“Slavery was abolished 150 years ago & yet there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history”
The 2016 Anti-Trafficking Bill35 is only the latest (proposed) addition to the existing patchwork of Indian laws against trafficking. The bill in its current form will not achieve its objectives of preventing trafficking and providing protection and rehabilitation to trafficked victims. This is because there are at least three sets of laws applicable to the various manifestations of domestic trafficking: the generally enforceable IPC; the specialist criminal law, that is, the ITPA, which is applicable to the sex sector, and several specialist labour legislations covering bonded labour, contract labour and interstate migrant work. They all arise from different legal sources and harbour varied ideas about what constitutes „trafficking‟ or extreme exploitation, emerging in turn from divergent political understandings of coercion and exploitation. Finally they envisage radically different regulatory mechanisms to counter exploitation.
The anti-trafficking Bill seeks to build an infrastructure around the hastily-passed Section 370. However, India needs a comprehensive and effective anti-trafficking law that consolidates not only these varied streams of anti-trafficking laws, but also the very different political visions of extreme exploitation and the best regulatory means to address them. Unfortunately, the trafficking Bill is not that piece of legislation that consolidates.
THE KEY FEATURES OF THE BILL
The anti-trafficking Bill envisages creating district and state-level anti-trafficking committees with government officers and NGO representatives to mobilise efforts to prevent, rescue, protect and rehabilitate victims of trafficking, in addition to providing medical care, psychological assistance and skills development. Under its current layout, a rescued victim is to be initially brought to the district committee or a police station, by the investigating officer, public servant, social worker or the victim herself. The bill envisages creating protection homes to provide shelter, food, clothing, counselling and medical care to rescued victims, and special homes to provide long-term institutional support. The government is to formulate programmes for rehabilitation, support, after-care and reintegration services. The state governments are to form specialised schemes for women in prostitution or who have been the victims of other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. There is, additionally, an underdeveloped provision on the registration of placement agencies – the violation of which attracts a fine, but there are no protective measures for victims duped by such agencies.
Offences relating to the administration of chemicals and hormones are cognizable and non-bailable. Other provisions enable the confiscation, forfeiture and attachment of property when offences are committed under Section 16 and 17 or under Sections 370-373 of the IPC. The latter deals with trafficking, engaging a trafficked minor or person for sexual exploitation, habitual dealing in slaves and selling, disposing of or hiring a minor for prostitution. The burden of proof for these offences is also reversed: the commission of the crime is presumed unless otherwise proven. Special courts are to be instituted for prosecuting offences under Sections 370-373 of the IPC and offences under the Bill; experienced prosecutors are to be appointed as special public prosecutors. The Bill also provides for the payment of back wages – a welcome move An “anti-trafficking fund‟ is to be set up to fund implementation, but with no financial commitment from the government (unlike say the Nirbhaya fund); the fund is supposed to attract voluntary donations – which is, perhaps, an invitation to philanthro-capitalists to bankroll the government’s anti-trafficking initiatives.