Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, unveiled a draft of the country’s first-ever comprehensive anti-human trafficking law, which would treat survivors as victims in need of assistance and protection rather than as criminals.
Why is the Bill necessary?
South Asia, with India at its centre, is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, after East Asia, says the U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime.
There are no accurate figures on the number of people trafficked within South Asia, but activists say thousands of women and children are trafficked within India as well as from its poorer neighbours Nepal and Bangladesh.
Many are sold into forced marriage or bonded labour to work in middle class homes as domestic servants, in small shops and hotels or confined to brothels where they are repeatedly raped.
What is the Bill aimed at?
Women’s Minister Maneka Gandhi said the draft bill aims to unify existing anti-trafficking laws, prioritise survivors’ needs, and prevent victims such as those found in brothel raids from being arrested and jailed like traffickers.
“The bill shows far more compassion and makes a very clear distinction between the trafficked and the trafficker, which is a nuance that should have been made 60 years ago,” Gandhi said on Monday as she unveiled the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016.
How will the bill benefit the victims?
The draft legislation provides for special courts to expedite trafficking cases, more shelters and a rehabilitation fund to help victims rebuild their lives. It also provides for anti-trafficking committees – at district, state and central levels – that will oversee prevention, protection and victim rehabilitation.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 5,466 human trafficking cases registered in 2014, an increase of 90 percent over the past five years, though activists say this is a gross underestimate.
Gandhi said the draft bill would strengthen prosecutions and boost the number of convictions by setting up a special investigative agency to coordinate work between states and collect intelligence on trafficking offences.
What are the different provisions under the bill?
There is a provision for the recovery of fines from the convicted in the draft bill, officials said, and victims who are not paid wages while in servitude will be reimbursed. In many cases, they are unpaid or held in debt bondage. Some go missing, and their families cannot trace them.
The draft bill also makes providing narcotic drugs or alcohol for the purpose of trafficking, and using chemical substances or hormones for purposes of exploitation offences.
When will it be acted upon?
Gandhi said her ministry would be accepting suggestions until June 30 on how to further improve the proposed draft. It would then go to all the ministries for their feedback. The final bill could be brought before the Indian parliament by the end of the year, she added.
But experts aren’t happy
All said and done, experts have termed the draft anti-trafficking Bill ineffective, “toothless” and said that the bill brought nothing new to the table. Some women activists have also called the Bill unrealistic.