.
Let us stop for a second and reflect on all those potential trafficking cases that can be prevented before they happen, and raise our voices in unison for an early and expeditious passage of the Bill for a safer India. Prevention is one of the most vital components for reducing the occurrence of trafficking. Many problems may be entirely prevented, but not many problems can be entirely cured. Also, we have to bear in mind the hard reality that prevention is cost-effective and simpler, but cure can be immensely expensive, complex and distressing. Compare all of the suffering, misery and probable mortality suffered by the victim with the trivial cost of utilizing preventive measures to tackle the sinister problem of human trafficking, and the answer is obvious -- Rajya Sabha must ensure the urgent passage of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018.
Deepika Soni is a human rights lawyer and Master of Human Rights and Democratisation from University of Sydney, with experience with non-government sector and legal organisations based in India and further afield....