The voluntary sector of India, the entire NGO community operating through thousands of organisations, who have been working for women and children against human trafficking, has hugely welcomed the initiative taken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to enact the new anti human trafficking law. For a heinous crime like trafficking, the statistics indicating its humungous rise is shocking and calls for a comprehensive mechanism. The 2016 NCRB statistics suggest that 8,132 cases of trafficking were reported across the country, with the number of victims rescued being 23,117 (61% of these were children). Forty-five per cent of these victims were trafficked for the purpose of “forced labour”, followed by “sexual exploitation for prostitution” (22%), etc. It is the first instance whereby data from AHTUs (Anti Human Trafficking Units) has been collated to reflect the statistics of trafficking.

This new law takes care of all aspects of human trafficking—prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, including aggravated forms of human trafficking like forced labour, begging, administering chemical substances and hormones for sexual maturity, promoting and facilitating trafficking of a woman or child for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage or after marriage etc., providing punishment for promoting or facilitating trafficking of person, which includes producing, printing, issuing or distributing unissued, tampered or fake certificates, registration or stickers as proof of compliance with government requirements; or committing fraud for procuring or facilitating the acquisition of clearances and necessary documents from government agencies. The bill also provides for designated courts for time bound trial and repatriation of the victims—within a period of one year from taking into cognizance, which is a highly welcome move. The bill also provides for seizing of property located in foreign lands, which is a good effort at dealing with this crime that has a global character.

A dedicated mechanism is proposed to be created under this law at each district, state and Central levels to implement the bill in its entirety. We are particularly happy as human trafficking, one of the few unique crimes defined and provided for in Constitution of India, is being taken seriously.

But unfortunately, this law, which was essentially provided in the Constitution, was not defined till post the “Nirbhaya” 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act, by virtue of which, trafficking was defined in Section 370, Indian Penal Code. Despite the creation of a new definition of human trafficking, wherein commercial sex, forced labour, child labour, organ trade, forced marriage, illegal adoption were covered, the law was not provided in its elaborate form, making all provisions required for the same. Civil society organisations had been waiting and lobbying for a comprehensive law.

Now that this bill is approved by the Cabinet, on its way to Parliament for the prevention of human trafficking and rehabilitation of victims, including all aspects of criminal investigation, prosecution, compensation to the victims and their families, we presume and hope that the law will get Parliament’s approval very soon. The bill also provides for an existing agency, with all its manpower and resources, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), under the Ministry of Home Affairs to perform the tasks of an anti-trafficking bureau at the national level, which shall prove more expedient than creating a new body for the same.

After the enactment of Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, Section 370 defined human trafficking, but these aspects were still uncovered. The entire character of human trafficking issues will change primarily for the reason that so far Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956, which covered only commercial sex or in the common lingua, the “brothels” or “brothel related issues”—or as they call it “prostitution”, which as an expression is not acceptable to us—the women victims get re-victimised since 70%-80% of cases under the prevailing Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act happen to be for soliciting, which means that the trafficked victim herself becomes victimised. That situation has been absolutely unacceptable, calling for an urgent need for a comprehensive law, which need is now being fulfilled, also fulfilling our commitment in the Constitution, our commitment to the United Nations through the UN Protocol, which covers all aspects and forms of human trafficking. 

We strongly support that this law should be passed by Parliament. It should really work for the prosecution, investigation and very strong punishment/conviction of organised human traffickers and syndicates, as the crime is perhaps one of the three most lethal crimes possible, the other two being crimes related to drugs and arms as it deals in human beings—in fact, some of the most vulnerable and helpless human beings. 

Various agencies that have a key role to play against human trafficking are related to the labour department, Ministry of Women and Child Development, the police, the judiciary and the voluntary organisations. 

The whole idea of human trafficking as now being defined is the most elaborate form of definition anywhere in the world, because it covers even begging, which is not there right now and other types of crimes that are committed in the name of human trafficking. 

As a police officer and someone who has been implementing the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act for a long time, I feel, that law is very inadequate as it talks about prostitution, which is an outdated concept, and secondly our focus needs to shift from commercial sex, as other forms of trafficking particularly forced labour and child labour have grown extensively. 

Another important area that the new law is likely to cover is on the issue of missing children. Nearly 3 lakh children are reported to be missing according to the government, of which 1 lakh are untraceable as mentioned by Maneka Gandhi. A huge number of these children are drawn into the vortex of human trafficking and forced labour. The role of police, labour department, child-lines, voluntary organisations becomes highly important in this. Therefore, the law bringing all these agencies into its ambit is a measure of great success. 

Amod K. Kanth is former DGP, Chairperson, DCPCR, and General Secretary, Prayas JAC Society.

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