MHA asks states to set up more anti-trafficking units in wake of Covid-19
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Home Affairs has written to states, Union territories to expedite the setting up of new anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs) and upgrade the infrastructure of existing ones to ‘combat and prevent’ human trafficking.
The AHTUs are an integrated task force to prevent and combat the menace of human trafficking. Trained representatives from the police, department of women and child development, other relevant departments and renowned non-government organisations are part of the unit which was first established in 2007. While the Central government has provided financial assistance for setting up physical infrastructure in these units, it is the responsibility of various states to depute suitable manpower to manage them.
The advisory comes in the wake of nearly Rs 100 crore being released from the Nirbhaya fund in March by the government to facilitate the setting up of the AHTUs in districts across the country. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were nearly 4,000 cases of trafficking in 2018, of which 99 percent accounted for internal trafficking. Moreover, 92 percent of the trafficking victims who were rescued were women and children.
At present, there are over 330 AHTUs that work as convergence centres for the MHA, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Labour and External Affairs to fight human trafficking within India as well as outside it.
“Domestic violence, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect and other forms of trauma and violence makes a person vulnerable to human trafficking,” read the advisory which was issued on July 6 and was accessed by Hindustan Times.
“Traffickers often exploit the vulnerabilities of people by making false promises of a new job, better income, better living conditions and support to their families etc. While such promises of perpetrators appear legitimate to people, unfortunately, it makes many men, women, and children easy prey for exploitation,” the advisory added.
The MHA has also suggested that state governments evolve a co-ordination mechanism, monitored at periodic intervals by the highest level in the state, to handle the issue of human trafficking. Community awareness programmes and engagement at the local level with panchayats, leaders and village wards have also been recommended.
“Because children can be transported at a large scale for wage labour, prostitution and trafficking, panchayats may be asked to maintain a register of complete information about the persons living in the village and a keep track of their movement,” the advisory stated.
“Specific ‘intelligence’ and ‘surveillance’ mechanism to identify gangs, gather information about its history, affiliations, modus operandi to deceive people, activities of gang members, links with others, etc., should be worked out by the police department,” it added.
The advisory also suggested shelters for women and children to be allowed to remain open and called for sensitisation of police personnel at regular and intervals. It asked police personnel deployed at border outposts to be on the “look-out for trafficked children”.
“The police force should make full use of CCTNS and CriMAC application, launched by the National Crime Records Bureau in March this year, which facilitates the dissemination of information about significant crimes including human trafficking cases across the country on a real-time basis. These portals can help in locating and identifying the trafficked victims as also in prevention, detection and investigation of crimes,” the advisory added.
Amid the pandemic, experts describe the advisory as a welcome step as the ‘situation in the wake of the pandemic is ripe for traffickers to exploit’ due to massive job losses and a likely increase in child labour.
According to former DGP PM Nair who was integral in setting up the first batch of AHTUs in 2007, there has been an increase in trafficking of children both online and physically.
“I have held various discussion with many stakeholders across the government and non-government sector,” Nair told Hindustan Times. “Trafficking during Covid-19 times has increased manifold,” he said.
Nair said that the increase in the consumption of child pornography, which has been accessed by nearly 5 million Indians, leads to sexual exploitation of children.
President of Shakti Vahini, an NGO that works with trafficking victims, Ravi Kant said that the NCRB’s numbers are only a fraction of the number of trafficking case.
“The case becomes one of trafficking only after the rescued victim’s statement is recorded,” Kant told HT. “Most of the cases are actually recorded as kidnapping or abductions or missing persons,” Kant added.
Kant added that the post the pandemic, job losses will drive traffickers to exploit more and more people.
“West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Orissa are among the worst affected states,” Kant said. “We will see an increase in the number of cases as the vulnerability factor for the exposed section will go up. Parents who have lost their jobs will force their children into labour and others may be driven to it due to desperation. The MHA’s advisory is a welcome one as it will strengthen the efforts to counter it.”
Nair too welcomed the decision, however, he added that issuing an advisory is not enough.
“The MHA should make the officers at district level accountable, only then will we be able to implement this decision well.”