Concerns remain over Anti-Trafficking Bill

Legislation likely to be taken up during monsoon session of Parliament

There are high hopes and some concerns surrounding The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, which is likely to be tabled in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Parliament.

Several anti-human trafficking organisations, lawyers and researchers have welcomed the draft of the Bill which states that the legislation is aimed at preventing and countering trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide for care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims, while respecting their rights, and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them, and also to ensure prosecution of offenders.

The draft of the Bill also states that the National Investigation Agency shall act as the national investigating and coordinating agency responsible for prevention and combating of trafficking in persons and other offences under this Act, as well as for investigation, prosecution and coordination in cases of trafficking in persons

Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and anti-trafficking activist associated with the Kolkata-based NGO Sanjog said the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 (also referred as TIP Bill) has been built on the feedback and criticism that the Ministry of Women and Child Development received on the 2018 Bill on the same issue.

Ms. Banerjee who is associated with Tafteesh, a platform of anti-trafficking stakeholders, pointed out that the Bill also defines human trafficking as an organised crime with international implications and attempts to move away from conflating trafficking with sex work, while upholding the right of survivors to rehabilitation and compensation independent of criminal proceedings.

Experts working in the area of human trafficking said the draft bill, which has been put on website of Ministry of Women and Child Development, is not clear about how the NIA as a nodal agency will gather information and intelligence from different parts of the country through Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) at district level and State level. The Ministry of Home Affairs had mandated AHTUs for conducting interstate investigations in cases dealing with human trafficking and allocated budgets to them.

Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court lawyer who has taken up several cases of human trafficking, highlighted that the draft TIP Bill at present is largely silent on rescue protocols except the “reason to believe” by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. “This makes the role of the AHTUs unclear in the rescue and post-rescue processes..,” Mr Gupta, who is also a member of Tafteesh added.

From Taftessh, experts have submitted their recommendations to the Ministry and expressed hope that the Bill will be passed in the upcoming session.

There are also concerns about absence of community-based rehabilitation, missing definition of reintegration and also about the funds related to rehabilitation of survivors in the bill. Some experts working in the area have pointed out that in absence of rescue protocol there is always the fear of forced rescue of adult persons who may have been trafficked but do not wish to get rescued.

Representatives of Durbar, the largest sex workers collective based out of Kolkata, have also emphasised that the proposed Bill criminalises sex work and the choice of sex work as profession.

“The Draft Trafficking Bill has mixed up the issue of trafficking and sex work. Prostitution and Pornography have been added as definition of exploitation and sexual exploitation and is considered to be Trafficking in Persons. Consent of the victim has been made irrelevant,” a press statement from Durbar said.

The Bill will have an impact on the lives of thousands of survivors of human trafficking across the country and particularly West Bengal which reports high incidents of trafficking from remote, economically backward areas of the State. Other than being a source for human trafficking, West Bengal — given its location bordering Bangladesh and Nepal — is also a transit point of human trafficking.

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