The women and child development ministry recently put up the draft of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016, on its website for public feedback. (Last date: June 30)
The Bill contains commitments on addressing prevention, protection, and rehabilitation of trafficked victims by introducing mandatory registration of placement agencies, treating trafficking as an organised crime rather than a law enforcement problem, building anti-trafficking committees at district, state, and central level, creation of a central-level special investigative agency and treating survivors as victims. Importantly, a trafficker would be considered guilty until proven innocent.
But nowhere does the Bill define certain key terms: What it means by trafficking, and whether it includes trafficking for forced labour; what is its strategy behind prevention and protection; and what amount of money or provision of services and facilities encompass rehabilitation for a survivor.
“Until and unless we know what is the government’s roadmap for prevention, protection, and rehabilitation, it would be impossible for a victim to claim her right, or hold the government accountable,” explains advocate Karthik Gupta of Kolkata High Court.
Importantly, the Bill seeks to create an anti-trafficking fund, but does not give the details about what would be the amount, where would the money come from, and how it would be utilised.
The Bill is also weak on prevention and rehabilitation.
It focuses only on an institution-based rehabilitation approach with no recognition of psychological and physiological rehabilitation.
The care homes have no provision for health departments; and what happens to a person after she comes out of institutional care is not taken care of.
“Survivors of sex trafficking usually suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; complain of symptoms related to sexually-transmitted-diseases, and face stigma in society. The psychological symptoms do not go away - rather takes various shapes - of depression, aggression, withdrawing into a shell, acting out in public situations, and problems with how one relates or behaves with others in society. It requires proper counselling and treatment,” said Chandrani Das Gupta, a psychologist with an NGO Sanjog.
“Also, the government won’t just have to work at making a law and providing services to the survivors, it would also have to look at changing the way the community looks at gender roles, violence, and accept violence in a certain domestic sphere,” she adds.
Surprisingly, the society in which the rescued survivors face a lot of threat and intimidation from the traffickers, who belong to the same community, the Bill provides no victim protection protocols and guidelines.
A localised body such as a district committee has been given immense power, without any mention of monitoring or reviewing of these institutions.
This can be seen as a major neglect, considering the 2004 PIL by an anti-trafficking body Prajwala, which prompted the Supreme Court to demand the drafting of this Bill, raised the need for victim and witness protection protocols.
Gupta, who is also a part of Tafteesh, a coalition of more than 11 NGOs and 20 professionals working for the cause of anti-trafficking, is critical of the manner in which the district committees have been constituted: “We know from experience, that when a person has been trafficked for forced labour, or put in a brothel - they feel confined. Now the district committees would put the rescued survivors in another form of confinement in the nature of a protective home,” he said.
And while the Bill is strong on creation of institutional structures, it fails to lay out how they will work together. The Bill is silent on the coordination mechanism between the anti-trafficking committees at district, state, and central level. Similarly, it does not mention how special investigative agency and the special police force from the existing Act will work together.
Hence, while the intent is good, the draft lacks in so much detail and clarity that its good parts also look ineffective.
Shaifali Agrawal is an independent journalist