Possibilities of a Holistic Approach in Anti-Trafficking Advocacy

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

For decades, one set of activists and legislators have been fighting to end human trafficking, while a different set have been working vigorously to try to end socio-economic inequalities. Both activists have rarely teamed up to fight the two issues simultaneously. Research studies[i] suggest that the key to ending trafficking is to eradicate poverty and reduce the socio-economic inequalities along with litigation activism. Being part of an organisation, which is working for the ‘egalitarian, empowered and self-reliant society’[ii] through different livelihood initiatives and human rights activism I had always thought about how effective merging the legal advocacy and livelihood initiatives can be in bringing changes in the society. Preventing human trafficking is that kind of a matter, which requires the involvement of litigation as well as socio-economic initiatives. In this blog, my plan is to look at the different frameworks used by activists and policymakers around the world to engage in human trafficking issue in the different social, political, and economic context of the world.

The labour migration framework, very latest approach to tackle trafficking, can be recognized as the most inclusive framework because it takes into consideration both genders as vulnerable in trafficking, recognize that individuals are trafficked for all kinds of work, admits the agency of the trafficked persons. Earlier, trafficking has customarily been understood as a crime management and migration issue, and attentiveness for the victim has varied depending upon the situations. The discussion on trafficking during the 19th and 20th centuries was dominated by the morality framework, which associates the trafficking with sexual slavery and forced prostitution[iii]. When the term ‘trafficking’ emerged, the discourse focused on eradicating “white slavery trade”, the idea that white women from Europe and North America were kidnapped and transferred to the sexual slavery abroad[iv]. The major limitation of the morality framework is that it restricts the trafficking only into forced prostitution, which ignores the other aspects of trafficking such as forced labour, child labour and slavery practices etc. This results in violating the human rights of those who are neglected and addressing a very small portion of the problem.

The next was the violence against women framework[v]. This framework sees trafficking as an abuse of women’s well being and the exploitation of their social and economic weakness in a patriarchal society. The drawback of this framework was also same as the first framework, touches only a portion of the issue, deal with only one gender, and legalisation of the prostitution.

The third was the law enforcement framework[vi]. Though this framework had a fundamental presence in the actions taken against the trafficking in the early periods[vii] human trafficking gained much relevance as an international issue in the 1990s[viii]. Nations states became more concerned about the sovereignty and the security related to trafficking, migration, and smuggling. The enforcement framework highlighted attacking international crime and restricting illegal migration through stringent border controls. The major pitfall of law enforcement framework is its flawed assumption that trafficking occurs as unlawful entry across national borders. It refutes the presence of internal trafficking though many countries like India suffer more from internal trafficking than external. This framework also deviates from victim protection as the major aim here is to prosecute traffickers[ix].

The latest is the labour migration framework which was introduced as a response to the gaps in the previous frameworks[x]. This framework encompasses sexual as well as non-sexual labour. According to this structure, trafficked individuals are considered as migrant workers who left home in search of livelihood and exploited in different sectors. It also considers that trafficked persons are victims for human rights violation, stopping and punishing trafficking requires “multi-level game of coordinated development, communication concerning activities of transnational criminal groups, mutual assistance in law enforcement, provision of social services to trafficking victims, economic development in source countries, and reform in migration policy, involving both state and non state actors at the international, national and local level”[xi] (Fitzpatrick, 2002:1145).

A still from ‘Childline se Dosti‘, a legal initiative of Srijan Foundation in collaboration with Childline India. Photo: Srijan Foundation
Implementation of Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (a livelihood initiative of the state government) by Srijan Foundation. Photo: Srijan Foundation

However, this framework also has pitfalls. Like previous frameworks, it views trafficking from post facto end of the spectrum when conceptualizing trafficking. In other words, 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 conductive to trafficking are not taken into consideration. However, Ray (2005) argues that trafficking has to be conceptualised not only as the rejection of rights post-trafficking, but also a denial of rights prior the trafficking incident. It is the denial of socio-economic, and human rights that end up in loss of control over life and, for that reason, exploitation. “Trafficking in human beings is not an episodic phenomenon affecting a few individuals, but is of structural nature, with extensive implications on the social, economic, and organisational fabric of our societies”[xii]. A variety of reasons such as deepening poverty, deteriorating living conditions, constant unemployment, human deprivation and hopelessness promote the human trafficking[xiii]. The case of Jharkhand is not different.  The state has emerged today as a significant source area for intra-country trafficking in India.

The traffickers in the source areas of Jharkhand and the destination areas of North India work as a network and are much organised. This trafficking from Jharkhand, as some of the recent rescues reveal, is fairly organised. Agencies take advantage of legal loopholes to traffic girls in the name of providing employment but instead are put into extreme conditions of forced labour. These issues have to be dealt from the litigation point of view. However, root causes of trafficking in Jharkhand like illiteracy, lack of sustainable employment, poor irrigation facilities for agriculture, single crop patterns, lack of awareness, political instability etc. that make people vulnerable to trafficking have to be addressed through socio-economic initiatives. Because traffickers take advantage of these situations that make people vulnerable to agreeing to unsafe migration, that then ends up as victims of trafficking.

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[i] Refer, Ray, N. (2005). Looking at trafficking through a new lens. Cardozo JL & Gender12, 909; Fitzpatrick, J. (2002). Trafficking and a human rights violation: The complex intersection of legal frameworks for conceptualizing and combating trafficking. Mich. J. Int’l L.24, 1143.

[ii] The vision of the Srijan Foundation is to strive for. “an egalitarian, empowered and self reliant society’.

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

[iv] Bruch, E. M. (2004). Models wanted: The search for an effective response to human trafficking. Stan. J. Int’l L.40, 1.

[v] Ibid.,

[vi] Ibid.,

[vii] It can be analyzed in the UN conventions like, the 1910 convention, 1933 convention and 1949 convention on Human Trafficking.

[viii] UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children 2000, Treaty of Amsterdam 1998, Vienna Action Plan 1998, Tampere Summit 1999, European Parliament Resolution 2000, European Union’s Council Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 2001, Council of European Union Proposal for a Comprehensive plan to Combat illegal Immigration and Trafficking of Human Beings in the European Union 2002, and Brussels Declaration on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 2002.

[ix] Bruch, E. M. (2004). Models wanted: The search for an effective response to human trafficking. Stan. J. Int’l L.40, 1.

[x] Ibid.,

[xi] Fitzpatrick, J. (2002). Trafficking and a human rights violation: The complex intersection of legal frameworks for conceptualizing and combating trafficking. Mich. J. Int’l L.24, 1143.

[xii] Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography, at 2, COM (2000) 854 final (Jan. 22, 2001).

[xiii] Salah, R. (2004). Child trafficking: a challenge to child protection in Africa. In Fourth African Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Enugu, March.

 

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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