he proposed Anti-Trafficking Bill is scheduled for review. However, some elite section of the society appealed to the Ministry of Women and Child Development that the bill criminalises sex workers and transgender. They are asking for a clear mention in the bill that consenting adult workers are not going to be castigated under the new law. Even the sex workers are afraid that their mighty rehabilitation as per the legislation will not only displace women but also take away their source of livelihood. The government has already failed to create jobs and empower youth, this section is another big challenge. Objectors have reasoned against the moralistic nature of the ‘raid-rescue-rehabilitate’ model that the bill endorses. Sex work is not legal in India and while those in the government have accused activists of opposing the bill as a backdoor for legalising sex work. India already has at least 10 laws that together are used to prosecute trafficking crimes. This bill does not add much in terms of compensation for the victims and real rehabilitation; readings have shown that most women who are sent to rehabilitation homes from sex work return to the profession once left to their own. This is what is happening from ages.
The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, is known as the Anti-Trafficking Bill, is expected to provide stringent punishment to the perpetrators, after the cabinet cleared the bill. It was hopeful to see the cabinet approving the bill, but it has to be brought to both houses of the Parliament in the upcoming Monsoon Session without further delay. Otherwise, the election declaration would take place in a few months’ time and the matter might be kept on hold till the next session of the Parliament. The government and the opposition parties should push for it immediately with whatsoever possible amendment required. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, was completely based on instances where women are trafficked for forced sex and prostitution, but now trafficking is being done for other purposes, including slave work, forced labour, begging activities and children are targeted more nowadays. The new proposed bill, which prohibits all forms of trafficking with stringent punishments and rehabilitation and preventive measures, is hence, essential as there is a sense of urgency towards this in our society with the number of cases shooting up than ever before in recent past. More than 63 million women are “missing” statistically across India, and more than 21 million girls are unwanted by their families. The data, available with the Ministry of Home Affairs, shows that the number of untraced children in the country has increased by 84 per cent between 2013 and 2015. The total number of untraced children in 2015 was 62,988 as against 34,244 in the year 2013. The number of untraced children in the country has increased by 84 per cent between 2013 and 2015. The situation is even worst in 2018. 180 children go missing in India every day. Most may never be found. As of 2018, more than 11,000 children have not been found in Maharashtra and 9,001 remain untraced in the national capital. The reality is similarly bleak in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, which have witnessed around 60 per cent growth in the number of untraced children in the last three years.
The recent baby-selling scandal associated with the Missionaries of Charity in Ranchi, cases of child rape against a self-styled godman in Delhi, nine-year-old girl raped by a Maulana in a Madrasa – all point towards involvement of religious organisations. Bachpan Bachao Andolan had approached the Supreme Court in 2015 to get a strong judgment, which ordered all state governments and central government to compulsorily register all child homes, child care centres and orphanages to ensure that they work in a transparent manner, open to regulations and checks by government agencies. This made an impact by the number of such registered centres reaching 6,000 from a mere 800. Unfortunately, faith organisations are left loose by state governments. With frequent inspection and legitimate licensing brought for them as well, the government needs to ensure strict enforcement of the judgement. Also, faith leaders, irrespective of religion or sect, should come out more strongly to oust their followers/members, who are involved in such cases. As four children are abused or raped every hour, during the same timeframe we are now witnessing eight child-missing cases. The fact that child pornography is now a $10 billion industry is a disturbing development.
According to a petition against the bill which has garnered the support of over 4,000 sex workers from the country, legal constructions of sexual services as exploitation contribute to a climate of stigma and scorn towards persons in sex work and the work itself, thus endorsing state violence and discrimination. Sex workers argued that the community had been making concerted efforts to contribute to India’s health interventions and other campaigns. Yet the bill tried to take away their right to profession by continuing to stigmatise sex work. The ambiguous terms of the bill do not spell out such exceptions. Another point raised by transgender activists was the provision of forced relocation of victim to their hometown. While the relocation does not take into account the victim’s wishes or consent, it further stands to endanger the victim by sending them back to a place that they may wilfully have fled.
While the prevention of bonded and enforced labour is one of the major pegs on which the amendments were made, experts claimed that the bill was anything but pro-labour. The bills did nothing to improve upon the already existing anti-labour exploitation laws. Unless three keys of labour rights – recruitment, wages and working conditions — are regulated, forced labour and trafficking cannot stop. The bill is completely silent on these aspects. The new bill also includes child victims of trafficking. Child rights activists have raised concerns about the proposed ‘rehabilitation’ of children by institutionalising them, a practice which has often faced international censure. Questions have also been raised about who will be responsible for these rehabilitation homes, whether it will be the Child Welfare Committee or will it be a new body. The bill also prevents women who have been rescued by the agency to decide for themselves. It takes the victim out of incarceration, only to have others continue to dictate her decisions. It also hurts women who migrate to the different places in search of work, elope with their lovers or are fleeing violence or mistreatment at home by criminalising those in the adult sex industry. It does not address the reasons for increased migration that leads to undocumented work in unorganised sectors such as labour and sex trade. As experts pointed out, the new law does not fill any of the existing lacunae in trafficking laws but only adds to the legislative clutter. Activists and experts have called for the bill to be passed on to a standing committee for further consultation, this time including all stakeholders, before being made an Act.
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