Tackling Human Trafficking
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Government schemes and policies for vulnerable population
In News: In June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned the world that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a major increase in human trafficking.
- India’s Home Ministry responded by issuing an advisory to its state governments earlier this month, with clear instructions to set up or improve local anti-trafficking networks.
- The Ministry has written to states and 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.
Tackling Human Trafficking in India
Regarded as one of the ugliest crimes on planet, it is also an enormously lucrative business, and there are significant challenges in determining its prevalence throughout the country. According to statistics of India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), trafficking has manifold objectives. These include forced labour, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation. According to the NCRB, three out of five people trafficked in 2016 were children below the age of 18 years. Of these, 4,911 were girls and 4,123 were boys. NCRB data shows that sexual exploitation for prostitution was the second major purpose for human trafficking in India, after forced labour.
Victims of trafficking in India disproportionately represent people from traditionally disadvantaged gender, caste, and religious groups. People from these groups have been systemically kept at a disadvantage in education, access to productive resources and spaces and legal remedies enhancing their vulnerability. Across regions, studies have found that majority of victims are women and children belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs), the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and minority religions.
COVID-19 and Human Trafficking in India
Child labour and trafficking are two sides of the same coin. Children are trafficked first and then placed in labour either forced or for earning a sub minimal wage or in case of the more unfortunate ones, i.e. particularly girls and young boys, are forced into sexual exploitation. Usurious money-lending and debt bondage will also become a force-multiplier for sourcing child labour from the country-side, from desperate families for bondage and trafficking.
Challenges that India face
- Inadequacy of legal machinery
- Lack of institutional accountability
- Poor rehabilitative processes for those rescued
- There is no concrete prevention and protection strategy in place
- The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) is not survivor-centric
Establishment of Anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs)
- 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 Way Forward
Foresight and preparedness in the midst of the current lockdown can save the lives of crores of women, men and children and avoid an impending humanitarian crisis
- Collaboration is key: A lot of work needs to be done in a collaborative manner, between key stakeholders such as the government and civil society organizations, for any substantial change to be seen.
- Assessment and review of legal framework: The central government must assess the existing criminal law on trafficking and its ability to counter the crime and meet the needs of the victim. The lapsed anti-trafficking bill needs to be amended and passed in Parliament urgently.
- Increase in budgetary allocation for law enforcement and victim rehabilitation: There is a gross deficit in the budgetary allocation to combat huan trafficking.
- Curbing the rise of online Child Sexual Abuse material: The upsurge of child sexual abuse material and its easy access can only be controlled by placing greater accountability on Internet Service Providers and digital platforms that host this content. They must be accountable to not only identify and remove content but also to trace its source and cooperate with the law enforcement to crack down on its supply and demand.
- Spreading a wide safety net in source areas of trafficking: Schools, communities, religious authorities and the local administration need to recognise and control trafficking and bonded labour in villages.
- Intensive campaigns must educate communities about the threat and modus operandi of trafficking agents, especially in the source areas such as Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam.
- The railway and other transport facilities have to be intensely monitored. While on the one hand, awareness around existing government social welfare schemes and the means to access them should be generated, the government on its part must immediately initiate registration of unorganised workers.
- Special financial protection should be extended for the next year in order to keep the wolf away from the door.
- On institutionalisation of shelter homes for the survivors –
- Taking the consent of the woman/girl rescued within the period of 28 days. She should have the right to reject institutionalization and shelter based rehabilitation even if she is a victim of trafficking. The process of consent taking should be done by independent professionals, mental health professionals who do not have a stake in running of shelters or have biased positions on prostitution.
- Community based rehabilitation (CBR) should be explored an alternative wherein a survivor of trafficking and/or sexual exploitation stays in an independent shelter or with her family, and social workers assist her in availing health services, legal aid, access welfare schemes and income opportunities.
- Making India in line with global standards: This would also be in keeping with achieving the enviable objective of attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030, especially when Goal 8.7 is related to the need to take immediate and effective measures to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. Any move to institutionalise a new legislation would be in line with SDG 16.2 which seeks to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.
The executive, the legislature and the judiciary must act in tandem to devise and implement an over-arching law which would bring together other laws and instruments that seek to curb and, eventually, stop the crime.
Connecting the Dots:
- With no jobs and no food available for millions of families, COVID-19 times are going to be the golden period for traffickers. Comment.
- Child labour and trafficking are two sides of the same coin.