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Stricter Prosecution and Convictions Alone May Not Curb Human Trafficking in India, Says Expert

The US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of June 2019 has named India among its list of Tier 2 countries along with others such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Nepal, and Singapore.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:June 28, 2019, 4:08 PM IST
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Stricter Prosecution and Convictions Alone May Not Curb Human Trafficking in India, Says Expert
Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

Despite India's push toward implementing the The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in the last year, the United States Department of States annual-Trafficking in Persons Report June 2019 has named India among its list of Tier 2 countries along with others such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Nepal, and Singapore.

Tier 2 is for those countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. TVPA stands for Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which is a Congressional legislation in the US that requires an annual report from the State Department on status of human trafficking in countries across the world. There are more than 90 countries in Tier 2, news agency PTI reported.

The fact that India did not qualify for a Tier 1 listing may be due to the 2018 Bihar shelter home sexual abuse scandal in Muzaffarnagar involving 34 underage victims which found a mention in the report. It also cited cases of serious oversight in government-run shelter homes, noting that systemic failure to address forced labour and sex trafficking in government-funded shelter homes remained a serious problem, despite Indian government's efforts to increase anti-trafficking legislation. The report urged India to increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labour. However, this could mean an increased impingement on the rights of those groups that claim to be unfairly targeted by India's current anti-trafficking laws and Bill.

Speaking to News18, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), Borislav Gerasimov said that the problem was not so much in the low prosecution rate but the inherent biases of the criminal justice system. "The fact is that all anti-trafficking laws in the world tend to be impartial toward socially vulnerable classes such as poor migrants, sex-workers and LGBTQ."

He stressed that it wasn't laws against traffickers that could help reduce trafficking but rather improving on the factors that make victims vulnerable to trafficking. "People become vulnerable to trafficking when they have limited options of making a living – whether through having a decent job, or having social protections, such as affordable healthcare and child care," Gerasimov told News18 in an email.

Other reasons can be domestic violence, conflict (e.g. war), natural disasters, or climate-induced migration. So, according to the expert, it follows that if states provide basic services and social protection, or unemployment benefits and pension for old age, mitigate the effects of climate change, and avoid conflicts and wars, people will be less vulnerable to trafficking.

Speaking about India proposed Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, which was strongly opposed by sex workers' organisations in India as well as the trans-community for being discriminatory, Gerasimov said that the Bill would impinge on the rights of the under-privileged. The 2018 Bill ostensibly seeks to create a law for severe investigation of all types of trafficking and provides provisions for forced rescue, protection and rehabilitation of trafficked victims without seeking their consent for the same.

According to Gerasimov, that this was problematic as it would endanger the livelihoods of voluntary sex-workers and migrants who often enlist the unofficial 'help' of strangers or secondary agents to cross certain borders or enter certain places. The expert said that for reduction in cases of false arrests, the definition of trafficking needed to be further clarified.

Talking about the The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, that is still in effect in India and the only law dedicated to preventing human trafficking, Gerasimov, who is also an editor at Anti-Trafficking Review, reflected that it was restrictive in its definition and understanding of trafficking, limiting it only to forced sex work.

"Stricter punishments for traffickers will work better if traffickers know that they are traffickers or the degree of harm they could be affording the person trafficked", Gerasimov stated. He clarified that in case of murder or theft, perpetrators were firmly aware of their crimes. However, in case of trafficking, Gerasimov held that often the "person who recruits a victims through deception may not be aware of the exploitation awaiting the victim; or the exploiter may not be aware that the victim was recruited through deception".

This holds true for persons who help out others (in this case, victims) seeking to escape their current conditions, seeking jobs in other cities or countries, thus becoming unwitting traffickers. The point was confirmed by member of National Alliance of Sex Workers, Devi, who said, "Many of us (sex-workers) travel to big cities the same was as people in other professions do - in search of better opportunities. We sometimes need help doings so." However, the current laws and the proposed Bill made her "helper" a trafficker and she herself became a "victim" of trafficking.

Devi felt the decriminalising sex work was an important first-step toward limiting the harm to voluntary sex workers.

Raids of sex-trade venues for anti-trafficking purposes is conducted not just in India other "Global South" countries such as but in various countries such as Thailand, Cambodia but also in developed counties like US and UK. However, in the UK, Gerasimov clarified, "once women are “rounded up” in the raid, they are screened for indicators of trafficking and if no such indicators are found, and if the women themselves claim that they are not trafficked, they are released".

This method of rounding up victims of trafficking is also disruptive to the lives of voluntary sex workers but also allows for an opportunity to rescue real trafficking victims. "I am not aware of a “perfect” model of forced rescues, as there may be voluntary sex workers and victims of trafficking in the same location, but asking women whether they want to be rescued/removed is a good idea", Gerasimov said.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 14,183 children who were victims of human trafficking in 2016 — a 27 per cent increase as compared to the previous year.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development told parliament in 2017 that 19,223 women and children were trafficked last year against 15,448 in 2015, with the highest number of victims recorded in the eastern state of West Bengal.

A Financial Express report in June highlighted how India was also a hub a for migrant trafficking with many Indians taking dangerous routes to legally or illegally migrate to the US and Canada. Migrants to US from India and neighboring Nepal, and Bangladesh have reportedly been paying anything between $30,000 to $50,000 for a journey to US or Canada.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) Asia Report “Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants-2018”, 1,173 cases of irregular migration were recorded at Delhi's at Indira Gandhi International airport between the years 2008 and August 2012.

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