The 2018 Trafficking Bill is a draconian criminal law that pursues raids and rescue followed by the rehabilitation of workers in government homes(Getty Images/Vetta)
The 2018 Trafficking Bill is a draconian criminal law that pursues raids and rescue followed by the rehabilitation of workers in government homes(Getty Images/Vetta)

How India can go forward on tackling human trafficking

It can no longer be understood only as a matter of crime as the newly introduced Bill on the issue does. It is equally a development issue.
By Prabha Kotiswaran
UPDATED ON JUL 23, 2018 11:15 AM IST

The Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, introduced the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in Parliament on July 18, 2018. Trafficking at the most basic level is the recruitment, harbouring or transportation of a person under force for purposes of extreme exploitation involving sexual act, forced labour, slavery, and practices similar to slavery. That it needs to be addressed through law is a foregone conclusion. This is where the Bill, long in the making, disappoints. It renders India a follower of a failed carceral approach to trafficking, based on a prosecution-driven, raid-rescue-rehabilitation model. Ignoring India’s own rich jurisprudence on labour exploitation, the Bill is a highly punitive legislation, many provisions of which are constitutionally suspect and are against the spirit of international law, that pays lip-service to victims of trafficking and fails to respond to the precarious working conditions of millions of Indians. It will be a setback for already marginalised groups, including bonded labourers, child labourers, migrant workers, sex workers and transgender persons.

The current spate of anti-trafficking laws around the world followed the adoption of the UN Protocol on Trafficking in 2000 alongside the Smuggling Protocol, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime. Being a criminal law instrument, the Protocol counters organised crime by focusing on individual bad actors. In the early years, trafficking was conflated by countries with sex trafficking and sex work. The Western states additionally had a vested interest in using the Protocol for border control to counter increased labour migration, often repatriating victims of trafficking to their home countries.

Long before the Western states responded to trafficking however, India, like Brazil, pioneered labour law responses to problems of extreme exploitation, and this provided a more practical, humane and effective approach. Recognising that force and exploitation were both endemic, laws on bonded labour, contract labour and inter-state migrant work imposed obligations on intermediaries and principal employers instead, to improve conditions for workers. Prosecution was envisaged only in limited situations, and the focus was on community-based rehabilitation of bonded labourers.

The 2018 Trafficking Bill on the other hand is a draconian criminal law that pursues raids and rescue followed by the rehabilitation of workers in government homes. It extends the strategies of anti-sex work laws to all sectors of work with absurd results such as the proposed closure of entire areas of the economy including farms, factories and households. Since trafficking is fundamentally a problem of labour exploitation, the government must instead strengthen workers’ rights through robust labour laws and improved labour governance to prevent their slide into extreme exploitation. Sadly, this perspective is missing in the Bill as workers’ groups and trade unions were not consulted in its drafting.

As international discourse on trafficking has expanded to include forced labour and labour exploitation under the capacious term ‘modern slavery’, countries now require large employers like corporations and governments to report on forced labour in their supply chains. The US state of California and the UK pioneered this approach through supply chain transparency legislation. The Australian Parliament is considering a Modern Slavery Bill to cover government agencies, and New South Wales has passed a modern slavery law that regulates public agency procurement. France requires corporations to prepare vigilance plans with worker input on violations of laws relating to human rights, health, security and the environment. The Indian Bill has no such provision.

As trafficking is mainstreamed into the UN Sustainable Development Goals, India is sending mixed messages to the international community on meeting this target. Niti Aayog vociferously protested the 2017 Global Estimates on Modern Slavery (GEMS) produced by the International Labour Organization and the philanthrocapitalist group Walk Free Foundation, and rightly so. The Bill however seems to be endorsing a simplistic raid-rescue-rehabilitation model advocated by abolitionist groups aligned with Walk Free.

Trafficking can no longer be understood as a matter of crime as the Bill does. Trafficking is a development issue and threatens to have trade implications as US law restricts the import of goods produced with forced labour; Australia is contemplating a similar law. FDI could also be negatively impacted. As the international discourse on trafficking and forced labour rapidly shifts, India needs to do more than recycle a failed criminal law model and rethink trafficking in a holistic fashion. At the very least, the government must refer the Bill to a standing committee for comprehensive consultations with Indian trade unions and workers’ groups.

Prabha Kotiswaran is a reader in law and social justice, King’s College, London

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month
There is evidence to indicate that the PLA's work and engineering force deployed to upgrade infrastructure in occupied Aksai Chin moved back after completion of work last month

India should be wary of Chinese mind games

UPDATED ON JAN 13, 2021 12:31 PM IST
  • Withdrawal from the vast Tibetan and Xinjiang military region means little in an era of stand-off weapons and long-range missiles. The Chinese PLA has capacity to deploy troop divisions within a week with metalled roads and optical fibre cables up to the last military post and advanced landing grounds (ALGs) all along the LAC.
Close
President Xi Jinping, unconcerned about China's isolation, is expected to take steps that raise tensions ahead of the 100th anniversary of the communist party
President Xi Jinping, unconcerned about China's isolation, is expected to take steps that raise tensions ahead of the 100th anniversary of the communist party

Xi Jinping is preparing for a special birthday party. It has repercussions

UPDATED ON JAN 10, 2021 02:26 PM IST
  • The 100th-anniversary celebrations of the Chinese communist party would be projected as a strong counter to the so-called ‘century of humiliation’ that the Chinese empire and the Republic of China faced between 1839 and 1949 at the hands of western powers, Russia and Japan.
Close
Oli has been emboldened to stick to power even by breaking the party. In the process, the shallowness of Oli’s opportunistic and politically driven anti-Indian nationalism has been exposed(AFP)
Oli has been emboldened to stick to power even by breaking the party. In the process, the shallowness of Oli’s opportunistic and politically driven anti-Indian nationalism has been exposed(AFP)

What India should, and shouldn’t, do in Nepal

By SD Muni
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:59 PM IST
Irrespective of whether Nepal has elections or witnesses the restoration of Parliament, a prudent course for India would be to let Nepal cope with its internal political mess
Close
India is currently the world’s third largest consumer of oil with growing demand and limited domestic supplies. Import in 2019-20 was 1.6 billion barrels and will increase as its economy expands.(REUTERS)
India is currently the world’s third largest consumer of oil with growing demand and limited domestic supplies. Import in 2019-20 was 1.6 billion barrels and will increase as its economy expands.(REUTERS)

To secure India’s energy future, create a sovereign wealth fund and invest

By Amit Bhandari
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:43 PM IST
Norway is an example of prudent management of the windfall from high oil prices of the past, with which it set up a rainy day fund — now one of the most powerful and successful in the world. India is witnessing a similar windfall, in reverse, due to low oil prices — and needs to plan for the time when prices will be higher. That time is now.
Close
Health workers conduct a dry run of Covid-19 vaccination programme, New Delhi, January 6, 2021(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
Health workers conduct a dry run of Covid-19 vaccination programme, New Delhi, January 6, 2021(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Devising a vaccine strategy for India

By Reuben Abraham and Anup Malani
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:43 PM IST
Focus on allocation, distribution, financing, communication and certification
Close
The white supremacist disregard for the sanctity of law has been on the increase during the Trump presidency and the contrast with how Washington dealt with peaceful protests by African-Americans in recent months is illustrative of the deep racial fissures that still fester in US society.(AP)
The white supremacist disregard for the sanctity of law has been on the increase during the Trump presidency and the contrast with how Washington dealt with peaceful protests by African-Americans in recent months is illustrative of the deep racial fissures that still fester in US society.(AP)

January 6: A black day for US democracy

By C Uday Bhaskar
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:41 PM IST
The erosion of democracy in the US, led by a defeated president, emboldened by his white supremacist base, will have both domestic and geopolitical consequences
Close
The shutdown of courts across India provided an opportunity to adapt to digital modes of working(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
The shutdown of courts across India provided an opportunity to adapt to digital modes of working(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Ensure access to justice in a post-Covid world

By Leah Verghese
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:20 AM IST
Any move towards the online functioning of courts must account for the digital divide in India
Close
Great cities and societies are not those that unquestioningly preserve everything from the past. They evolve and add new things while retaining the best from the past
Great cities and societies are not those that unquestioningly preserve everything from the past. They evolve and add new things while retaining the best from the past

The new architecture of a new India

PUBLISHED ON JAN 06, 2021 08:23 PM IST
India needs iconic buildings for functional reasons, to reflect new aspirations, and move past the colonial legacy
Close
The tribunal reasoned that India’s decision to retroactively apply the law, without a specific justification, created a new tax burden on a transaction that was not taxable at the time it was carried out, ie. in 2006(Shutterstock)
The tribunal reasoned that India’s decision to retroactively apply the law, without a specific justification, created a new tax burden on a transaction that was not taxable at the time it was carried out, ie. in 2006(Shutterstock)

India’s retrospective taxation blunder is still extracting heavy costs

By Prabhash Ranjan
UPDATED ON JAN 07, 2021 07:20 AM IST
In endeavouring to extract revenue through retroactive taxation that damages investor sentiment in the long run, India is being penny-wise and pound-foolish
Close
It should be clear that the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion law infantilises Indian citizens, reduces them to the level of subjects, and authorises State intrusion into the most personal of domains, that of individual conscience.(AFP)
It should be clear that the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion law infantilises Indian citizens, reduces them to the level of subjects, and authorises State intrusion into the most personal of domains, that of individual conscience.(AFP)

Eliminate State and social interference in matters of conscience

By Gautam Bhatia
PUBLISHED ON JAN 05, 2021 06:52 PM IST
The UP conversion law is unconstitutional. But the debate does not end with this one law, as it also replicates many existing provisions from other laws, which have been left standing for too long. India cannot call itself a constitutional democracy until social interference in matters of conscience is eliminated from its laws, once and for all.
Close
Farmers during their protest against the new farm laws, New Delhi, January 3, 2021(PTI)
Farmers during their protest against the new farm laws, New Delhi, January 3, 2021(PTI)

Understanding the rationale of farm protests

By Vijay Inder Singla and Aadil Singh Boparai
UPDATED ON JAN 06, 2021 06:13 AM IST
We need an empathetic government with a moral compass to urgently find a solution to the satisfaction of the farmers. Engaging in dilatory tactics and subterfuge will further exacerbate the growing trust deficit between the farming community and the Centre.
Close
By standing up militarily to China on the Himalayan borders, India also made it possible for smaller nations at the receiving end of Chinese aggression to envision the possibility that subservience to China is not the only option(ANI)
By standing up militarily to China on the Himalayan borders, India also made it possible for smaller nations at the receiving end of Chinese aggression to envision the possibility that subservience to China is not the only option(ANI)

The Delhi-Beijing battle in South Asia

By Harsh V Pant
UPDATED ON JAN 06, 2021 06:13 AM IST
China’s influence has grown, but contrary to conventional narrative, it is not necessarily ‘winning’. India has retained its focus
Close
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, US, October 23, 2019(REUTERS)
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, US, October 23, 2019(REUTERS)

Silicon Valley is in for a rough ride

By Vivek Wadhwa & Tarun Wadhwa
PUBLISHED ON JAN 04, 2021 08:21 PM IST
The days of regulators prioritising innovation over compliance may be over. The traditionally warm relationship between the Democratic Party and Big Tech is becoming contentious
Close
Covid-19 has taught all governments many lessons. But the most important one will be this: The strength of our social safety net will determine the heights the Indian economy will scale.(PTI)
Covid-19 has taught all governments many lessons. But the most important one will be this: The strength of our social safety net will determine the heights the Indian economy will scale.(PTI)

Only a strong social security net can ensure economic growth

By Jasmine Shah
UPDATED ON JAN 04, 2021 09:13 PM IST
The economic response of the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi has focused primarily on the poor and created the closest equivalent of a universal social safety net anywhere in India
Close
This undated handout photo obtained on October 6, 2020, from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) shows US astronomer and professor Andrea Ghez. Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the US won the Nobel Physics Prize on October 6, 2020 for their research into black holes(AFP)
This undated handout photo obtained on October 6, 2020, from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) shows US astronomer and professor Andrea Ghez. Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the US won the Nobel Physics Prize on October 6, 2020 for their research into black holes(AFP)

Will physics un-gender itself in the new decade?

By Prajval Shastri
PUBLISHED ON JAN 04, 2021 08:18 PM IST
Physicists need to internalise that being allowed to follow one’s passion at taxpayers’ expense is a privilege. All accomplishments are a consequence of that privilege, and from that follows the responsibility to correct the injustices.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP