Combating human trafficking
There is no dearth of provisions in the Indian legal system for combating human trafficking, nevertheless, this evil practice continues to spread across the country unabated, probably due to a lack of seriousness on the part of law enforcement agencies, multiplied by society's deliberate indifference.
The recently released 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department placed India among Tier 2 countries, meaning that the Indian government does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of the US. The Act defines severe forms of trafficking in persons as sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.
As mandated by the TVPA, each country in the US State Department report was placed into one of the four tiers. Countries with Tier 1 ranking included those that had acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem and met TVPA's minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. The Tier 2 countries did not meet TVPA's minimum standards but were considered as making significant efforts towards becoming compliant with those standards. Within Tier 2, there are certain countries on the Watch List. In the case of such countries, the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking was significant or rapidly increasing. They had also failed to provide evidence of increased efforts for combating severe forms of trafficking in persons during the previous year. The Tier 3 countries neither met the minimum standards of TVPA nor were they found to be making significant efforts towards complying with those standards.
India has been continuously ranked as a Tier 2 country by the US State Department since 2011. Prior to that, in 2010, it was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. What this means is that during the period 2010-17, the country's tier ranking improved just once. Surely, it can't be claimed that the various measures initiated by the government have yielded the desired results. The lack of substantive progress in that direction could have been due to a host of reasons. The report said that India was a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. It pointed out that forced labour constituted the country's largest trafficking problem.
Information available with the National Crime Records Bureau shows that a total of 27,994 women and 23,699 children were rescued from human trafficking during the period 2014 – 2016 (till June). As per data available in the 2015 Crime in India report of the NCRB, during the year, a total of 4,203 trafficking cases were investigated by police, 2,387 traffickers faced prosecution by the government, and 815 traffickers were convicted in courts. These figures, however, do not really reflect the true picture and can't be relied upon to assess the actual scale of human trafficking in India. It is well-known that a large number of crimes in the country go unreported, with no cases filed, owing to corruption in police departments and the politician-criminal nexus.
The US State Department report said that despite the Indian government's increased law enforcement efforts at combating human trafficking, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions remained low in comparison to the scale of human trafficking in the country.
It needs to be understood that India has adequate laws with stringent penalties to deal with human trafficking. These include the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, Juvenile Justice Act and a number of other provisions of the IPC. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has also released the draft 'Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016', which aims to create a strong legal, economic and social environment against trafficking of persons and related matters. The Bill could be presented in the Parliament soon.
In addition to the various legislations, several other steps have been taken by the Indian government with the objective of combating human trafficking. Key among them are establishment of anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs), developing standard operating procedures for proactive victim identification and referral to protection services, SOPs for missing children, the Ujjawala and Swadhar Greh programmes, implementation of the TrackChild portal, the Childline service aimed at providing aid and assistance to children in need and the eMigrate online system.
With enough laws and measures in place to deter human traffickers, the obvious question that arises is: How come cases of human trafficking are on the rise? In fact, human trafficking has of late emerged as the fastest rising crime in the country. The problem actually lies in enforcement of the laws that already exist and also in the implementation of the anti-human trafficking measures. It is in these areas that the government's efforts can be termed as half-hearted and lagging.
The US State Department report, while exposing various weaknesses in India's legal and administrative system, said that though there were reports of involvement of officials in trafficking, the government had not reported investigating such allegations. It further pointed towards the inconsistent application of the law across jurisdictions, corruption among officials, and the lack of awareness or capacity in some parts of the country resulting in incidents of inaction on trafficking crimes by police and prosecutors.
Calling for increased prosecutions and convictions for all forms of trafficking as well as development and adoption of a national plan for combating trafficking, the report gave several India specific recommendations with regard to setting up of AHTUs, SOPs for victim identification and referral, implementation of protection programmes and compensation schemes for victims of trafficking, training of diplomatic personnel to prevent their engagement in trafficking crimes, and establishment of fast-track courts to deal with cases of human trafficking. It is hoped that these recommendations would be considered by the Indian government with an open mind.
Human trafficking is a global industry. The International Labour Organization estimates that human traffickers earn profits to the tune of $150 billion a year. While on one hand, human trafficking is a highly lucrative business for criminals, on the other, it has severe and disastrous implications for the society, economy, citizens' health and rule of law including national security. As for victims of human trafficking, who are the sufferers of the worst kind of human rights violation, the impact is both physical and mental. Studies show high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in previously trafficked persons. Though the US State Department report acknowledged that India was making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the government can't really afford to be complacent and needs to do everything in its power to completely root out this form of modern day slavery.
(The views are strictly personal.)