Survivors Call For Coordinated Effort to Combat Human Trafficking

Every year, human rights activists, civil society organisations, children, youth, women, Dalits and various other marginalized groups celebrate a certain day to remind themselves and society of injustices and marginalisation that specific communities, class and genders face. Sometimes, these celebrations are meaningful – when we remember and recount significant progresses that has been made by individuals in their lives, new efforts made by governments and politicians to bring about a change or when we find events and stories that tell us that things are changing. And then, there are times when we feel disheartened and despondent – when we feel nothing has changed, violations continue with impunity and we fail our own people – children, youth and men and women from marginalized communities.

India’s efforts in combating human trafficking in recent years have been marked with some gains, some challenges and setbacks. While the previous government’s efforts in reforming the law on human trafficking did not mature into a new law and that TOP Bill has lapsed, one hopes that the new government will continue with the legal reform process, that has been strongly advocated by the Supreme Court of India. The Ministry of Home Affair’s proposed amendment of the NIA Bill and decision to take on Human Trafficking in its own mandate is promising. At the same time, it raises several questions on its implementation and how it will work with Anti Human Trafficking Units across the country. Over the last couple of years, India has been wrecked by scandals of shelter homes and abuse and exploitation of children and women in such shelters. So, it raises concerns about the approach the MWCD and state governments will take on rehabilitation, and whether there should be much more investment on community based rehabilitation for survivors of trafficking and control and transparency of shelter homes run by NGOs or those that are government run.

In 2019, the World Day on Human Trafficking, this is what marks the day with hopes for the next one year:

  1. All forms of human trafficking to be addressed through a common law: Trafficking for forced labour, sexual exploitation, bonded labour, forced marriage, illegal adoption and organ harvesting – needs to be addressed through a common law. The failure of the ITPA in achieving convictions for offenders is not only a matter of efficiency of implementation but also structural gaps. The Bonded Labour Act also fails to criminalise traffickers and focuses only on principal employers. The confusion of laws, overlapping with each other, creates confused implementation and enforcement, leading to failure of the prosecution in convicting offenders. It is our hope, of all survivors of human trafficking, that the Government of India will reform the law to create an instrument that focuses on 5 rights to survivors: retribution (punishment of offenders), rehabilitation (housing, food security, social security), recovery (from trauma), reparation (compensation through the victim compensation scheme) and
  2. Sex offenders – customers who prostitute children to be prosecuted under POCSO: The 2012 law has been sparsely used against customers of child prostitution. So, while the law has been used wrongly against adolescent boys and young men who may have eloped with minor girls, it has not been used to identify, investigate and prosecute those who selectively demand children and adolescents for prostitution. Impunity of customers of child prostitution is a tolerance of child sexual exploitation of the worst kind. Across the states, the leaders of the state police has said that the mandate to go after sex offenders who prostitute children needs to be endorsed by the state governments because this would require investment in expertise building, intelligence gathering and development of infrastructure for forensic investigations. We hope that all state governments of India will allocate an earmarked budget for intel and investigations to focus on prosecuting customers of child prostitution for better implementation of ITPA.
  3. Increased budgets for the judiciary and law enforcement for investigation and prosecution: New laws with no investment for its implementation leads to non compliance and eventually the law fails. There are long pending vacancies of judges, prosecutors and police officers, which have resulted in huge backlog of cases in the courts at all levels. This is not for human trafficking alone, but for all forms of gender based violence and sexual crimes against women and children.  We hope that in 2019, all state governments will notify at least 8 AHTUs in their states, targeting the most affected districts. We hope that the government will also make investments to reduce the number of vacancies of judges and police officers.  
  4. Financial inclusion and social security for women in prostitution, breaking debt bondage, protection: Women in prostitution, many of whom are victims of trafficking and child prostitution as well, get caught in a cycle of debt bondage. They are not allowed to have bank accounts because they do not have residence proof, and yet they have voters’ ID cards, which reflects how we use them for political benefits but do not ensure the rights and benefits that every citizen of this country is entitled to. Their lack of access to banks prevents them from any financial inclusion. They are dependent on private money lenders who charge them exorbitant rates of interest from 25 to 50% per month. Apart from condoms promotion programmes and ICDS centres, no other services have reached them from the governments. The ICPS, which was a scheme specifically meant for vulnerable children, has not any intervention for children of women in prostitution, resulting in a high rate of second generation prostitution. We hope that the MWCD will separate the cause of women in prostitution from the trafficking laws, and create a comprehensive strategy for prevention of violence against women in prostitution and protection of their children.
  5. Zero corruption of state police, stopping extortion and bribery from sex trade: The corruption in sex trade, bonded labour, child labour etc is well known. There has been no action from the anti corruption bureaus to address the links between sex trade, bonded labour, trafficking in children for labour, and the law enforcement, particularly local police stations which has a direct link between abuse of the law to threaten women in prostitution and extort money, or to allow trafficking and child prostitution against bribes. The police has had no internal controls or monitoring to check this institutionalised corruption. We hope that the Ministry of Home Affairs will address issues of corruption in the law enforcement and other state agencies in relation to human trafficking.
  6. Transparency and accountability of all shelter homes, no forced detention: Like never before, there have been more scandals in shelter homes, including suicides by women forcibly held in shelter homes, sexual exploitation of children and women, violence and torture on shelter home inmates. This not only shows the lack of effective monitoring of shelters by the ICPS implementers, DWCDs of the states, it also reflects the impunity of organisations running such shelters. Shelters are critical for survivors of trafficking post rescue, for short term stay. But there is every indication that shelters run with no transparency and accountability. We hope that while creating the new law, the government will repeal all laws that promote forced institutionalisation of trafficked survivors and build controls for transparency and accountability of organisations running shelters.