No one can fault the quantum of punishment prescribed in the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016 — rigorous imprisonment of seven to 10 years for traffickers and in the case of the victim being a minor, it could extend to life. This is a great improvement on the penalty under the existing Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956, which ranges from three to six months in prison. In a recent case, a woman from Chhattisgarh was convicted by a court in that state after it was found that she had trafficked 10,000 girls over a period of 10 years. The Bill to be tabled this winter session should deter traffickers to some extent if it is implemented rigorously.
The situation is particularly grim when it comes to the trafficking of minors. From 2011-2013, 10,500 children were found missing from Chhattisgarh alone. Estimates suggest that at least 135,000 children are trafficked each year in India. They are forced into domestic work; criminal gangs force them to beg or are pushed into the commercial sex industry. The main reasons for parents, especially from tribal areas, handing over their children to agents who promise them jobs in cities for paltry sums of money are poverty, poor or complicit law enforcement, civil unrest and lack of awareness. According to National Crime Records Bureau statistics, there has been a 38% increase in trafficking of minors between 2009 and 2013 — but alarmingly, a decline of 45% in convictions. This could mean that the situation is likely to get worse going forward. The problem has to be tackled at source, the catchment areas in which touts prey on vulnerable people. Once a person is trafficked, it becomes difficult to trace both the victim and the trafficker and successfully pursue cases to their logical conclusion.
The ministry of women and child development has two schemes, Ujjawala and Swadhar aimed at the rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of trafficked women and children. But it is hobbled by the fact that government funding for it has been reduced and there are hardly enough shelters for those rescued. Counselling services are few and far between and little thought has been given to how to re-integrate women and children into the mainstream. The many employment agencies which `place’ women and children in so-called jobs could not have done so without the complicity of the police. If stringent checks are maintained on who are eligible to run such agencies, and which cohort they are dealing with, we might make some headway in dealing with the problem before it is too late. The new draft law is a step forward, but it is just one part of the solution.