By Prateeksha Shrivastava, Faculty of Law, Lucknow University, Uttar Pradesh. 

Human trafficking is the trade of humans. Trade of humans is done to serve various purposes like forced labour, sexual slavery or for commercial social exploitation. Human trafficking is also done for forced labour, slavery, extraction of organs or even for forced marriages. It can be done within a country or trans-nationally. Human trafficking is a crime. It violates human rights. It violates the victim’s right of movement. Human trafficking is a trade in person, especially of women and children. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises as it holds a relatively low risk with high profit potential.

In India, trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriages and domestic servitude is considered an organized crime. The Government of India applies the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, active from February 3, 2013, as well as Section 370 and 370A IPC, which defines human trafficking and “provides stringent punishment for human trafficking; trafficking of children for exploitation in any form including physical exploitation; or any form of sexual exploitation, slavery, servitude or the forced removal of organs.” Additionally, a Regional Task Force implements the SAARC Convention on the prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children. To check this heinous crime a Bill [Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016] has been passed in the Indian Parliament, which can be regarded a welcome step. It defines prevention, protection and rehabilitation from trafficking, and such related terms. It contains clauses about the commencement and application of the Bill. It entails provisions related to the functions, rights and duties of anti-trafficking committees at the District, State and Central level. It provides special agency, support services, protection homes, special homes for rehabilitation and social reintegration of the victims.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016, according to the draft, is a Bill to prevent trafficking of persons and to provide protection and rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking and to create a legal, economic, and social environment against trafficking of persons and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, WHEREAS, clause (1) of Article 23 of the Constitution of India prohibits trafficking in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour, making a contravention of the same a punishable offence; AND WHEREAS, Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law; AND WHEREAS, the Government of India has ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its three Optional Protocols, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children; AND WHEREAS, trafficking of persons needs to be prevented and the victims need care, protection and rehabilitation.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, is the first ever anti human-trafficking law that has been worked on, hence making it a bold and welcome step taken by the Government. It unifies existing anti trafficking laws like Immoral Trafficking Act and Protection of Child Rights Act and expands the definition to cover different types of trafficking. It also recognises human trafficking as a massive problem. The Bill identifies survivors of trafficking as victims. It provides scope for their rehabilitation by making special homes and shelter homes in every District and allocating funds to them. There is a provision for cross border repatriation of victims in case they come from neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. There are Committees for anti-trafficking at each level: District, State and Centre. There are Special Investigation Teams to coordinate among States. There is provision for Special Courts to expedite trafficking cases.

But the Bill has certain loopholes too. The Bill fails to define trafficking. The Bill also doesn’t yield a clear picture of reintegration of victims in the mainstream society. The Bill states that if the family of a victim doesn’t come forward to take him or her with them within 28 days, then the victim will be sent to a protection home for 2-3 years. But the Bill is unclear about the future of that victim. Trafficked girls have limited scope to work as they have to work within the limit of work environment. So there is a question of exposure for the girls. There is also a provision for medical check-up. But this is limited to HIV and STDs while the main problem that a victim suffers from, is the post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no time limit for rehabilitation of victims. There is no mention of the source of manpower and other resources. There is no regulation for shelter homes. The Bill is also silent on organ removal, forced marriage, forced labour, etc. There is no clarity how rehabilitation will take place and who will be responsible for it. There is also no mention about how the survivors of trafficking are supposed to fight the stigma attached to them. Aftercare for victims is available only in shelter homes and not to the victims who escaped trafficking.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, India has the fourth highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery in proportion to its population in the world. Our Government needs to understand the gravity of this issue. Though the Bill comes with several lacunae, it is still a first step, a silver lining for millions of victims who had to go through this mental and physical trauma. The victim should get skill training and exposure. Women in shelter homes are harassed. There must be some punishment for that. There should be an expansion of the Bill keeping in mind all the left out points.