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Last month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned the world that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a major increase in human trafficking. India’s Home Ministry responded by issuing an advisory to its state governments earlier this month, with clear instructions to set up or improve local anti-trafficking networks. The Ministry has written to states and Union territories to expedite the setting up of new anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) and upgrade the infrastructure of existing ones to ‘combat and prevent’ human trafficking. The AHTUs are an integrated task force to prevent and combat the menace of human trafficking. Trained representatives from the police, department of women and child development, other relevant departments and renowned non-government organisations are part of the unit which was first established in 2007. While the Central government has provided financial assistance for setting up physical infrastructure in these units, it is the responsibility of various states to depute suitable manpower to manage them

  • Human trafficking is the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain.
  • What trafficking really means is girls groomed and forced into sexual exploitation; men tricked into accepting risky job offers and trapped in forced labour in building sites, farms or factories; and women recruited to work in private homes only to be trapped, exploited and abused behind closed doors with no way out.
  • People don’t have to be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. In fact, transporting or moving the victim doesn’t define trafficking – it can take place within a single country, or even within a single community.
  • People can be trafficked and exploited in many forms, including being forced into sexual exploitation, labour, begging, crime (such as growing cannabis or dealing drugs), domestic servitude, marriage or organ removal.

Scale and Magnitude:

  • People are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced begging, forced marriage; for selling children and as child soldiers, as well as for removal of organs;
  • Women make up 49% and girls 23% of all victims of trafficking;
  • Sexual exploitation is the most common form of exploitation (59% share) followed by forced labour (34% share);
  • Most victims are trafficked within their countries’ borders – those trafficked abroad are moved to the richest countries.
  • 72% people exploited in the sex industry are women.
  • 43% of victims are trafficked domestically within national borders.

How do people get entangled in trafficking?

  • People trapped by traffickers are mostly trying to escape poverty or discrimination, improve their lives and support their families.
  • Vulnerable people are often forced to take unimaginable risks to try and escape poverty or persecution, accepting precarious job offers and making hazardous migration decisions, often borrowing money from their traffickers in advance.
  • When they arrive they find that the work does not exist, or conditions are completely different. They become trapped, reliant on their traffickers and extremely vulnerable. Their documents are often taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off.

Constitutional & legislative provisions related to Trafficking in India:

  • Trafficking in Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1).
  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Criminal Law (amendment) Act 2013 has come into force wherein Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code has been substituted with Section 370 and 370A IPC which provide for comprehensive measures to counter the menace of human trafficking including 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.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, which has come into effect from 14th November, 2012 is a special law to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • It provides precise definitions for different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment.
  • There are other specific legislations enacted relating to trafficking in women and children Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, apart from specific Sections in the IPC, e.g. Sections 372 and 373 dealing with selling and buying of girls for the purpose of prostitution.
  • State Governments have also enacted specific legislations to deal with the issue. (e.g. The Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2012).

Issues facing state institutions and Ngo’s during rescuing operations of trafficking :

  • Evolving nature of trafficking is a challenge like uprise of technology usage, coward ways of conducting crimes this days and pressure to have money by poor.
  • Process of forming a centralised databank of children who were rescued to make monitoring easy is not very effective.
  • Maximum number of trafficked girls falls in the age bracket of 8-10 years according to rescue foundation so procuring details about the family and having a database of information is difficult.
  • It is found that there is a strong nexus between politicians and other powerful people in this field so public functionaries do not help the civil society organizations in time.
  • Rescue operation is tough because:
    • Traffickers find new ways to smuggle girls like luring jobs by creating fake documents, multiple routes so it becomes tough to identify and rescue.
    • Traffickers have been trying new ways, including transporting women on tourist visas to Gulf nations to get round Indian immigration checks.
    • They are also trying routes through neighbouring countries including Nepal where collusion of officials with traffickers is suspected.
    • Professional network chain of trafficking is such that victims are easily transported to the end use point quickly so it becomes difficult to locate them.
    • The victims themselves will not make any hue and cry:
    • Sometimes when they are trafficked by inducement and fraud (forced labour ,slavery, in the name of love) victim is not aware that he/she is being trafficked till they reach the final point.

Way Forward and Conclusion:

  • Strengthening the capacity building: To enhance the capacity building of law enforcement agencies and generate awareness among them, various Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for Police officers and for Prosecutors at Regional level, State level and District level were held throughout the country.
  • Judicial Colloquium: In order to train and sensitize the trial court judicial officers, Judicial Colloquium on human trafficking are held at the High court level.
  • The aim is to sensitize the judicial officers about the various issues concerning human trafficking and to ensure speedy court process.
  • Police should be proactive in booking the cases under trafficking provisions. Often cases are booked as kidnapping or missing person cases even though there is clear evidence of trafficking.
  • Increase investigations and prosecutions of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, and convict and punish those found guilty
  • Improve central and state government implementation of protection programs and compensation schemes to ensure trafficking victims receive benefits, release certificates, and rehabilitation funds
  • Develop and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) to harmonize victim identification and repatriation, and the prosecution of suspected traffickers when trafficking crimes cross state lines
  • Shelter homes need to upgraded to protect children and provide necessary services to them.