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More than 20,000 women & children victims of human trafficking: India as a Nation failed to safe women and children

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 “Just Imagine having all of your freedoms taken away, being forced to work against your will, and always living under the threat of violence – in short, being forced to live as a slave. Sadly, this situation is a reality for millions of children, women, and men each year as part of the global human trafficking industry.Bill Flores

Trafficking of human beings is the third largest organized crime after drugs and arms trade across the globe; a global problem which needs grave intervention of all the countries affected.  Trafficking especially of Women and Children is a serious concern prevalent in India. As per government data, in 2016, almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India, a rise of nearly 25 per cent compared to 2015. India is the source, destination and transit country for human trafficking which saw its involvement in forced labour and sex trafficking particularly, as per a report published by the US Department of State

Understanding it obligations, India ratified the Palermo protocol in 2011 to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in person, especially women and children. The definition says that human beings are trafficked for different types of exploitation, which “at a minimum includes the exploitation of the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Realizing the long need of a specific law in country tackling the issue of human trafficking, the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, was passed in the Lok Sabha. The bill released by Women and Child Development Minister Ms Maneka Gandhi has left anti-trafficking activist confounded and dissatisfied. The legislation which we as a nation are in dire need of, to tackle the worst form of human rights violation in the form of human trafficking, the bill receives plethora of criticism from various activist groups who have dedicated their lives to the cause. Ms Ruchira gupta from Apne Aap Foundation, raised her concerns on millions of victims of sex trafficking who are left out in the bill, from its very definition. “There is no mention of the word sexual exploitation or prostitution of others as an offence in the bill either in the definitions section or in the criminal provisions as sixty percent of those trafficked in India are trafficked for the purpose of prostitution’’

She pointed out that, It is the buyer who drives the industry. So, we really need the sex buyer to be punished. Include prostitution and sexual exploitation as an aggravated offence Earmark budgets for that last girl. The most vulnerable of all human beings, for her food, for her livelihood skill-training and legal protection through the Panchayati Raj system, which knows her and can track her if she goes missing.

“and worldwide figures states, almost80% of all worldwide trafficking is for sexual exploitation, with an estimated 1.2 million children being bought and sold into sexual slavery every year. Women and girls are the main victims of human trafficking in India as they are then forced into prostitution, forced marriage, and domestic work.”

When it comes to taking inspiration to combat this grave crime of human trafficking, we clearly have examples of countries like sweden, which has now become a less logical place for sex traffickers and it is difficult to find any underage girl forced into prostitution in Sweden, the country used “big-stick approach,” where the prostitute is not charged when caught but the man paying for sex is put behind punished under criminal acts. In combating trafficking and in framing anti trafficking strategies, it is evident to take adequate steps for the prevention of trafficking, and should not only restrict to post trafficking criminal prosecution. The emphasis is on awareness campaign, workshops and imparting education pertaining to the issue at trafficking source areas. All stakeholders will be empowered and aware if effective prevention mechanisms are created.

At district, state and central level, the institutional infrastructure will be formed that will be responsible for the prevention mechanisms as per the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 bill. The criticism on bill regarding the existence of laws on curbing trafficking including Section 371 of the IPC that ‘criminalizes slavery’, Section 371-373 that ‘criminalizes buying and selling of underage girls for prostitution’, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, that defines prevention through mechanisms such as the Child Welfare Committee.

Since the essential core step for prevention of trafficking lies in the awareness of the vulnerable communities that are normally affected by the issue, these communities might have to bear the brunt of the introduced bill on account of illiteracy, lacking the knowledge of legal rights and proceedings, lack of education. They will be the most exploited especially with the complicated legislation on the issue of trafficking. 

As out of the 16 million women and girls who are trapped in prostitution in India today, a majority of them were trafficked as girls and belong to the most marginalized groups-dalits, adivasis, backward classes, minorities and de-notified criminal tribes. 

“People from the lower cast or the tribal communities and the women and children from the excluded groups of the society are generally lured of a better lifestyle and employment opportunity and sold by the agents.”

The another claim on the bill is hindering the freedom of women as the bill doesn’t clearly define ‘trafficking for marriage’, it can restrict the choices and mobility of women especially those working in the unorganized sector as it doesn’t mark out voluntary and involuntary acts. There is a need to look on all-inclusive rehabilitation, as the primary focus of the bill is on outlining offences rather than focusing on alternate and individual-centric rehabilitation strategies. Activists says, many victims refuses to stay in shelter homes considering the less conducive and measurable conditions of shelter homes. What all these victims need is exit strategies from the vicious cycle of exploitation. What we all as a nation wants, considering the disturbing state of human trafficking in India is a law that can effectively tackle the problem of trafficking. All those criticism should be taken as healthy suggestions to prepare “first-ever comprehensive anti-human trafficking law” in India. At the end we all are in this for the betterment of our society, to reduce the epidemic of trafficking in India.

Shalu Saharan: She did her post graduation in Social Work from Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi and working in development sector for last may years. She is specialized in Counselling, Micro-Planning, Gender Analysis. Please write to her

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