In a first, the draft bill piloted by the Union women and child development ministry treats a trafficked person who gets into prostitution as a victim rather than offender.
The Union cabinet could soon consider and approve the country’s first anti-human-trafficking law, according to a senior government official familiar with the matter.
The law, two years in the making, proposes punishment of up to 14 years for traffickers, measures to rehabilitate victims, and the mandatory registration of placement agencies that recruit and place domestic helps, said the official who asked not to be identified.
In a first, the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017, piloted by the Union women and child development (WCD) ministry, treats a trafficked person who gets into prostitution as a victim rather than offender.
In the existing law, there is no distinction between the trafficked person and the trafficker. Both are treated as criminals, punishable with jail terms of up to seven years.
The draft bill also recommends the creation of an anti-trafficking fund and new identities for victims.
Around 8,100 cases of trafficking were recorded in India in 2016, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The data show around 23,000 victims of trafficking were rescued that year.
Experts say that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with the actual numbers of people trafficked being much higher.
The proposed bill was held up over objections of the Union home ministry to a separate law on trafficking. The ministry wanted to amend the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code to address trafficking cases.
However, the home ministry finally conceded to a separate law after the WCD ministry agreed to its demand to allow investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate trafficking cases.
In an earlier version of the draft, the WCD ministry had proposed the creation of a new agency to handle trafficking cases. The home ministry argued against this on the grounds that existing agencies are well equipped to handle such cases, which often involve money laundering and are sometimes related to terrorism.
“The WCD ministry has agreed to our proposal to allow existing agencies to probe trafficking cases. We are fine with a separate law,” said a senior home ministry official who didn’t wish to be named.
The draft law also makes giving hormones and drugs to trafficked young girls to accelerate sexual maturity and forcing them into prostitution a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
It also proposes to make registration of placement agencies that recruit and place domestic helps mandatory. Failure to register with the state authorities will invite a fine of Rs 50,000.
Currently, there is no single law dealing with human trafficking and the crime is covered under different acts administered by at least half-a-dozen ministries, including WCD, home, labour, health, Indian overseas affairs and external affairs. More often than not, this results in lax enforcement.