The Anti-Trafficking Bill: A Questionable Solution for Prevention

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The Anti-Trafficking Bill: A Questionable Solution for Prevention

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, approved on February 28, 2018, mentions prevention as one of its key goals. Let us start by understanding the critical nature of prevention programmes in anti-trafficking efforts.

The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pointed out that “effective anti-trafficking strategies should never be restricted to post-trafficking criminal prosecutions. States are also obliged to take adequate measures for the prevention of trafficking.”

Prevention programmes are short or long-term actions aimed at addressing human trafficking. Short-term actions can include education and awareness campaigns at source areas (for trafficking) while long-term programmes aim at building training mechanisms for law enforcement agencies, creating change in laws that lack provisions to effectively tackle the issue of trafficking, and providing economic opportunities for the vulnerable population.

The effective placement of prevention mechanisms can create a hard-hitting impact on the issue of trafficking where all stakeholders are empowered and aware.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill provides such mechanisms in the form of institutional infrastructure at the District, State and Central level that will hold responsibility for prevention work.

Overall, the Bill provides that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) will work as the Anti-Trafficking Bureau on the national level.

There are certain criticisms that have stood out on the bill including the existence of laws on curbing trafficking including Section 37-370A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that provides definitions and penalties, Section 371 of the IPC that ‘criminalises 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, among others.

While the core of prevention and other anti-trafficking efforts lies in awareness, vulnerable communities might have to bear the brunt of this Bill as they lack knowledge of legal rights and proceedings, don’t have proper access to education and are vulnerable to exploitation especially with the complicated legislation around the issue of trafficking in the nation.

Let us take a look at other considerations in the criticism of the bill.

The vagueness of certain clauses and impracticality of an additional law runs the risk of complicating enforcement. Furthermore, it will make investigative powers easier to misuse and unjustly target the marginalized sections of society.

The new Bill also overlooks the need to define and create provisions for ‘sexual exploitation’ as that is to be addressed through the ITPA and section 370 and 370A of the IPC.

The bill can hinder the freedom of women, especially those working in unorganized sector.It doesn’t clearly define ‘trafficking for marriage’ or mark out involuntary and voluntary acts, and hence can greatly restrict women’s choices and mobility.

‘’The most horrifying thing about this Bill is that there is no mention of the word sexual exploitation or prostitution of others as an offence in the bill…sixty percent of those trafficked in India are trafficked for the purpose of prostitution’’, says Ruchira Gupta, Founder President of Apne Aap, in an interview with The Quint.

She further added 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…livelihood skill-training and legal protection through the Panchayati Raj system, which knows her and can track her if she goes missing.’’

Although the bill was to work as one-of-a-kind for providing all-inclusive rehabilitation, it seems as if the primary focus of the bill is delineating offences. Considering the miserable condition of rescue homes, many victims may refuse its shelter. The bill should have focused on alternate and individual-centric rehabilitation strategies.

On the other hand, amidst widespread concern about the efficacy of the bill, there are many who believe that this bill can alter the trafficking scenario in India and provide speedy relief to victims. Many activists and trafficking survivors are demanding that the bill be implemented soon since they fear that it will fall into obscurity, as the political focus turns to the general elections of 2019. Many members of survivors’ networks around India have contributed through letters, videos and practical suggestions, and feel that their ‘’efforts were in vain’’.

Considering the disturbing state of human trafficking in India, there is huge urgency for this bill. But before passing it, many modifications are needed.