Can Development Interventions Reduce Human Trafficking?

Mujeebu’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

Human trafficking laws have been criticized as it deals with trafficking from post facto end of the spectrum when conceptualizing the issue[i]. Trafficking has been conceptualized as denial of rights of past the point of control over the trafficked victim by the trafficker. The structural inequities that cause conditions that are conducive to trafficking are not taken into consideration. Trafficking has to be understood not only as the rejection of rights post-trafficking, but also a denial of rights prior the trafficking incident[ii]. It is the denial of socio-economic and human rights that end up in loss of control over life and, for that reason, exploitation[iii].

Trafficking and Law: Indian Context

Earlier this year, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, approved the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018[iv] for introduction in the parliament. While, the bill aims to address the issue of trafficking from various aspects, including prevention, rescue and rehabilitation, it is just one step in the long journey the country has to take to combat this, “pervasive yet invisible crimes affecting the most vulnerable persons especially women and children,” as outlined by the bill.

Firstly, the bill separates trafficking into two categories, with one being termed as “aggravated trafficking” and another “trafficking.” According to the bill the “aggravated forms” includes “trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, begging, trafficking by administering chemical substance or hormones on a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity, trafficking of a woman or child for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage.” These offences would carry a minimum of 10 years of imprisonment, and could also lead to a life sentence.

Additionally, anyone involved in abetting, promoting or assisting trafficking, would be viable to serve three years in jail. This includes anyone involved in producing, printing, issuing or distributing unissued, tampered or fake certificates, registration or stickers as proof of compliance with Government requirements.

Another important aspect of the bill is rehabilitation facilities provided for victims. Not only is the rehabilitation of the victim not going to be contingent on the criminal proceedings or outcome of the case, there will also be the creation of a rehabilitation fund. This will provide for the physical, psychological and social well-being of victims, including investing in their health care, education and safe accommodation.

In fact, one of the key takeaways from the bill is that it addresses the “transactional nature” of the crime, and instructs the National Anti-Trafficking Bureau to coordinate with “authorities in foreign countries and international organizations” as well as “facilitate inter-State and trans-border transfer of evidence and materials, witnesses and others.”

Interacting with local leaders during my fieldwork

Trafficking: A Structural Problem

The bill marks a major step towards combating the issue of human trafficking in India; however, it does have certain pitfalls. The bill helps to take into account three key areas of combat. However, one needs to remember that trafficking in human beings is not an episodic phenomenon affecting a few individuals. It is instead a structural problem, with extensive implications on the social, economic, and organizational fabric of our societies. A variety of reasons such as deepening poverty, deteriorating living conditions, persistent unemployment, human deprivation, and hopelessness promote human trafficking, and till the time we aim to combat these basic social problems, the structural cycle promoting human trafficking will continue to exist.

Therefore, different development themes have been suggested to tackle human trafficking. They are strategies for poverty alleviation, sustainability, and community partnerships. Reducing poverty is one of the central components of the UN Millennium development goals. The assumption is that socio-economic development can reduce poverty, and thus, irregular and circular migration, which end up in trafficking. In India’s case, trafficking networks hugely exploit the vulnerability of the migrants.

The term human trafficking was rarely referred to the migration policies. Whereas, in today’s situation, it is one of the major concerns of the states and other organizations active in the stream of migration like it has been prioritized in many other policy areas as well: human rights, health, gender, and law enforcement[v]. According to Jharkhand Anti Trafficking Network’s (JATN) data all who have been trafficked in the state are migrant workers.

India has been characterized as relatively immobile society[vi]. However, that is not the case according the recent statistics. Studies[vii] shows that the volume of internal migration low in India but they asserted that about one-third of the population has moved out of their birthplace indicating the relevance of migration as a major demographic process in India.

Development Actions, Migration, and Trafficking

So, as discussed above, will the development initiatives will reduce migration and thus trafficking?  Hein de Hass (2007) argues that it is problematic to belief that aid, trade and development will decrease migration. This perspective reflects the contestable assumption that migration is objectionable and therefore a problem – the antithesis of development- that subsequently can be solved. He further argues that policies developed to tackle migration are bound to fail because they are primarily based on an assumption about the positive linkage between migration and development in reciprocally related.

The social and economic development tends to associate generally with more mobility and more migration at least in a short term or medium term[viii]. Migrants are not from the most deprived and isolated communities. Labour migrants do not escape from misery, but moving by the expectation of a better life and good livelihood opportunities. They want to improve their economic status[ix]. Moreover, people need human and financial resources as well as the aspiration to do so.  Migration is not an unwanted by-product, but an integral part of the overall socio-economic development which is conditional on the mobility of labor from rural to urban[x].

Other than the material and nonmaterial benefit to people, migration also crucially connected to aspirations which are not constant but typically increase with development in education health and information. In such a context, it is understood that relative deprivation associated with the larger development in life perspective leads them to migration rather than the chronic poverty. Therefore, poverty eradication is not itself is migration control strategy. The aspirations tend to increase rather than the livelihood opportunities. An adolescent group from Loerdega, Jharkhand, during my fieldwork, shared their plan to migrate after they finish their education. They also shared that migration has been growing in their location along with the enhancement in the development actions.  The improved infrastructure and communication, which has also been accompanied by relatively ease transportation and cheap communication have also have impacted in the migration pattern. This has made significant changes in the information asymmetry and speed at which migrants can commute between the origin and the destinations.  In the colonial period, the movement was under the force of the authority as they were moved out of force and compulsion. But in the post-colonial period, survival rather than the force seemed to be the biggest factor in the movement of people who look for the opportunities to meet their livelihood. So, there should be a paradigm shift in the perspective we look at the trafficking issue. My next blog will shed light on those possibilities (Human trafficking in India: need for a shift from its predominant human rights approach to a labour approach).


[i] Ray, N. (2005). Looking at trafficking through a new lens. Cardozo JL & Gender12, 909.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Government of India (2016). Draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016. Ministry of Women and Child Development. PRS Legislative Research, Accessed at:

[v] Laczko, F., & Gramegna, M. A. (2003). “Developing Better Indicators of Human Trafficking”. The Brown Journal of world affairs10(1), 179-194.

[vi]  Bhagat, R. B. (2016). “Internal Migration in India: Are the Underclass More Mobile?” India Migrations Reader (pp. 132-150). Routledge India.

[vii] Chatterjee, A., & Bose, A. (1977). “Demographic Data on Internal Migration and Urbanization from Census and NSS – An Appraisal”. Population Statistics in India. Eds. D.B. Gupta and G. Raychaudhuri. New Delhi, Vikas Publishing House.

Singh, D. P. (1998). “Internal Migration in India: 1961-1991”. Demography India27(1), 245-61.

Zachariah, K. C. (1964). A Historical Study of Internal Migration in the Indian Sub-Continent 1901-1931. Bombay: Asia Publishing House.

[viii] Faini, Riccardo and Alessandra Venturini (1993). Migration and Growth: The Experience of Southern Europe. London, CEPR.

Martin, P., and J. Edward Taylor (1996). “The Anatomy of a Migration Hump”, qtd. in J. Massey, Douglas S. (2000a). “To Study Migration Today, Look to a Parallel Era.” Chronicle of Higher Education 46(50). p.B5.

Rotte, R., M. Vogler and K.F. Zimmermann (1997). South-North Refugee Migration: Lessons for Development Cooperation. London, CEPR.

[ix] Stark, O. (1991) The Migration of Labor. Cambridge & Oxford, Blackwell.

Rotte, R. and M. Vogler (2000). “The Effects of Development on Migration: Theoretical Issues and New Empirical Evidence”. Journal of Population Economics 13: 485-508.

[x]  Massey, Douglas S. (2000a) “To Study Migration Today, Look to a Parallel Era.” Chronicle of Higher Education 46(50). p.B5.

As a keen student of politics, law and human rights, Mujeebu is fascinated by the complex apparatus of law and governance in India. His graduation in Masters in Development with specialization in law and governance from Azim Premji University Bangalore has a profound impact on his passion. He has also completed a Master’s thesis from Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. To supplement his theoretical understanding, he has interned with various non-governmental organizations and civil society movements in India. Throughout these different internships and field engagements, he was looking at different issues from the perspective of law and human rights. Very recently he was selected for a short-term research exchange program between IIT Gandhinagar and the ISCTE-Institute University of Lisbon, Portugal. Throughout this program at ISCTE-IUL, he was looking at the transit migration and human rights issues among the South Asian migrants in Lisbon. From early on, he was also part of human rights clinic at Azim Premji University where he worked for the human rights of street vendors. He has also worked along with NIMHANS, Bangalore, for the human rights of the transgender community in the city. Furthermore, his rigorous research related field engagements in the remote areas of the Kashmir Valley, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala prove his pleasure of working in diverse conditions.

Mujeebu's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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