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Proposed law reforms how India treats human trafficking victims, gives them care

A proposed law frames a comprehensive framework for rehabilitating victims of human trafficking.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2018 15:42 IST
A proposed law provides for monitoring by the district anti-human trafficking unit to ensure her safety. The proposed law provides for maintaining the confidentiality of the victim.(Representative )

“Main ab phir kabhi Dilli nahin aaongi” (I will never come to Delhi again).

This is what the otherwise chirpy 15-year-old would keep repeating to her counsellor at a shelter home in south Delhi where she was brought by the police eight months ago after being rescued from the Nizamuddin railway station to where she had run off to escape abuse — both mental and physical.

The Class 2 drop-out hails from a village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district. She had heard stories about the good life people had in “Dilli”, and would often ask her eldest brother to take her there. Limited sources of income ensured her family did not object to the idea. Not long after, the brother and the teenager were in Delhi, meeting an acquaintance who would take her to a bungalow in Nizamuddin. Just like that, she had been hired to do all the daily chores for the family of five.

And then the abuse began.

She would be beaten up for the slightest delay in completing a task and was fed leftovers.

But the real horror began when the family patriarch, in his 60s, forced her to massage him and touch his private parts. She tried to run away after three months but was caught and brought back. The abuse increased. Last December, she managed to run away again, and reached the railway station where the police rescued her and took her to Prayas, the shelter home in Delhi’s Tughlaqabad.

Although the police have registered an FIR, investigations have not made much headway as the girl has been unable to provide police with the family’s address.

Eight months on, the teenager has made many friends at the shelter home and is back to being her chirpy self.

“I go to a non-formal school. After the class, I train at the skill centre inside the (shelter) home to become a beautician,” she said.

Proposed law’s highlights
  • Maximum punishment for aggravated form of trafficking is life imprisonment and Rs 1-lakh fine
  • Aggravated form of trafficking includes trafficking for forced labour, bonded labour, besides for surrogacy, false marriage and begging
  • Relief and rehabilitation of the rescued person is a matterof right n Illicit assets of trafficking belonging to the accused will be confiscated.
  • Anti-human trafficking units to be formed across India. Victims of cross-border trafficking have to be repatriated within six months
The new law

Her stay at home is coming to an end, though. She will be sent back to her village in a short while.

“The 15-year-old is on top of the world. Though we are also happy that she will be reunited with her family, there is a gnawing concern. We have seen that in many such cases, the chance that the person would become a victim (of trafficking) and pushed into forced labour again is quite high,” said Deepshikha Singh, the minor girl’s counsellor and the shelter home’s in-charge.

It is this “re-victimisation” that the new Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 seeks to address with its rehabilitation framework. The bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha on July 26 and now awaits the Rajya Sabha nod.

At present, India has no mechanism to monitor the well-being and safety of someone like the 15-year-old once she is sent back.

“For the first time, the proposed law provides for a comprehensive framework for rehabilitating trafficked victims. The victim will be able to claim compensation from the state as her right. A rehabilitation fund will be set up, which will be maintained and monitored by a high level National Anti-Trafficking Relief and Rehabilitation committee,” said Amod K Kanth, general secretary of the NGO Prayas JAC (juvenile aid centre) Society.

Where a minor is involved, the bill provides for monitoring by the district anti-human trafficking unit to ensure her safety.

The confidentiality

Another important feature in the new bill, according to Kanth, is the de-linking of rehabilitation from criminal proceedings in trafficking cases. “This will enable extension of rehabilitation services to survivors whose criminal proceedings fail through for no fault of theirs, or who do not want to participate in such proceedings,” he added.

The bill also provides for maintaining confidentiality of the victim, if they do not want to appear before the court.

“A year ago, we rescued a woman from a brothel in Delhi’s GB Road. A case was registered in West Bengal from where she was trafficked. Soon after, the victim got married and settled down. But now she is getting summons to appear before the court in person, to give her testimony, and she does not want to. Under the existing law she does not have a choice but to appear,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an NGO that recues trafficked victims across India. Not anymore.

The proposed law provides for maintaining the confidentiality of the victim. “If a trafficked victim does not want to appear before the court for reasons of safety and confidentiality, the designated court can record her statement through video conferencing. It will be her right now,” Rishi Kant said. There are many such clauses in the new bill, Kant added, which has been drafted with the victim in mind.

“Till now, the victim was never the focus. This will change now. For instance, if the victim chooses the inquiry into and trial of offences under the new law , it can be conducted in camera. In another first, the new law gives the victim the right to be heard in all bail matters. Under the existing system, the victim does not even get to know when the accused is granted bail,” he added.

Flip side

To be sure, the bill has also come under flak from a section of activists and opposition leaders on grounds that it gives excessive power to the police and can be misused against transgenders and sex workers who are voluntarily in the sex trade. Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap Worldwide, the anti-sex trafficking organisation said that the bill in its present form won’t be able to deter sex trafficking.

“Of the 16 million women and girls who are trapped in prostitution in India today, majority of them were trafficked as girls and belong to the most marginalised groups such as Dalits and Adivasis. If this bill is passed these girls will not get any help as they will not be considered victims of the crime of trafficking on account of an existing law that punishes women for soliciting in a public place.”

That’s a charge that the Union women and child development ministry, which is piloting the bill, has rebutted. “The proposed law will not penalize any voluntary sex workers, only those who have been trafficked, “said a senior WCD ministry official who did not want to be named.

Activists have also charged that the bill has not explicitly defined sexual exploitation, leaving grounds for misuse.

Sunitha Krishnan of Prajwala, an NGO involved in rescue and rehabilitation of sex trafficking victims, said Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code clearly defines sexual exploitation.

“Defining it again will only amount to duplication. One needs to understand that this is the first time that a law acknowledges trafficking as an organized crime. The existing law focused on criminalization of offences related to trafficking. The new bill starts where Section 370 of IPC ends. It builds a framework to check organised crime,” she added.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 15:42 IST