PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI
The proposed Offences Against Children Bill, 2005, attempts to address
the legal loopholes through which child traffickers slip.
P. V. SIVAKUMAR
CHILD RIGHTS ACTIVISTS demand that the draft under consideration be
MALA is barely 11. Clad in tattered clothes, hands and feet grimy with
continuous rummaging through garbage in and around New Delhi railway
station, she is often subjected to beating by her `uncle’ for not
picking up enough after a day’s work. She is often forced to go begging
to compensate for the deficit. Mala and her nine-year-old brother Sonu
go through life in the same mechanical way day in and day out. Nobody
knows where the children came from, or who their parents are. The
children themselves say nothing except that they are “looked after” by
their chacha (uncle), who brought them to the city from the village
after a big flood.
Try probing them more about the uncle and they scamper away.
Mala and Sonu are among thousands of such children who can be seen
roaming the streets begging, asking for alms in the name of shani
rummaging at garbage dumps, or selling cheap books and other things at
traffic signals. One also comes across small children doing
back-breaking chores at dhabas, restaurants and hotels as domestic
servants. Has anyone ever stopped to wonder who these children are,
where they come from, or why they are here? They rarely beg or sell
wares for themselves. The awful truth is that children are bought and
sold like commodities and used for commercial purposes, making cheap
profits and facilitating illegal acts.
Child-trafficking, traditionally associated with only trafficking for
commercial sex, is growing fast in India. The authorities, apparently
unaware of the magnitude of the problem, have made no attempt to
mitigate it. No wonder then that there is no reliable data available on
the issue in India.
According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), every year an
average of 44, 476 children go missing. Of these 11,008 are never
traced. The NHRC, in its report “Action Research on Trafficking in
and Children in India” (2002-03), suggests that many of the missing
children are not really missing but are instead trafficked. Most end up
in adoption, marriage, labour markets or working in the entertainment
industry, of which sex tourism is the most recent aspect.
if activists are to be believed, many victims are pushed into this
world by their own parents or guardians.
According to figures provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, in
2004, as many as 2,265 cases of kidnapping and abduction of children
qualified as forms of trafficking and were reported to the police.
Of these, 1,593 cases were of kidnapping for marriage,
414 were for illicit sex, 92 for unlawful activity,
101 for prostitution and the rest for various other things like
begging and even selling body parts. Most of these children (72 per
cent) were between 16 and18 years of age. Twenty-five per cent were
children aged 11-15 years. This is the tip of the iceberg; the malaise
runs much deeper and many cases go unreported.
India’s poor track record in this regard has drawn flack from the
States government. Its Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2005)
described India as a “source, transit, and destination country for
women, men, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual and
labour exploitation”. It also criticised India for its lackadaisical
attitude to implementing laws.
The report said, “The Government of India does not fully comply with
minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking… the quality and
magnitude of the government’s anti-trafficking response, particularly
the law enforcement area, are seriously insufficient relative to
huge trafficking in persons problem.” The U.S. report placed India on
its Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year “for its inability
to show evidence of increased efforts to address trafficking in
particularly its lack of progress in forming a national law enforcement
response to inter-State and transnational trafficking crimes.”
While one may or may not agree with the premises on which the U.S.
department made these observations, one cannot argue with the lack of
comprehensive law on human trafficking in India. According to a report
prepared by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, a non-governmental
organisation (NGO) spearheading the national Campaign Against Child
Trafficking, the “absence of law and inability to register a case as an
offence of trafficking make it difficult to assess the magnitude of the
problem as well as maintain statistics for investigation, arrest,
prosecutions and convictions in the context of human trafficking”.
There are no laws that specifically target child-trafficking. Child
abuse cases are handled under various sections of the Indian Penal Code
, which are laws meant for adults. Commercial sex-trafficking offences
are handled under the Immoral Traffic
(Prevention) Act. Labour-trafficking offences are handled under the
Child Labour Act for those hazardous industries in which child labour
considered an offence. There is no law prohibiting employment of
children in work outside the definition of “hazardous”.
As a result, many cases of trafficking are not booked by the police.
“Begging or giving alms or selling wares at traffic signals is an
offence, but has even one single conviction taken place so far?” asks
Praveen Bhatt, secretary, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights.
One positive development in this regard has been the preparation of a
draft by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Offences
Against Children Bill, 2005,in circulation since January this year, is
hailed by child rights activists as a landmark document; it is the
time that a law specifically aimed at protecting children’s rights has
been under debate.
“So far there was not a single law aimed at safeguarding children and
protecting them against abuse. Offences against children were so far
booked under laws under the IPC, which at times failed to result in
prosecution and conviction simply for the reason that crimes involving
children need to be handled with different tools,” said Rajmangal
Prasad, director, Pratidhi, another NGO active in the field of child
rights. According to him, if the proposed draft does become law, it
go a long way to check child trafficking because specific sections in
the draft deal with precisely this issue.
Furthermore, the definition of trafficking goes beyond trafficking for
commercial sex. The proposed document has specific sections dealing
various offences against children, including sale/transfer, sexual
assault, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, commercial sexual
exploitation, child pornography, grooming for sexual purpose, incest,
corporal punishment, bullying and economic exploitation. The document
makes it clear that provisions in this law will be in addition to other
legislation within the IPC and the Juvenile Justice Act because these
laws do not separately cover persons who commit crimes against children
and some other categories of children under various circumstances of
abuse, exploitation and neglect.
Child rights activists are calling for the draft under consideration to
be made into a law so that the suffering children have some hope. As
first paragraph of the document states, “although India has the second
largest child population in the world, there is no separate legislation
to deal with offences against children”. It is high time it was