Human Trafficking: Putting a Price Tag on Human Dignity

Human Trafficking, a modern day slavery, is the third largest organized crime after drugs and the arms trade across the globe. In India, this menace is burgeoning rapidly.

Human trafficking is an egregious human rights violation that occurs throughout the world. Due to its complex cross-border nature, human trafficking requires a coordinated, multi-disciplinary national and international response. In March 2013, India passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, which amended Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code and included India's first definition of human trafficking based on the UN Trafficking Protocol. 

Picture Courtesy- WILX

Human trafficking outside India, although illegal under Indian law, remains a significant problem. People are frequently illegally trafficked through India for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced/bonded labor. As per the estimate, this problem affects 20 to 65 million Indians. Women and girls are trafficked within the country for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage especially in those areas where the sex ratio is highly skewed in favor of men. A significant portion of children are subjected to forced labor as factory workers, domestic servants, beggars, and agriculture workers, and have been used as armed combatants by some terrorist and insurgent groups.

India is also one of the major destinations for women and girls from Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Nepali children are also trafficked to India for forced labor. Every day more than 54 young girls and women are trafficked out of Nepal and into India to enter a life of slavery. Indian gangs have been found trafficking women from earthquake-hit Nepal.

As per the recent reports, West Bengal is the hub of human trafficking in India. It had the maximum human trafficking cases (669) amongst all states in India, followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
Poverty is a primary cause of human trafficking in India. Other factors include low employment prospects, a patriarchal culture, low regard for women's rights, low levels of education. 

laws to Curb Human Trafficking

The Government of India penalises trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation through the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), with a prescribed penalty of seven years' to life imprisonment. India also prohibits bonded and forced labour through the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, the Child Labour Act, and the Juvenile Justice Act.

Indian authorities also use Sections 366(A) and 372 of the Indian Penal Code, prohibiting kidnapping and selling minors into prostitution respectively, to arrest traffickers. Penalties under these provisions are a maximum of ten years' imprisonment and a fine.

Bonded labour and the movement of sex trafficking victims may occasionally be facilitated by corrupt officials. They protect brothels that exploit victims and protect traffickers and brothel keepers from arrest and other threats of enforcement.

Usually, there are no efforts made to tackle the problem of government officials' complicity in trafficking workers for overseas employment. The bulk of bonded labor heads for the Middle East to emerging economies and there are several media reports which report on the illegal and inhumane trafficking of Indian workers.

India's CBI incorporated anti-trafficking training, by Dr. Gilly McKenzie of the Interpol Trafficking and Organised Crime Division, into its standard curriculum. In November, the State of Maharashtra developed an action plan to combat trafficking; it did not, however, allocate appropriate funding to accomplish the objectives of this plan.

The two principal Indian laws that address trafficking and prostitution in particular are:

The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act of 1956 (SITA) and The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1986 (ITPA), colloquially called PITA, an amendment to SITA.

Other Measures

India is said to have adopted a tolerant approach to prostitution whereby an individual is free to carry on prostitution provided it is not an organized and a commercialized vice. However, it commits itself to opposing trafficking as enshrined in Article 23 of the Constitution which prohibits trafficking in human beings. India is also a signatory to international conventions such as the Convention on Rights of the Child (1989), Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2000) and the latest South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution (2002)

In order to effectively curb the menace of human trafficking to the Middle East, India and the UAE will soon sign a MoU for cooperation in preventing and combating the crime. It will strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries and increase bilateral cooperation on issues of prevention, rescue, recovery, and repatriation related to human trafficking, especially of women and children, expeditiously. Anti-trafficking cells and task forces will work on both sides to prevent human trafficking. 

Picture Courtesy- NFA

India's Amendment Act brought India into closer alignment with the international standards established by the UN Trafficking Protocol. However, there continue to be gaps between India's laws, policies, and practices, on the one hand, and, on the other, the UN Trafficking Protocol's requirements and recommendations for State Parties. First, India's laws and policies have long prioritized preventing and punishing sex trafficking rather than labor trafficking in spite of the fact that labor trafficking is far more prevalent in India. Second, there remains a notable absence of measures to guarantee the safety, rehabilitation, and compensation for trafficking victims. Current policies seem to conflate sex work with trafficking, and give inadequate attention to other forms of trafficking such as labor trafficking. While the recent amendment of the Indian Penal Code to include a comprehensive definition of trafficking is a major development in Indian law, a comprehensive effort to address the problem of trafficking through appropriate prevention, rescue and rehabilitation programs is still required. Third, cross-border trafficking victims face a double edged sword in India- their mere presence in the country constitutes a violation, as they are within India illegally. India must decriminalize the status of such victims and work to safely repatriate cross-national human trafficking victims to their home countries. Furthermore, India should reform its laws and policies to reflect the country's obligations under the UN Trafficking Protocol in light of the realities of human trafficking in the country. Following below are concluding observations and recommendations made by experts and interviewees for reforming India's anti-trafficking laws, policies and enforcement efforts. These suggestions are intended as topics deserving of consideration and are meant to be assistive in understanding the current legal framework concerning human trafficking in India.