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A ban which could backfire

india Updated: May 15, 2007 23:17 IST

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The Indian government sure believes in going right to the root of the problem. Faced with criticism for its inability to stem the tide of human trafficking, especially of women, to other countries, it has come up with a solution so simple that it boggles the mind: it has banned the emigration of women under 30 as domestic help to countries that require emigration clearance. Making it mandatory for women to stay indoors at all times just because it is unsafe for them to venture outside may seem to Union Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury as the perfect example of a ‘caring’ government providing ‘protection’ to women whose welfare it is responsible for. But to more logical minds, the ban is nothing more, or less, than a direct admission of the State’s failure to address the significant problem of trafficking of Indian women, men and children for sexual and economic exploitation.

The Indian government cannot abdicate its responsibilities by putting in place such a blanket ban. This infringes on the constitutional rights of women. Besides, as the recent human trafficking scam involving BJP MP Babubhai Katara indicated, legal methods of emigration need not necessarily be used by those intending to exploit illiterate and low-skilled workers. So a ban would hardly provide any protection. In fact, it would encourage unscrupulous elements to circumvent the law. Poverty, illiteracy and destitution are some of the main reasons why emigrants are easily exploited. An age bar on women emigrating for work would only increase their woes.

The only meaningful response from the government would be to step up the level of protection it offers. Increased consular protection and rescue of victims would give emigrants a sense of security in the knowledge that they can always depend on the home State for help. While India has anti-trafficking laws, these do not have the penalties that can act as a deterrent. The government has done little to look into the complicity of law-enforcement agencies. The government must increase efforts to prevent trafficking of persons rather than snatch away the rights and freedom of people under the guise of protecting them.