Human trafficking is a crime against a person and is often referred to as a form of modern-day slavery. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ranks it just below illegal drugs and arms trafficking, making it the third-largest international crime industry in India. Even though it is a pandemic problem, there seizes to exist a holistic common definition across the world. The Palermo Protocol, defined by the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), accuses all persons involved in any step of the human trafficking process, not specific to gender, age or type of trafficking. The Protocol has been ratified by several countries and was adopted by this country in 2011.
The Constitution of India prohibits all forms of trafficking under Article 23 and has several legislations in place to address the issue. However, the country lacks a holistic law covering all aspects of the crime. The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), 1956, focuses on prostitution as a means of sexual exploitation, the Goa Children’s Act defines trafficking holistically but is only applicable for children in the State of Goa. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, notifies Section 370 and 370A in a bid to provide comprehensive measures to combat the crime. Moreover, 234 Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) have been established for targeted and effective handling of human trafficking cases. However, the sensitisation amongst officials towards the victims and their understanding of the gravity of the crime is yet to be prioritised. Human trafficking is a form of exploitation and is often categorised into two types, namely, Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Economic Exploitation (EE). The latter is largely ignored by existing policy, as human trafficking as a term is often confused with prostitution. The existing pattern of data maintenance by the Government also reflects a similar scenario. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), reported cases of human trafficking have been on the rise, from 3,554 in 2012 to 5,466 in 2014, marking an approximate increase of 54 per cent. The surge in these numbers can be attributed to more effective reporting of the crime. Nevertheless, the conviction rate in most of these cases has been abysmal, failing to meet even a 50 per cent mark. Against this backdrop, the Draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, was introduced. The new Bill proposes to set up district-level and State-level anti-trafficking committees for speedy investigation of trafficking cases. The district committee will be chaired by the District Collector and will include two social workers, one representative from the District Legal Services Authority and one District Officer of the Social Justice or Women and Child Development Department. The committee, scheduled to meet at least once in three months, will serve as the first point of contact for rescued victims. The State panel, on the other hand, will supervise, review and guide the implementation of the Act in their districts. A Central Anti-Trafficking Advisory Board will further perform the same function at the Centre, overseeing and guiding the State Government Committees. The Bill has introduced a few changes in comparison to the ITPA (1956), as it mandates the registration of placement agencies, with consequences of licence suspension or cancellation. It imposes heftier fines and penalties than the ITPA on violation of rules by protection homes and special homes for victims. Moreover, it also specifies to constitute special courts to undertake speedy trials of offences in each district and assigns a Gazetted police officer to investigate each case. Despite the revised regulations, the new Act leaves room for a considerable number of unanswered questions. The Act does not define human trafficking in particular and only briefly mentions India’s ratification of the Palermo Protocol in 2011. Consequently, it leaves the definition of the crime to inference, failing to outline the scope of the interventions for the crime. Moreover, with the formation of district and State committees, it does not state its stand on the existing AHTUs. It also claims to override all other existing legislations in place for human trafficking in India, challenging the ITPA’s continuance. The Act should be thoroughly revised, taking into consideration the existing legislations, current trafficking scenario and an overall understanding of the ecosystem. First, it is essential to define and expand the ambit of the term to include both, CSE and the EE. Second, greater sensitisation of officials for better management and investigation of the crime, is needed. Moreover, since more than 90 per cent of India’s trafficking is internal, it is essential to identify the States serving as ‘source areas’ supplying the trafficking victims, and ‘destination areas’ absorbing the trafficked pool. and Consequently,specific interventions need to be worked out to stamp out the malaise.
(The writer is a research associate at Swaniti Initiative)