Activists oppose draft anti-trafficking Bill

The proposed anti-trafficking Bill likely to be tabled in Parliament during the Monsoon Session will criminalize sex workers and transgenders, according to activists who have appealed to parliamentarians that the draft legislation is sent to the Standing Committee.

Features of Bill:

It takes into consideration aggravated forms of trafficking. It includes trafficking for purpose of forced labor, begging, trafficking of a woman or child for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage or after marriage, trafficking by administering chemical substance or hormones on a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity etc

It prescribes punishment for promoting and facilitating the trafficking of a person. It includes producing, printing, issuing or distributing unissued, tampered or fake certificates, registration or stickers as proof of compliance with Government requirements or commits fraud for procuring or facilitating the acquisition of clearances and necessary documents from Government agencies.

It deals with the confidentiality of victims and witnesses and complainants by not disclosing their identity. It will be maintained by recording their statement through video conferencing (it will help trans-border and inter-State crimes).

It has provision for time-bound trial and repatriation of the victims. It will be within a period of 1 year from taking into cognizance. It provides immediate protection of rescued victims and their rehabilitation. The victims will be entitled to interim relief immediately within 30 days to address their physical, mental trauma etc. and further appropriate relief within 60 days from the date of filing of charge sheet.

It creates dedicated institutional mechanisms at District, State, and Central level. They will be responsible for prevention, protection, investigation and rehabilitation work related to trafficking. The tasks of Anti-Trafficking Bureau at the national level will be performed by National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The punishment prescribed under it ranges from rigorous minimum 10 years to life and fine not less than Rs. 1 lakh. In order to break the organized nexus, both at the national and international level, it mandates for attachment & forfeiture of property and also proceeds for the crime.

It comprehensively addresses the transnational nature of the crime. It entrusts National Anti-Trafficking Bureau (NATB) to perform functions of international coordination with authorities in foreign countries and international organizations.

Many have spoken out against the devastating effects that the new bill could have on several stakeholders which include marginalized groups such as children, the trans community, and consenting sex-workers. In fact, it is claimed that the bill is essentially nothing but a veiled attempt to further criminalize sex work.

The new bill includes a clause that makes the transmission or even exposure to HIV in an instance of trafficking among one of the ‘Aggravated Offences’. This would have a grave impact on those suffering from HIV.

Consenting sex workers will be severely hit by the bill. The sex workers’ community which is one of the biggest stakeholders in anti-trafficking legislation has not been consulted before the drafting of this bill.

The bill makes giving chemicals or hormones to another for their accelerated sexual maturity an “aggravated offense”, a clause that leaves the trans-community in a lurch.

The new bill also includes child victims of trafficking. Child rights activists have raised concerns about the proposed ‘rehabilitation’ of children by institutionalizing them, a practice which has often faced international censure.

More than 300,000 children went missing in the country between 2012 and 2017, government data shows. Around 100,000 are yet to be traced and it is feared that many of them could have been trafficked.

In 2016, for instance, 111,569 children were reported missing. Of these, 55,944 children were traced but only 8,132 trafficking cases were reported. Many of these children are victims of modern slavery — forced into prostitution, labor or domestic work.

They are also used as drug mules and even given up for adoption illegally. Poverty and lack of opportunity also push a lot of young women, especially from the interior parts of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand, into prostitution.

Despite the enormity of the problem, India lacks a single comprehensive law for human trafficking. At present, trafficking is covered under half-a-dozen laws resulting in confusion and poor enforcement.

The new law will make India a leader among South Asian countries to combat trafficking. Trafficking is a global concern also affecting a number of South Asian nations. Amongst them, India is now a pioneer in formulating a comprehensive legislation. UNODC and SAARC nations are looking forward to India to take lead by enacting this law.

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