B-A7Z8BM_400x400 Maneka Gandhi Union Minister for Women and Child Development

On 26th July 2018, the Lok Sabha successfully passed the landmark Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. There was an intensive debate on a wide range of issues around the subject of trafficking took place. I welcomed the debate wholeheartedly since it is representative of the priority we as Members of Parliament have placed on the issue of protection of vulnerable persons, especially the women and children of our country.

Every day, women and children are bought and sold in our villages and cities, as part of what is now the largest organised crime in the world- the trafficking of persons. They are mercilessly exploited for sex work, bonded labour, forced marriage, begging and other severe forms of violence. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2016, a total of 15379 victims were trafficked for exploitative purposes, out of which 10150 were women and 6345 were children. And 63407 children went missing during the year. These numbers will be much higher in reality as many many cases go unreported.

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With eight children going missing every hour, and one woman being trafficked every hour, we are morally and constitutionally bound to act with utmost urgency. For the first time, the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 responds to this urgent need with a comprehensive and structured solution through a robust, responsive and accountable institutional framework of prevention, protection and rehabilitation. The Bill seeks to combat trafficking at all levels through-

  1. A centralized body to oversee issues of inter-state and international trafficking of persons including matters of intelligence, investigation, capacity building and convergence.
  2. A survivor-centric protection mechanism that ensures the rescue of victims from places of exploitation and their immediate relief; while extending the choice of long-term rehabilitation to adults that is not contingent upon the status of prosecution.

iii. A guarantee to the right to statutory rehabilitation in the form of a dedicated rehabilitation fund, protection and rehabilitation homes along with psychological, social, and economic rehabilitation as well as education, skill development and infrastructure for social reintegration.

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Economic deterrence that targets the trafficking as an organised crime by attachment and forfeiture of property and freezing of bank account that are used for the purpose of trafficking. Any funds recovered hereunder, will be transferred to the rehabilitation fund to ultimately benefit survivors.

  1. Aggravated forms of trafficking that are more severe, complex and long-term in nature including trafficking for begging or by administering any chemical substance or hormones on a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity, by causing or exposing the person to a life-threatening illness including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or human immunodeficiency virus or by causing serious injury resulting in grievous hurt or death of any person, amongst others. Additional offences include online trafficking, the disclosure of identity, abetment and offences by the media. Importantly, the Bill also establishes accountability of officers under the Act by criminalising an omission of duty of their behalf.
  2. It strengthens prosecution of offenders through designated courts, and special public prosecutors for speedy trial while protecting the identity and confidentiality of victims and witnesses through-camera trial, video conferencing and victim and witness protection.

These provisions have been carefully harmonized and synchronized with all existing and linked provisions of law and structures created thereunder. The Bill has been drafted after in-depth study and research and after extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders over a period of three years. We received hundreds of from civil society, representatives of sex workers as well as victims of trafficking, police organizations, state governments, labour unions. We also received valuable guidance from Members of Parliament and all this was incorporated to strengthen to provisions of the Bill.

The Bill was thus formulated with care, after thorough research, consultation and due diligence. I would like to clear the air around some of the concerns that are being expressed, which are primarily arising from the absence of a clear understanding of the provisions of the Bill. Firstly, there is an apprehension that the Bill will criminalise voluntary sex work. This is completely false. On the contrary, the Bill provides safeguards to voluntary sex workers against persecution and prosecution, while giving them the option to approach the Magistrate for long-term institutional, psychological, social and economic support if she wishes to discontinue. I urge those representing the rights of sex workers to recognize the value of this choice in the lives of the people they work so hard to defend.

Secondly, there are concerns that the Bill will raise a conflict with an existing set of legislation further confusing and complicating the delivery of justice. I would like to reiterate here, that the Bill clearly states that it is in addition to and not in derogation of any existing laws for the time being in force. The Bill will tie together various legislations through a single system of institutional framework dedicated to addressing trafficking of persons and related crimes. This will bring accountability and convergence within the overall trafficking response mechanism.

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Thirdly, many valuable suggestions regarding the strengthening of the enforcement of the law have been provided. These suggestions are wholeheartedly welcomed and I will ensure that each of the suggestion will be suitably incorporated in the Rules. Rules are the instruments through which the objectives and provisions of the Act get implemented. We have already started the process of drafting these rules and will again be taking inputs and guidance from stakeholders.

I am sure there will be many more lessons we will learn together as we roll out this law to protect the last woman, child, man and transgender from the most horrific forms of exploitation. And as we have arrived here today, we will continue to push the boundaries of justice to collaboratively protect and empower the most vulnerable persons of our society. But today, a child in sexual exploitation and a woman in slavery are looking up to us and questioning us on what we are doing as a civilized society and a welfare State. We need to take this step together because our children and women cannot wait.

 

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