India’s first anti-human trafficking law proposes life term for repeat offenders

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The bill, reviewed by HT, also proposes a jail term of at least a year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those who abet trafficking or fail to protect a victim.
A trafficking victim who was rescued, in Jharkhand.

A trafficking victim who was rescued, in Jharkhand.(Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

Life imprisonment for repeat offenders, special courts and dedicated police units are part of key provisions in India’s first law to tackle human trafficking that is likely to be taken to Parliament for approval in the current session.

The bill, reviewed by HT, also proposes a jail term of at least a year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those who abet trafficking or fail to protect a victim; and seven years and Rs 2 lakh fine for the owner or manager of a property that has been used for the crime.

Around 8,100 cases of trafficking were recorded in India in 2016 and around 23,000 victims of trafficking were rescued that year, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures that experts call a “mere tip of the iceberg”. Currently, trafficking is covered by a clutch of laws that often delay trials but the government has been working on an umbrella legislation for more than two years.

“The bill — Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017 — is ready and we will take it to Parliament in the Budget session, itself,” said an official involved in the process, asking not to be named.

“In India, life imprisonment does not mean jail for life but usually for a defined period which is generally more than 7 years. But this Bill clearly specifies that for repeat offenders and for those who have committed aggravated form of trafficking, jail term will be for the remainder of the offender’s life,” said the official.

“No person accused of committing an offence under this Act shall be released on bail or on his own bond…,” read the bill, reviewed by HT.

Since trafficking usually involves interstate gangs, the bill proposes district-level “anti-trafficking unit” with an “anti-trafficking police officer”, and a designated sessions court for speedy trials.

State governments need to create a Rehabilitation Fund that will allocate financial resources for protection homes, legal assistance to victims and skill development programmes. The fund will also be used for victim and witness protection and for generating awareness to prevent human-trafficking.

“Section 370 of the IPC is a very strong law to deal with human-trafficking, but this bill becomes important as victims require support such as rehabilitation, witness protection etc. Also a central bill would mean budgetary support to deal with the monitoring and prevention of human-trafficking,” said Ravi Kant, president, Shakti Vahini, an NGO working to prevent human-trafficking.

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Human trafficking racket busted, four minor girls rescued

The Tribune

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The police today busted a human trafficking racket with the arrest of two persons. Four minor girls were rescued and one of them has been hospitalised after her employer allegedly inflicted injuries on her.The accused have been identified as Surender Malto and Arun, both residents of Jharkhand. The duo were arrested from Sector 30 here this morning.A police official said Surender had bought one of the victim from his home district for Rs 4,000 two years ago and had sold her to a person in Delhi. The victim, who is recuperating in a local hospital, told the police that she was not only raped several times, but was also sold to two persons during the last two years.She said she was employed as a domestic help in Delhi earlier and was brought to Faridabad and sold to one Mani Mishra here.She accused both her employers of torture and sexual abuse. She alleged that a remuneration of Rs 30,000 earned by her in Delhi was also snatched from her.She said on January 27, she was beaten up with iron rods and a knife and was seriously injured. She managed to escape from the confinement the same night. She was then admitted to a hospital by some locals.The police after registering an FIR carried out raids jointly with Haryana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (HSCPCR). The other two accused namely Mani Mishra and his wife Anima Mishra are yet to be arrested.Mishra admitted that he had trafficked around 30 girls in the recent past. He said girls were sold upto Rs 20,000 each as domestic maids in the NCR.BK Goel, member, HSCPCR, said he had taken up the matter with the police asking it to probe the functioning of illegal placement agencies in the region.Two Jharkhand girls were also rescued in Ambala district recently.

Indian radio hosts take to the airwaves to highlight human trafficking

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With human trafficking on the rise in India, some radio hosts are using their programs to raise awareness and help listeners spot traffickers.

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, radio host Ginnie Mahajan will talk trafficking on her award-winning show “Suno Na Dilli” (Listen Delhi) this weekend.

“We want Delhi to know that many of these girls working in their houses are reported missing by their parents,” she said.

“We need Delhi to know that girls are being forced into this trade.”

Human trafficking in India rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year, Indian government data shows. More than 60 percent of the 23,117 victims rescued were children

Forty-five percent of victims were trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and 33 percent for sexual exploitation, according to the data.

“If we only checked details of the women around whom our lives and kitchens revolve we could actually stop the crime,” Mahajan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Delhi.

Radio has become an important tool in spreading awareness, campaigners say.

“It lets people know what is out there, the sheer horror of such a crime and how close to home it is,” said Adrian Phillips of anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care, which collaborates with radio stations.

While Mahajan’s show reaches urban Indians in the capital, a community radio station in the southern state of Karnataka recently went on air with a special program devoted to human trafficking.

Keerti S. Chougala, a host on Nammura Banuli (Our Village Radio), said she was aiming to educate her nearly 400,000 listeners on the impact of the crime, as well as how to spot traffickers and report cases.

“We wanted to tell women and girls in the region about this in a simple way and raise awareness,” Chougala said.

Run by charity Women’s Welfare Society, the show is broadcast across more than 400 villages in Belgavi district.

In November, a young trafficking survivor shared her story on Akaashwani radio in the eastern city of Kolkata.

An aspiring singer from Bangladesh, she told listeners how traffickers had promised her “starlit dreams” of becoming a singing sensation in India, and then trafficked her to a brothel.

Phillips said radio is ideal for sharing trafficking stories, because survivors can speak about their experiences anonymously, “without fearing repercussions from criminal networks.”

Radio also allows listeners to connect intimately with survivors, he added.

“It’s a real person speaking up and more importantly speaking out,” Phillips said.

Human Trafficking: 4 GH Girls Rescued From Bihar

The Shillong Times

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The Railway Protection Force (RPF) on Sunday rescued four teenage girls of Garo Hills while being trafficked to Muzaffarpur in Bihar. 
North Garo Hills Police has dispatched a women’s team to bring back the four girls to Meghalaya.
The police said illegal trafficking of men and women is a major problem as it continues unabated in Meghalaya.
According to the police, the four girls went missing soon after the New Year celebrations. An unidentified man from North Garo Hills lured the girls to come along with him to Muzaffarpur on the promise of giving them good jobs there with hefty salaries.
One of the parents filed an FIR with Mendipathar police station after receiving a call from his daughter that she was being taken to Muzaffarpur on the promise of a high salaried job.
After the FIR was filed, the police contacted a Church leader of North Garo Hills for help who, in turn, contacted Impulse NGO.
Subsequently, the Commissioner of Railway Protection Force (RPF) and IGP of Delhi Police for NE were contacted to launch a rescue mission.
The Impulse NGO also contacted NGOs and social welfare organisations in West Bengal and Bihar resulting in the rescue of the four girls.

Bride-trafficking: Pradhans to keep track of Uttarakhand girls married in other states

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In a unique initiative to clamp down on bride trafficking from Uttarakhand, the state commission for women has roped in village pradhans who will keep track of girls from their respective areas married to men in other states. The pradhans will also submit a “well-being report” of the girls once in three months to the commission. In case the women go “missing”, the rights panel and police will reach out to her in-laws.

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The project has been launched in Uttarkashi whose Moori and Purola blocks see rampant bride trafficking.

Ramindri Mandrawal, secretary, Uttarakhand State Commission For Women, said, “There are some areas of Uttarakhand where daughters are sold by poor parents. In some cases, parents are fooled by traffickers who pose as matchmakers to get the girls married to men in other states. The women are then treated as commodities and slaves. Village pradhans will now keep an eye on this.”

Hundreds of young girls in northern India are lured or sold into involuntary marriage every year, according to a 2015 report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The women are bartered at prices that vary depending on their age, beauty and virginity, and exploited under conditions that amounts to a modern form of slavery. The report cited findings of a study by NGO Shakti Vahini which said that victims were mostly from Uttarakhand, AssamWest BengalJharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

In Uttarakhand, many cases of bride trafficking from the state have come to light in the recent past. Earlier in November, two men from Jammu and one from Nepal were arrested by Pithoragarh police’s anti-human trafficking cell along the Indo-Nepal border for allegedly trafficking a minor Nepalese girl on the pretext of marriage.

Uttarakhand shares a porous 263-km-long India-Nepal border in Pithoragarh and Champawat, and the commission has plans to ask pradhans from these districts as well to help curb bride trafficking.

Meanwhile, many pradhans from villages in Uttarkashi said they were willing to create awareness and “protect” girls from sham marriages. The more forthcoming ones among them said that they would use social media to stay connected to the girls.

Arvind Kumar, pradhan of Math village in Purola block, said, “Keeping tabs on newlyweds may sound awkward but it is only by taking joint responsibility that we can eliminate bad elements from society. The villages here are small and girls are few so it is easy to do this.”

 Another pradhan, Raji Devi from Dhundhi village in Dunda block, added, “Such combined community initiatives will deter traffickers as well as parents who sell their daughters. We will create WhatsApp groups to connect with girls married in other states.”
 Some anti-trafficking experts, however, cautioned that such crimes were highly organized and pradhans should be trained first.
 Anti-human trafficking activist Gyanendra Kumar said, “Bride trafficking is a heinous and organized crime and those trying to put curbs on it need to be trained. In many cases, parents themselves sell off their daughters with local people acting as spotters for them. This network needs to be broken first.”

 

Cross-border Trafficking of Bangladeshi Girls – A Journal by Meha Dixit

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India, a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, does not explicitly recognise and punish all forms of labour trafficking to the extent required by the United Nations Trafficking Protocol. A study conducted on human trafficking in five districts of West Bengal highlights urgent need for cooperation between the governments of India and Bangladesh, for participation of governmental institutions and civil society organisations, the importance of monitoring of the implementation of anti-trafficking laws, and the need for a database of victims as well as the specific safeguards to protect victims, etc.

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The Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram share 4,096.7 km of land border with Bangladesh (MHA 2017). Most of the Indo–Bangladesh border is unfenced and porous, which makes it vulnerable to trafficking in persons and fake currency. Out of the states mentioned above, West Bengal, which shares approximately 2,220 km land border and 259 km riverine border with Bangladesh, is the hub of internal and cross-border human trafficking from Bangladesh.

Defining Human Trafficking

Human trafficking can generally be described as a crime that exploits children, women, and men for a number of purposes, including sex and forced labour. Trafficked persons usually come from the areas “where economic and social difficulties make migration a popular choice” (Friesendorf 2007: 381). Trafficking has frequently “been described as the perfect crime.” The profits are huge and continuing risks of apprehension are extremely low; and prosecutions for this crime are extremely rare (Gallagher 2006: 163). Wheaton et al (2010) assert that like the illicit arms trade and international drug trade, profit is the driving motive for trafficking in persons. Few states have escaped the impact of this increasingly sophisticated and invariably vicious phenomenon (Gallagher 2006: 163). Every state across the globe is affected by human trafficking, whether as a state of origin, transit or destination for victims (UN 2016).

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According to the 2017 report “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage,” at any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were “in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage” (ILO 2017). The critical issue concerning human trafficking is that while the perpetrators or traffickers may receive modest to no punishment, “trafficked individuals may be victimized twice: first by the traffickers, and second, by the host governments” (Lobasz 2009).

International Law

Instruments that have dealt with the issue of human trafficking have their origins in the abolition of slavery. They include provisions within the Slavery Convention (1926) as well as the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956). Other tools of international law that include segments against human trafficking are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949), the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). These instruments laid the basis for the contemporary conventions and efforts towards elimination of trafficking (King 2008).

The key instruments of international law on human trafficking are the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two related protocols: the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (also known as the UN Trafficking Protocol or the Palermo Protocol), and the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, which came into force in 2003–04. Until the early 1990s, trafficking was primarily regarded as a form of human smuggling and a kind of illegal migration. As a result of the signing of the UN Trafficking Protocol in 2000, “a more detailed, internationally agreed-upon definition of trafficking is available” today (Laczko and Gramegna 2003).

The UN Trafficking Protocol, to which India is a signatory,is the single-most significant international legal instrument on human trafficking. Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Trafficking Protocol defines trafficking in persons as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. (UNODC 2016)

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Therefore, trafficking in persons can be identified by the confluence of three factors: (i) the act (the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons); (ii) the means (by threat or use of force or other forms of coercion); and (iii) the purpose (for the purpose of exploitation). Further, Article 3(c) of the protocol provides a separate definition for trafficking in children which requires elements (i) and (iii) above, but does not require the use or threat of force or coercion in achieving them. Although the protocol offers a rather nuanced definition of trafficking, its purposes are rather general: “to prevent and combat trafficking, to assist victims and to promote and facilitate cooperation among States” (Gallagher 2006: 165). Gallagher rightly notes:

In terms of substance, however, its emphasis is squarely on criminal justice aspects of trafficking. Mandatory obligations are few and relate only to criminalization; investigation and prosecution; cooperation between national law enforcement agencies; border controls; and sanctions on commercial carriers. In relation to victims, the Protocol contains several important provisions but very little in the way of hard obligation. States Parties are enjoined to provide victims with protection, support and remedies but are not required to do so. States Parties are encouraged to avoid involuntary repatriation of victims but, once again, are under no legal obligation in this regard.

However, notwithstanding the shortcomings of the International Law on Trafficking, it may also be pointed out that even countries that are not a party to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two related protocols “are obligated to protect the rights of trafficked persons under provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which comprises customary international law” (King 2008).

Human Trafficking in India

India is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. Majority of trafficking in the country occurs internally (interstate or intra-state), and the rest occurs across national borders. India is a destination for individuals trafficked from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, and a transit country for persons being trafficked to West Asia and other countries. Moreover, India serves as a source for individuals trafficked to West Asia, North America and Europe.

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In March 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 was passed by India. The act amended Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code and included the country’s first definition of human trafficking based on the UN Trafficking Protocol. Till then, there was no comprehensive definition of human trafficking in the Indian law. Under Article 23 of the Constitution, trafficking in humans is prohibited; however, the article does not define the term. Besides this, various other laws provide police officials with the mandate to undertake activities pertaining to prevention of crimes, prosecution of offenders and protection of the victims of trafficking. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 (as amended in 1986) is a special legislation which addresses the issue of sex trafficking. It provides wide-ranging powers to special police officers as well as other police officers, working on their behalf for carrying out searches, rescue of victims, and arrest of offenders (SSB 2015). However, it does not address the issue of labour trafficking.

The laws in India do not explicitly recognise and punish all forms of labour trafficking to the extent required by the United Nations Trafficking Protocol. The definition of human trafficking in the now-amended Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code does not include forced labour. Further, other laws which deal with forced labour in the country do not adequately address the complex issues concerning the trafficking of persons for the purpose of labour. In addition, although the 2013 Amendment Act reformed Section 370 to penalise those individuals who engage sex trafficking victims, however, it did not criminalise the acts of those who engage labour trafficking victims (Rhoten et al 2015).

In May 2016, Maneka Gandhi, the Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development, released a draft of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill that was referred to as India’s first ever anti-human trafficking law. Its primary objectives are to unify existing laws on human trafficking and extend the definition to include labour trafficking as well. Further, the bill aims at treating “survivors of trafficking as victims in need of assistance and to make rehabilitation a right for those who are rescued” (Sriram 2016). Among others, one of the main criticisms of the bill is that the terms “protection,” “prevention” and “rehabilitation” have not been defined in the draft. This, in turn, leaves it open to subjective interpretation.

From Bangladesh into West Bengal

West Bengal is the hub of internal and cross-border human trafficking in India. Most of the Indo–Bangladesh border is unfenced and porous, which makes it susceptible to trafficking in persons and fake currency. The districts in West Bengal which are most vulnerable to human trafficking include North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Nadia, Malda and Cooch Behar. West Bengal is a source, transit and destination for trafficking in persons. According to a non-government organisation (NGO) working on human trafficking in the state, West Bengal has also become a transit for Bangladeshi girls who are sent to Bengaluru and Hyderabad by both Indian and Bangladeshi traffickers.

Field Research in West Bengal

The fieldwork on human trafficking was conducted in January 2016 in five districts of West Bengal—Kolkata, Howrah, Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas. While Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas were selected for their vulnerability to cross-border human trafficking, Kolkata and Howrah were part of the study since the shelter homes in these districts housed a substantial number of trafficked Bangladeshi girls. The respondents included Bangladeshi girls in shelter homes in West Bengal, NGOs working on the issue of trafficking and government and police officials. Due to limited time period of the field research and difficulty in getting access to all the major shelter homes in the state, non-probability sampling was used.

The author interviewed 38 Bangladeshi girls, between the ages of 11 and 23, at three shelter homes in West Bengal. These shelter homes include the government-run Sukanya and Liluah in Kolkata and Howrah, respectively; and the shelter home run by Sanlaap in Kolkata, an NGO which works on human trafficking in West Bengal. Of the 38 girls who were interviewed, 12 were trafficked from different districts in Bangladesh to West Bengal. Further, at Shilayan shelter home in Behrampur, Murshidabad, where the author was unable to get the permission to interview Bangladeshi girls, a senior official told her, “most Bangladeshi girls who are currently lodged at the home were victims of trafficking.”

Due to poverty and rampant unemployment in Bangladesh, and the perception of India as a land of opportunities among many young Bangladeshis from poor backgrounds, human trafficking from Bangladesh to India has become a flourishing trade. Many poor and young Bangladeshis, girls in particular, are falsely promised jobs and are then trafficked to West Bengal. Most trafficking victims who were interviewed came from poor and underprivileged families and were lured by traffickers who promised them jobs in India. However, once both the victim and the trafficker entered the Indian territory, the trafficker sold the girl or sent her to a brothel within West Bengal or some other part of the country.

When the author met her in 2016, Ayesha (a 16-year-old from Dhaka, Bangladesh), had been at Sanlaap shelter home in Kolkata, West Bengal for over one and half year. She was trafficked from Bangladesh and taken to a brothel in Mumbai from where she was rescued by the police. Thereafter, she was sent to Sanlaap in Kolkata. She was awaiting repatriation to Bangladesh. When the author asked her questions about her trafficking to India, she appeared hesitant to explain.

Soniya, a 15-year-old girl from Dhaka, had also been lodged at Sanlaap for over one and half years. She was trafficked from Bangladesh and sent to a hotel in Kolkata, West Bengal. Soniya noted, “the hotel was raided by the police. Thereafter the police and some NGO rescued me and I was sent to Sanlaap.” Soniya was awaiting repatriation to Bangladesh. Like Ayesha, Soniya was also hesitant to speak about how she was trafficked to India.

Once the cross-national victim and the trafficker are arrested, they are both charged under the 14 Foreigners Act 1946 due to their illegal entry into India. According to the Foreigners Act, if an offender is a foreigner, she/he should be charged under this act, punished and then deported. In the case of cross-border trafficking, the victim is mostly revictimised. She/he is treated as a criminal for her/his illegal presence in the country. The perpetrator is merely released after she/he completes the sentence under the act and if the former is a foreigner, she/he is deported after the sentence. However, the victim is sent to a shelter home in India as per the court orders and is required to stay there till the court hearing since she/he is the witness in the case.

The victim is often treated as a criminal despite the Advisory from Ministry of Home Affairs, India on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in India—Dealing with Foreign Nationals (MHA 2012) which states:

It is seen that in general, the foreign victims of human trafficking are found without valid passport or visa. If, after investigation, the woman or child is found to be a victim, she should not be prosecuted under the Foreigners Act. If the investigation reveals that she did not come to India or did not indulge in crime out of her own free will, the state government UT (union territory) Administration may not file a charge sheet against the victim. If the chargesheet has already been filed under the Foreigners Act and other relevant laws of the land, steps may be taken to withdraw the case from prosecution so far as the victim is concerned. Immediate action may be taken to furnish the details of such victims to the Ministry of External Affairs (Consular Division), Patiala House, New Delhi so as to ensure that the person concerned is repatriated to the country of her origin through diplomatic channels.

There is a lack of adequate laws in India which must recognise the trafficked person as a victim and not as a criminal. The Indian laws also do not adequately target traffickers and their associates or punish them effectively. Further, the trafficker can be charged under Section 366 B of the Indian Penal Code according to which importation of a female below the age of 21 years is a punishable offence. However, this legal provision is rarely implemented owing to a lack of its awareness among police officials. The penal clauses are also not used adequately to bring the clients to justice.

Another critical issue concerning the cross-border trafficked victim, as pointed out by a senior official at Sukanya shelter home, is that the verification and confirmation of the addresses of the trafficked victims who are lodged at shelter homes in West Bengal takes a long time (sometimes as long as three years). The reasons for this include delay in confirmation by the Government of Bangladesh or inaccurate, incomplete or vague addresses given by the victims at the shelter home. Riya, an 18-year-old from Dhaka who was falsely promised a job by a trafficker and taken to West Bengal, had been at the Liluah shelter home in the state for over two years and four months after she was rescued by the police. She was awaiting repatriation when the author met her.

Further, Shafi, a 17-year-old and Taslima, a 15-year-old from Bhola district in Bangladesh, who were both falsely promised jobs by a trafficker and taken to West Bengal, had been staying at Sanlaap shelter home for over three years since they are both witnesses in the human trafficking case. They were rescued by an NGO and were thereafter produced before the court. According to the court orders, they were both required to stay at the shelter home till the hearing of the case.

India–Bangladesh Provisions

In June 2015, India and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the prevention of human trafficking, especially of women and children. The agreement calls for joint co-ordinated efforts by officials in both states “along with a systematic process of data circulation and coordinated patrolling in the border areas.” “There is also a provision for repatriation and rehabilitation of the victims which will be carried out by their mother territory” (Ray Chaudhary et al 2016). For addressing the various issues pertaining to “prevention of trafficking, victim identification and repatriation” and making the process speedy and victim-friendly between the two countries, a task force has been constituted (MEA 2016).

Cooperation and coordination

Although the MoU envisages collaborated efforts between the two countries, to address the problem of cross-border trafficking from Bangladesh to India, there is anurgent and greater need for cooperation and coordination between the two governments andNGOs on either side of the border. There is also a need for networks between actors pursuing diverse approaches. For instance, good networking betweenNGOs and India’s border guarding forces’ border outposts is required. Further, a number ofNGOs working on the issue of human trafficking in West Bengal noted that Border Security Force (BSF) that guards the Indian side of the border needs todevelop good rapport with childcare and protection agencies. In recent times, there has been increasing cooperation and coordination between theNGOs and BSF on the issue of cross-border trafficking from Bangladesh into West Bengal.

In addition, there is also a need for networking between actors pursuing similar approaches or working on similar objectives. In West Bengal, a number of NGOs deal with internal human trafficking, however, not in a holistic manner. There is a need for coordination among the NGOs working on human trafficking. Moreover, there are very few NGOs in the state that work on cross-border trafficking from Bangladesh. There should be a coordination between NGOs that work on internal trafficking and those which deal with both internal and cross-border trafficking. It is imperative that networking is not “obstructed by red tape, the failure to exchange information, and zero-sum games between networked actors” (Friesendorf 2007: 386). In addition, there is a need for community mobilisation and sensitisation of the BSF on the issue of human trafficking along the border.

Increasing participation

All necessary measures should be adopted to ensure participation of governmental institutions, including national asylum authorities, international organisations as well as civil society organisations where appropriate, in the general assessment of protection needs of trafficking victims. This can help in determining, from a technical and humanitarian perspective, which protection measure is most fitting for each individual case. This would also help ensure that appropriate referral mechanisms are in place where parallel protection regimes exist.

Evaluation and monitoring 

There is also a need for evaluating and monitoring the relationship between the intention of anti-trafficking laws, policies and interventions, and their real impact. In particular, it needs to be ensured that distinctions are made between measures which truly reduce trafficking and measures which may have the effect of transferring the problem from one group or place to another. Moreover, it is imperative to recognize the significant contribution that survivors of trafficking can, on a purely voluntary basis, make to developing and implementing anti-trafficking interventions and evaluating their impact. Further, NGOs can play a central role in improving the law enforcement response to trafficking by providing relevant authorities with information on trafficking incidents and patterns ensuring the privacy of trafficked individuals.

Database on victims 

In a consultation on cross-border trafficking held in May 2017 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one of the key recommendations was of a country-specific or centralized database on the number of victims awaiting/granted repatriation to be maintained by India, Bangladesh and Nepal. It was also suggested that task forces may beestablished at all levels to ensure that there are no obstacles in the process of repatriation. Further, amonitoring mechanism within each government was also suggested “to track time-bound repatriation and support services provided to the victims” (UNODC 2017). However, as rightly pointed out by a former senior official of BSF, the database should be regional rather than country-specific and it should be accessible to the general public.

Further, there is a need for standardising the collection of statistical information on trafficking and related movements (such as migrant smuggling) that may include a trafficking element. The data concerning trafficked persons should be disaggregated on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity and other relevant attributes.

Transit homes 

During a consultation (May 2017),UNODC noted, the pilot transit home established in West Bengal, and rehabilitation homes in Bihar, are good practice models. However, in case “where no shelters exist at the border, mahila thanas or government barracks with basic amenities may be allotted and equipped for female victims, especially at night.” These may possibly be developed under a public–private partnership (PPP) model. Existing detention centers may also be transformed into shelter homes (UNODC 2017).

Safeguards for victims

Specific safeguards for the protection of girl and boy victims of trafficking should be established including: (a) a formal determination of the best interest of the child; (b) the adoption of child-specific protection measures, such as the appointment of guardians; (c) the collecting of information on the role parents might have played in the trafficking situation of their children; (d) issues of tracing and family reunification, and (e) the observance of specific safeguards in cases of the repatriation of separated or unaccompanied children.

Identification of trafficking victims

Finally, there is a need to augment the existing efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, in particular deportees and undocumented migrants. It may be noted that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, on a regular basis, visits holding and detention centers and conducts monitoring missions to evaluate the arrival of refugees within mixed migratory flows, and helps ensure identification of victims of trafficking or individuals at risk of being trafficked in a gender- and age-sensitive manner.

New anti-trafficking law soon: Life term for repeat offenders

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The bill has proposed 10-year punishment for those engaging in “aggravated forms of trafficking". For repeat offenders, it suggests imprisonment for life. The bill has also proposed the establishment of a national anti-trafficking bureau.
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 The government is set to introduce a law to guard against human trafficking, proposing a 10-year punishment for those engaging in “aggravated forms of trafficking” while seeking life imprisonment for repeat offenders.
A bill to identify various forms of trafficking, including for the purposes of bonded labour, sexual exploitation, pornography, removal of organs and begging, has proposed severe punishment for those engaging in the heinous crime.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2017, initiated by the Women & Child Development Ministry, is currently with a Group of Ministers (GoM) that will take a final view on the matter, official sources told TOI.

The bill proposes the establishment of a national anti-trafficking bureau, which shall be entrusted with the gamut of issues aimed at controlling and tackling the menace under various forms. These include coordination, monitoring and surveillance of illegal movement of persons and their prevention. The bureau will also be entrusted with increasing cooperation and coordination with authorities concerned and organisations in foreign countries for strengthening operational and long-term intelligence for investigation of trafficking cases, and driving in mutual legal assistance.

Listing out the ‘aggravated forms of trafficking’, the bill speaks about offences such as forced labour, or bonded labour, by using violence, intimidation, inducement, promise of payment of money, deception or coercion. Also, it mentions trafficking after administering any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance or alcohol, or for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage.

The aggravated form also includes trafficking for the purpose of begging or forcing those who are mentally ill or are pregnant. “Whoever commits the offence of aggravated form of trafficking of a person shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 10 years, but which may extend to life imprisonment and shall be liable to fine that shall not be less than Rs 1 lakh,” the bill proposes.

For repeat offenders, it suggests imprisonment for life “which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life”, apart from a fine that will not be less than Rs 2 lakh.

As per data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), human trafficking numbers rose by almost 20% in 2016 against the previous year. NCRBsaid there were 8,132 human trafficking cases last year against 6,877 in 2015, with the highest number of cases reported in West Bengal (44% of cases), followed by Rajasthan (17%).

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Of the 15,379 victims who were caught in trafficking, 10,150 were female and 5,229 males. NCRB said the purpose of trafficking included forced labour; sexual exploitation for prostitution; other forms of sexual exploitation; domestic servitude; forced marriage; child pornography; begging; drug peddling; and removal of organs. It is believed that the numbers recorded by NCRB are a far cry to actual incidences of trafficking as many cases went unreported with many people still unaware of the crime or lacking confidence to seek police help.

For those engaging in ‘buying or selling’ a person, the bill proposes rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than seven years which can be extended to 10 years with a fine upwards of Rs 1 lakh. The bill also seeks punishment for those engaging in trafficking with the help of media, including print, internet, digital or electronic. It stipulates a punishment of not less than seven years which can go up to 10 years and a fine not less than Rs 1 lakh.

“Whoever distributes or sells or stores, in any form in any electronic or printed form showing incidence of sexual exploitation, sexual assault or rape for the purpose of extortion or for coercion of the victim or his/her family members, or for unlawful gain, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but may extend to seven years.”

Apart from the national bureau, the bill also aims at having state-level anti-trafficking officers who shall also provide relief and rehabilitation services through district units and other civil-society organisations.
The bill also spells out measures towards relief and rehabilitation for the victims of trafficking, and seeks the formation of a committee for this purpose. The committee is proposed to be headed by the women & child development secretary and would have members from the ministries of home; external affairs; labour and employment; social justice and empowerment; panchayati raj; and heath and family welfare.