Human trafficking survivors highlight loopholes in the pending draft Bill

The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill 2021 is expected to be passed in the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament. Human trafficking survivors from different parts of India spoke to Gaon Connection about the gaps in the Bill which are yet to be addressed. More details here.

Sarah Khan
| Updated: December 4th, 2021

According to the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau, about 1, 714 cases of human trafficking were registered across India in the year 2020.Photo used for representational purpose only.

New Delhi

Shyam Sunder* was a teenager when he began to work at a brick-making factory. Promises of Rs 600 as daily wages for eight hours of work, respectable working conditions, provision of food, and sleeping quarters convinced him to travel 1,258 kilometres from his village in Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund to Haryana’s Rohtak. 

Contrary to his expectations, he worked as a bonded labour for 17-18 hours a day, and was beaten up every time he asked for food or water. “The water which was given to us was of very bad quality, I fell sick and could barely work but no one came to help me,” he told Gaon Connection. 

Sunder, along with several other human trafficking survivors spoke to Gaon Connection about the new Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 which is pending in the Lok Sabha since this year’s Monsoon Session and is expected to be passed in the ongoing Winter Session. 

Also Read: Parliament Monsoon Session 2021: Draft Trafficking in Person Bill 2021 to be tabled; activists want it strengthened

Sunder somehow managed to escape to his village, informed the Panchayat (village council) leaders about his fellow mates who were being kept as bonded labourers in Haryana and got them rescued. Later, he joined Jan Jagran Mazdoor Adhikar Manch, a human trafficking survivors collective in Chhattisgarh and has been advocating for human traffic survivors in the state since 2014. 

Many human trafficking survivors like Sunder were in the national capital from November 24 to December 4 to meet the Members of Parliament and share their recommendations for the Bill. The survivors are representing a joint forum against human trafficking — Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) — a federation of 12 trafficking survivors’ collectives across ten states with a membership of more than 2,500 trafficking survivors.

According to the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), about 1, 714 cases of human trafficking were registered across India in the year 2020. The foremost reasons for trafficking in India were sexual exploitation for prostitution, forced labour and domestic servitude. 

The data also showed that the case conviction rate of human trafficking was 10.6 per cent. Maharashtra, and Telangana recorded the highest number of such cases at 184 each, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 171, Kerala at 166, Jharkhand at 140, and Rajasthan at 128. 

Also Read: Draft Trafficking in Persons Bill: A beacon of hope?

Demand for witness protection, rehab funds, and more

“There is a pressing need to have a witness protection programme for survivors to ensure their safety and security. In many cases, survivors are threatened when they try to press charges and the Bill fails to address this issue,” Sunder told Gaon Connection.

Additionally, Nalini*, another sex trafficking survivor who has been advocating for the rights of trafficking victims in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Bandhan Mukti in West Bengal since 2015, noted that while this draft Bill marks a significant departure from the previous Trafficking of Persons Bill and has made attempts to be a little more victim-centric but there are significant gaps which are yet to be addressed.

Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) — a federation of 12 trafficking survivors’ collectives across ten states with a membership of more than 2,500 trafficking survivors. Photo by: ILFAT

“Some of the issues ignored in the Bill include demand for a dedicated rehabilitation fund for relief, rehabilitation, compensation, and funds for inter and intra-state investigations,” she told Gaon Connection. 

Nalini explained that many sex trafficking victims aren’t able to take their case forward owing to financial difficulties.

 “In cases of sex trafficking victims, there’s usually a nexus of police and politicians who try to suppress the case. Lack of adequate funds is a big deterrent for families who wish to take the case forward. A victim whom I had been helping spent Rs 3 million (30 lakhs) to get justice for their daughter and they got only Rs 0.45 million (4.5 lakhs) as compensation. Not everyone has that kind of money,” she told Gaon Connection

Also Read: Child trafficking surges in Bihar as parents have no work nor wages in the COVID-19 pandemic

She also pointed out that while the Bill mentions inter-state investigation it doesn’t mention any funds for such investigation. “In cases of inter-state investigations, authorities don’t take actions citing lack of funds and that case is never taken up. The Bill is also silent about which body is responsible for drafting the reports of inter-state investigations and how and where the survivors can access these reports,” she added. 

Demand for defined roles for ‘Anti-Human Trafficking Units’

Anti-Human trafficking units (AHTUs) are dedicated units set up to investigate trafficking cases, with trained and sensitised police officers, NGOs and trafficking survivors. AHTUs are solely dedicated to human trafficking cases and are better suited to handle these cases than National Investigating Agency (NIA) which currently has jurisdiction over such cases. 

Rajesh* who works with Shramik Adhikar Aur Nyay Sangathan, a non-profit organisation based in Chhattisgarh that advocates for the rights of human traffic survivors stated that while the Bill has taken necessary measures to ensure care, dignity, and rehabilitation of the survivors, it has not fixed the accountability on any one body to ensure that the provisions in the Bill are met.

“It doesn’t mention AHTUs more than once!,” he said. 

“While various states have set up AHTUs, there is no uniform legislation or rule that chalks out the procedures and provides clarity on what will be taken up by this body,” he added.

NCRB data showed that the case conviction rate of human trafficking was 10.6 per cent. Photo used for representational purpose only.

Also Read: 13-year-old girl, 38-year-old ‘bridegroom’ and a payment of Rs 100,000 for ‘marriage’

Sumana* from West Bengal, who also works with Bandhan Mukti, pointed out the essential role AHTUs play while dealing with victims, especially in cases of sex trafficking. 

“Whenever a victim reaches the shelter place, they are bombarded with the details of what happened to her. If they are not provided with proper counselling, their mental health spirals down and it becomes very difficult to come out of that. The role of AHTUs in dealing with such victims is essential,” she told Gaon Connection.

Sumana also pointed out the difference in handling of such cases by the already overburdened police and the trained officials in AHTUs. The draft trafficking Bill has failed to notice that there is a stark difference in how AHTUs handle these cases and how NIA handles them, she added. 

Lack of emphasis on community-based rehabilitation

Community-based rehabilitation is another important aspect which the Bill doesn’t delve further, the survivors say. Nihal Kumar* who works with child trafficking survivors from Bihar spoke about how the children face difficulties in schools where teachers adopt a different attitude towards them and in many cases, due to lack of details they’re unable to find the families of the children.

Also Read: Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, teenage girls continue to be pushed into child marriage in Cooch Behar, West Bengal

 “In some cases, where we are successful in getting the children to their families, the parents refuse to accept their children. In such cases community-based rehabilitation becomes the most crucial aspect of rehabilitation,” he told Gaon Connection

The Bill emphasises reintegration but does not define community based rehabilitation or how it will ensure re-integration and its outcome parameters, the survivors noted. 

“The long-term institutional rehabilitation should be the exception, not the rule. We have faced the tyranny of forceful detention in protection and rehabilitation homes without our consent. The answer for a rescued victim of trafficking is not to put them in indefinite detention without their will and choice,” Nalini told Gaon Connection

*Names changed to protect the identity of victims.