Ever since the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, was passed by the Lok Sabha in July 2018, there has been a huge debate among the civil society groups and experts on whether this Bill should be passed by the Rajya Sabha and turned into a law or referred to a Parliamentary Committee to plug the gaps, that critics of the Bill think would end up targeting voluntary sex workers and impact interstate migration and informal sector workforce. However, anti-trafficking activists don’t agree with this argument, and want this Bill to be passed, for it seems to be the most comprehensive and stringent law to combat trafficking of persons, especially of women and children. Interactions with survivors of sex-trafficking from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, anti-trafficking activists and lawyers working on this issue provide the rationale to believe that the Bill is the first good step in the battle against human trafficking, the second largest organised illegal activity in the world, after the drugs trade. Here are a few reasons why I concur with the activists and survivors who want this Bill to become a law:
A Multipronged and Holistic Approach
The new Bill, according to experts, is the first such piece of legislation that takes a holistic approach towards creating a robust policy framework against human trafficking, by stitching together key components such as prevention, protection, rescue and rehabilitation of victims, and placing their rights and welfare at its core. The Bill lays down provisions for setting up of protection and rehabilitation homes for survivors, and sets forth their management and regulatory mechanisms. Section 23 of the Bill calls for punishment for non-compliance of the protection-home norms. It says: “If any person in-charge of Protection Home and Rehabilitation Home providing shelter and rehabilitation to victims or any person rescued, contravenes any of the provisions, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine which shall not be less than one lakh rupees, or with both.” It also speaks about the consent of survivors and gives them, in case of adults, a choice to stay in the rehabilitation home or not. As per Section 17 (4) of the Bill, an adult survivor or a person rescued, may apply before the Magistrate, accepting or declining rehabilitative services.
The Magistrate may approve such an application after due assessment of the victim’s risks and vulnerability by the District Anti-Trafficking Committee before making a final decision. Section 17(5) of the Bill mentions that during the post-rescue process before the Magistrate and during the repatriation process, the victims should be provided with psychosocial counselling by a trained mental health professional – a provision hailed by activists and experts working on the issue. Another noteworthy provision of the Bill is that it specifies timelines for interim compensation and victim compensation and makes it clear that rehabilitation of victims will not depend on criminal cases that might be going on at the time (Section 25). The Bill calls for setting up of a National Rehabilitation Fund through which funds will be made available to the State and District Anti-Trafficking Committees towards prevention, protection and prosecution of matters relating to trafficking of persons.
The Bill also seeks to build the capacity of the victims through skill development in order to empower them to access justice and protect themselves from further trafficking. The Bill also calls for repatriation of trafficking victims to be completed within 3 to 6 months, depending on whether it is interstate or cross-border. If there is any delay, that needs to be reported to the NATB and National Anti-Trafficking Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, with reasons in writing.