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Insights into Editorial: The long road to winning the battle against trafficking

 

 

Context:

July 30 is United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is marked every year on July 30 to create awareness around people who are being trafficked and are taken away against their will.

It helps to educate others that trafficking in persons is a crime exploiting even women and children for tragic jobs like forced labour and sex.

This gives an opportunity to understand the harms of human trafficking and its impact on the life of the people.

 

Theme of this year: Suggestions of the victims into actions can be helpful:

  1. The theme for this year for the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is ‘Victims’ voices lead the way.’
  2. It highlights the importance of sharing and learning from survivors of human trafficking. The survivors are important factors in the battle against human trafficking.
  3. They have a huge role to play in establishing effective measures to eradicate this crime.
  4. They help in identifying and saving victims and supporting them on their way to rehabilitation.
  5. Many victims of human trafficking have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during interviews and legal proceedings.
  6. In their attempts to get help, they have experienced ignorance, misunderstanding, victimization and punishment for offences their traffickers had them commit.
  7. Others received inadequate support or were subjected to stigmatization. Turning the suggestions of the victims into actions can be helpful to lead an effective approach in preventing human trafficking.

 

About Human Trafficking:

  1. According to the UN- International Labour Organization (ILO) defines human trafficking as the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of forced labour, commercial sexual exploitation or sexual slavery for the trafficker or others.
  2. It estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally which includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation.
  3. According to the UNODC, people are being trafficked for various exploitative purposes including forced marriage, begging, labour, sexual exploitation, organs removal, selling children etc.
  4. A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on the effects of the pandemic on trafficking echoes these findings.
    1. It says, traffickers are taking advantage of the loss of livelihoods and the increasing amount of time spent online to entrap victims, including by advertising false jobs on social media.
    2. In addition, there is an increased demand for child sexual exploitation material online due to lockdowns.

 

India’s vulnerability in dealing with trafficking:

  1. It is also a time to reflect on India’s human trafficking crisis. Between April 2020 and June 2021, an estimated 9,000 children have been rescued after being trafficked for labour, according to a child rights non-governmental organisation (NGO).
  2. In other words, 21 children have been trafficked every day over nearly 15 months.
  3. The Childline India helpline received 44 lakh distress calls over 10 months. Over a year, 2,000 children have arrived at its shelter homes and 800 rescued from hazardous working conditions.
  4. Trafficking in Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1).
  5. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the premier legislation for prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
  6. 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.

 

Scant data, other gaps that needs to be addressed:

  1. The Government admitted in Parliament as recently as March 2021 that it does not maintain any national-level data specific to cyber trafficking cases.
  2. The efficacy of certain schemes launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes remains to be seen.
  3. India is still classified by the U.S. Department of State as a Tier-2 country in its report on global human trafficking.
  4. This means that the Government does not fully meet the minimum standards under U.S. and international law for eliminating trafficking, but is making significant efforts to comply.
  5. The lack of implementation is illustrated by the state of the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs).
  6. AHTUs are specialised district task forces comprising police and government officials.
  7. In 2010, it was envisioned that 330 AHTUs would be set up. RTI responses in August 2020 showed that about 225 AHTUs had been set up, but only on paper.

 

Draft Bill, judicial issues of new draft anti-trafficking Bill:

  1. With focus now shifting to the new draft anti-trafficking Bill, the point to be highlighted is that there is no shortage of anti-trafficking policy in India.
  2. Where the system is found lacking is in the implementation of the laws.
  3. Significant discussion is required on the provisions of the Bill, particularly with respect to bringing in the National Investigation Agency and increasing the punishment for offences, including the death penalty as an option in some cases.
  4. It is not proven that more stringent laws, particularly the death penalty, have any greater deterrent effect on crime.
  5. The draft Bill also provides for AHTUs/committees at the national, State and district levels, but as noted, their effective functioning cannot be taken for granted.

 

Way Forward:

  1. Legislating without the political will to implement and monitor effectiveness is futile.
  2. Special attention must also be paid to the challenges prosecutors and judges face in trafficking cases. There were 140 acquittals and only 38 convictions in 2019, according to government data.
  3. This points to a failure of investigation and cannot be solved by the draft Bill’s provision that accused traffickers must be presumed guilty unless they can prove the contrary.
  4. Further, trials can drag on for years, with victims sometimes withdrawing their complaints after being intimidated by traffickers.
  5. Proper case management must be introduced to give meaning to the “fast track” courts.
  6. Other problems include the low number of beneficiaries of monetary compensation and the lack of consistent access to psychological counselling.
  7. Parts of the draft Bill recognise the importance of rehabilitation, but implementation is key.

 

Conclusion:

Most victims of trafficking are from low-income communities for whom the novel coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have caused long-term financial distress.

With schools continuing to be closed in much of India and no definite end to the pandemic in sight, it cannot be assumed that incidents of trafficking will decline with a return to “normalcy”.

If properly staffed and funded, Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) could provide crucial ground-level data on the methods and patterns of traffickers, which in turn can strengthen community-based awareness and vigilance activities.

Global practices such as in Nigeria, Africa, should be encouraged in India, in consonance with a larger framework to protect women and children by incentivising education and creating safe employment opportunities.

That apart, the failure of existing institutional mechanisms to foresee the present crisis should spur the Government and other stakeholders to take preventive action now.

July 30 should be the beginning of the end of human trafficking in India.