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India a source, destination, transit of human trafficking, yet crucial Bill remains pending

By Risha Syed*  

Trafficking in human beings is one of the largest organized crimes violating basic human rights. Trafficking in human beings may be for sexual exploitation as well as in many other forms including forced labour. This crime is primarily fuelled by poverty, illiteracy, lack of livelihood options, etc.
India is a source, a destination as well as a transit country for trafficking. Majority of the trafficking happens within the country but there are also a large number of persons trafficked from and to neighbouring countries and to other countries, especially Middle East Asia.
Internationally, India has ratified the United Nations Convention for the ‘Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others’ which declares that prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.
Article 16 of the Convention sets forth obligations upon state parties to take or to encourage “health, social, economic and other related services, measures for the prevention of prostitution and for the rehabilitation and social adjustment of the victims of prostitution”.
In May, 2011 India ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNCTOC) and its three protocols, one of which is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The protocol aims at comprehensively addressing trafficking in persons through the so-called three P's – prosecution of perpetrators, protection of victims and prevention of trafficking.
At the South Asia level, India is a party to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution which promotes cooperation amongst member states so that they may effectively deal with the various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children; the repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and prevent the use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where the countries of the SAARC region are the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Domestic legal framework

Presently, the subject matter of trafficking of persons is dealt with under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 wherein Section 370 of the IPC was substituted with Section 370 (Trafficking of Persons) and 370 A (Exploitation of a Trafficked Person) which covers all forms of exploitation of exploitation suffered by victims of trafficking including children such as physical exploitation, sexual exploitation, slavery, servitude or forced removal of organs.
In addition, specific provisions in the IPC under section 366A, 366B, 372 and 373 dealing with selling and buying of girls for the purpose of prostitution supplement the special legislations put in place to address the problem of trafficking. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 deals with trafficking of persons for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
The Bill treats trafficking in persons as an organised crime and imposes severe penalties for those violating its provisions
However, a need was felt to adopt a holistic approach towards the issue of trafficking of persons, and realizing the situation, Government of India formulated the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill (TOP Bill) which aims to prevent trafficking of persons and provide care, protection and rehabilitation to victims of trafficking. The Bill was introduced in the 16th Lok Sabha, which passed it on July 26, 2018. The Bill lapsed on dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha as it failed to pass in the Rajya Sabha.
Later, the Bill was revised and renamed as the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 with a new objective to prevent and counter trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide for care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims, while respecting their rights, and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them, and also to ensure prosecution of offenders.
It treats trafficking in persons as an organised crime and imposes severe penalties for those violating its provisions. However, the Bill has not yet been introduced in Parliament, though it is again listed as the Bill scheduled to be introduced in the Parliament in the ongoing Monsoon session.
Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi who had organized a nationwide Bharat Yatra in 2017 to demand for the smooth passage of the Bill. He is of the view that:
"A strong anti-trafficking law is the moral and Constitutional responsibility of our elected leaders, and a necessary step toward nation-building and economic progress. As long as children are bought and sold at lesser cost than cattle, no country can call itself civilised. Covid-19 has caused a rise in trafficking, especially of women and children. We cannot take this lightly".
---
*Child rights expert

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