When the Cabinet Nods to the First Human Trafficking Bill in India

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

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 was a big day for all of us working here with Jharkhand Anti Trafficking Network (JATN). The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister of India approved Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018 for introduction in the parliament. This is something that we at JATN dream of like many other organizations and individuals moreover trafficking victims across the country. It is what JATN spend time intervening in different ways to contribute to the enactment of the bill. Of course, there are some more legal steps ahead finally this bill to come out as an act. However, the target is nearer. Personally, it makes a new turn in my research project as I see a document, which I have been dealing with since the beginning of my project, transforms from a bill to an act during the course of my project itself.

Trafficking issues in the country have, so far, been connected with sex workers. Because there are deficiencies found in the existing laws on trafficking in India like the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), the Bonded Labour Act, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the supreme court was mandated to study the upshots of the  current laws to address the human trafficking in the country. After multiple rounds of consultations and drafts, the Ministry of Women and Child Development finalized the present bill in 2016.

The bill was introduced in the parliament last year winter session, but due to demonetization, the procedure did not go further. There was also this issue of disagreement between different ministries like the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development which delayed the introduction of the bill. The bill, again after the current cabinet approval, is likely to be introduced in the next session of the parliament.

The present bill contains promises on addressing, protection, prevention, safety and rehabilitation of trafficked victims by respecting the innocence of victimized trafficked persons, mandating the registration of placement agencies, building anti-trafficking committees at different levels, forming a central level special investigative agency and by considering trafficking as an organized crime.

A poster by JATN to introduce the present bill in one of the legal workshops JATN conducted.

The latest draft has made more conceptual clarity by giving detailed definitions and clearer roles and responsibilities, unlike the earlier drafts. It also recognizes rights of victims for rehabilitation, for equality, non-discrimination, and justice. The clarity of definitions is binding in the present bill because this bill is in a different approach from the existing legal provision with regards to human trafficking in India like Immoral Trafficking Act, 1986 which deals only with trafficked sex workers. By considering trafficked persons as ‘victim’ instead of an illicit, the bill is an unambiguous move in the right direction. Moreover, the present bill focuses on the key phases trafficking: transportation, recruitment, purchase, and sale. That being the case, the superior potency of the present draft is that it can deal with any category of trafficking irrespective of whether it is sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and child trafficking, etc.

Other key features of the bill are rehabilitation has been recognized as a right, provision for shelter homes in district level, highlighting medical check-ups and treatment after returning home, the stipulation of a fund for welfare and rehabilitation of trafficked persons, stringent punishment for traffickers, etc. Rehabilitation under this bill is not restricted to typical rehabilitation model of rescue, safety and send back home instead it stresses the legal procedure to be followed to deliver justice to the targeted people.

There are three levels of committees, national, state and district to take care the rehabilitation and welfare activities of victims. Their composition, roles, and responsibilities are drawn in the bill. A central investigative agency will inspect the crimes of human trafficking according to the new bill. The importance of having a central government institution to deal with the trafficking has been emphasized in the bill because the migration and trafficking are cases which are often interlinked with two or more states. It was also a problem for the state investigating police authority to go ahead with the case as the cost of the interstate investigation is given as reimbursement over two-three years which is a disincentive for them. Therefore, creating a national investigative agency by integrating all other investigative agencies is a concrete step. Earlier, the central investigative agency used to interfere only in those cases which are interlinked three or more states but 90% of the trafficking cases are connected with just two states. Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) also does not have the coordination for interstate trafficking issues.

The rehabilitation policy under the proposed bill will ensure the independent legal representation of the victim as there are provisions for victims to be represented by private lawyers in addition to the Special Public Prosecutor. It also has rules for victim compensation through the Legal Service Authority of each state at various stages – from the filing of First Information Report (FIR) to the disposal of the case.

Nevertheless, the efforts to stop human trafficking cannot be restricted forming laws and providing services to the community rather state also has to look at changing ways the community look at trafficking survivors, gender roles, and violence. Being stigmatized back in the community how can these victims overcome their challenges and ensue with legal process is still remains a big challenge!

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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