As the government made trafficking part of rape ordinance and then thought of diluting it through proposed Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, about 140 girls went missing in Lakhimpur district of Assam and around 150 from Delhi.
It is just tip of an iceberg considering that a child goes missing every 8 minutes and about 40% of them are not even found. Half of the missing children are girls but the government's proposed bill to replace the ordinance fails to protect these children.
The ordinance had expanded the scope of section 370 of the Indian Penal Code by elaborating on the process of buying and selling resulting in slavery of persons in all forms, thereby criminalising trafficking.
A new provision, 370-A, in the ordinance provided for punishment to those employing trafficked people. But the case for punishment could be sought only if proved that the employed persons were trafficked, meaning forced to work by coercion, abduction, fraud and abuse of power.
According to sources, the government has decided to drop changes promulgated through the ordinance believing that enforcing such provisions would be difficult.
The home ministry, which is piloting the bill, had a re-think on trafficking aspects in the bill and has decided to remove them on the ground that they are not directly related to sexual assault.
Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said trafficking of girls is directly linked to their sexual exploitation. Around 65% of trafficked persons in India are girls and no Indian law, until the ordinance, checked trafficking at the time of incidence.
The Immoral Trafficking (Prohibition) Act and Child Labour (Prohibition) Act deals once the crime has been committed. "The section 370 and 370-A in the underpinned zero tolerance towards children and women," he said, in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
However, a bigger danger for the home ministry was misuse of the provisions by someone claiming to be victim of trafficking, as the ordinance favoured the complainant. Another concern for the ministry was the difficulty of providing in a court of law that a particular person was trafficked.
Amid these concerns, the ministry had decided to scrap the provisions regarding human trafficking in the draft Cabinet note on Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill. The bill is likely to be considered soon and introduced in Parliament before the first leg of budget session ends on March 22.
However, the child right activists said that they want the provisions in the ordinance to be retained in the bill because it is needed to check human trafficking that is supposedly the third biggest business in the world after illicit weapons and drugs.