Cabinet may soon approve India's first anti-trafficking bill; new law would view trafficked person as victim, not criminal

India will take a crucial step towards enacting its first anti-human-trafficking law as government sources told Hindustan Times that the Union Cabinet could soon consider and approve the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill.

In a first, the bill does not treat a trafficked person as an offender but a victim, says the report. The existing laws do not do take this approach and instead treat both the trafficked person and the trafficker as criminals.

The draft bill was released in May 2016 and aimed to create a strong legal, economic and social environment against trafficking of persons and related matters.

The bill mandates the constitution of District Anti-Trafficking Committee for every district. This committee will perform functions relating to the prevention, rescue, protection, psychological assistance etc of the victims. There will also be a State Anti-Trafficking Committee to oversee the implementation of the law and advise the state government on matters relating to the prevention of trafficking and protection/rehabilitation of victims. A Central Anti-Trafficking Advisory Board will perform similar functions at the Union level.

The bill takes into account various aspects of trafficking and the punishments as defined in Sections 370 to 373 of the Indian Penal Code. It also aims to include other offences which are not dealt with in other laws for the purpose of trafficking, such as punishment for disclosing the identity of the victim, using narcotics/alcohol for the purpose of trafficking etc. The bill provides for mandatory reporting within 24 hours by a police officer, public servant, any officer/employee of protection homes or special homes having custody of the victim to the District Anti-Trafficking Committee or in case of child victim to the Child Welfare Committee.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

A separate chapter on offences and the penalties is part of the bill. It seeks to establish special courts in each district of the country and special prosecutors to fast-track the trials and increase prosecution. The bill also envisages the creation of a fund for rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.

Once the bill is approved by the Cabinet, it will be tabled in Parliament and referred to a select committee before being taken up for debate and passing.

Currently, India uses different laws to deal with human-trafficking cases on a case-to-case basis, according to Livemint. For example, the police sometimes uses the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act to raid brothels and ‘rescue’ the women in it (including those who might not be living in confinement). In other cases, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act might be used for prosecution. The labour laws too are invoked in some cases. Begging and organ trafficking are looked at under yet other provisions.

Human trafficking a serious concern in India

Over the years, the problem of human trafficking has become a cause for serious concern in the country. According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, South Asia, with India at its centre, is the fastest-growing region for human trafficking in the world. The Global Slavery Index 2016, published by the Walk Free Foundation, said that India has the highest number of enslaved people in the world, with about 18 million children and adults being victim of modern slavery.

IANS had earlier reported that the annual US Congress-mandated report on human trafficking placed India in the tier-2 category, which includes countries that have failed to effectively combat the problem. India has maintained its position at the tier-2 level since 2011. The report argued that India still did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In 2016, the report had noted that India has become "a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking".

While the bill is a step in the right direction, it has faced certain criticism. The Livemint report points out the absence of definitions of either trafficking and rehabilitation in the bill. Further, there is also ambiguity on where the manpower and resources will come from. It also quotes a lawyer, Kaushik Gupta, who says that the bill is silent on labour trafficking, organ removal and forced marriages.

The bill was also opposed by sex workers who said that it has no provision for consensual/voluntary sex work, reported The Telegraph. The offences listed in the bill presuppose that doing sex work always entails trafficking and can never be voluntary. The report quotes Tripti Tandon of Lawyers Collective who said that "The bill's model is to use the coercive power of the state to counter trafficking. It will not lead to prevention of trafficking, but will only deal with victims post trafficking."

With inputs from IANS

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2017 12:20 PM

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