Policy Dive picks a policy issue, traces the debate around it, the different schools of thought and the choices involved.
The government had listed the bill aimed at protecting trafficked persons, especially young girls and women, for introduction in the Lok Sabha in the just-concluded budget session. But continued disruptions, which virtually wiped out the second part of the session, prevented the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017 from being introduced.
Here is all you need to know about the proposed law
More than 300,000 children went missing in the country between 2012 and 2017, government data shows. Around 100,000 are yet to be traced and it is feared that many of them could have been trafficked.
In 2016, for instance, 111,569 children were reported missing. Of these, 55,944 children were traced but only 8,132 trafficking cases were reported.
Many of these children are victims of modern slavery — forced into prostitution, labour or domestic work.
They are also used as drug mules and even given up for adoption illegally. Poverty and lack of opportunity also pushes a lot of young women, especially from the interior parts of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand, into prostitution.
Despite the enormity of the problem, India lacks a single comprehensive law for human trafficking. At present, trafficking is covered under half-a-dozen laws resulting in confusion and poor enforcement.
For the first time, a standalone law to address the problem has been proposed that will treat a trafficked person as a victim and not an offender. It not only prescribes stringent punishment but also addresses the crucial issue of rehabilitation of victims, many of whom are lured by traffickers on the promise of a better life and jobs.
The rehabilitation is not contingent on criminal proceedings. A special rehabilitation fund has been proposed for immediate protection of rescued persons. The punishment for traffickers varies from 10 years rigorous imprisonment to life sentence and Rs 1 lakh fine in cases of aggravated crimes.
Also in a first, a national anti-trafficking bureau run by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) has been proposed to coordinate with other countries, as many times the victims, mostly women, are smuggled out of the country.
The proposed law also makes registration of placement agencies that recruit or supply domestic helps mandatory.
The bill has been debated intensely, within the government and also among activists and organisations. When the bill was being drawn up, the ministry of external affairs said the law should address trafficking of persons within India as well as overseas.
The women and child development ministry (WCD), which is piloting the bill, had countered, saying the bill already covered the movement of trafficked person from one place to another within the country and also overseas.
Activists and non-government organisations such as Lawyers Collective have criticised the proposed law, saying it has nothing new to offer and all its provisions are already covered under existing laws. The new law will only end up “complicating the legal framework and its enforcement”.
The government says because the laws dealing with trafficking were not consolidated, the issue could not be tackled effectively. Hence, the need for a comprehensive standalone law.
Activists have also said no substantial research has gone into the bill, an argument rejected by the WCD ministry.
Lawyers’ Collective has pointed out that the provision to charge a person who encourages another person to “migrate illegally into India or Indians to some other country” with aggravated form of trafficking punishable with 10-year imprisonment could have serious implications for cross-border movement of people, including refugees.
The WCD ministry has said the argument does not hold.