Lok Sabha passes Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018

The Lok Sabha has passed the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018.

The Bill provides for the prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation of trafficked persons and seeks to establish a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau to investigate trafficking cases.

It also provides for the setting up of Anti-Trafficking Units (ATUs) at the district level which will deal with the investigation, prevention, rescue, and protection of victims and witnesses.

Replying to a debate on the Bill, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said, the bill has a compassionate view and it is victim-centric.

Key features of the Bill include:

The Bill provides for the establishment of a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau to investigate trafficking cases and implement provisions of the Bill.  The Bureau will comprise of police officers, and any other officers as required.  It may take over the investigation of any offense under the Bill that has been referred to it by two or more states.  Further, the Bureau may: (i) request the state government to co-operate in the investigation, or (ii) transfer the case to the state government for investigation and trial, with approval from the central government.

Key functions of the Bureau include: (i) coordinating and monitoring surveillance along known routes, (ii) facilitating surveillance, enforcement and preventive steps at source, transit, and destination points, (iii) maintaining coordination between law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders, and (iv) increasing international cooperation with authorities abroad for intelligence sharing, and mutual legal assistance.

Under the Bill, the state government will appoint a State Nodal Officer.  He will be responsible for: (i) follow up action under the Bill, as per the instructions of the State Anti-Trafficking Committee, and (ii) providing relief and rehabilitation services.  The state government will also appoint a Police Nodal Officer at the state and district levels.  The state government will also designate Anti-Trafficking Police Officers for each district, to deal with all matters related to trafficking in the district.

The Bill also provides for the setting up of Anti-Trafficking Units (ATUs) at the district level.  ATUs will deal with the prevention, rescue, and protection of victims and witnesses, and for the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses.  In districts where an ATU is not functional, this responsibility will be taken up by the local police station.

The Bill provides for the establishment of Anti-Trafficking Relief and Rehabilitation Committees (ATC) at the national, state, and district levels.  These Committees will be responsible for: (i) providing compensation to victims, (ii) repatriation of victims, and (iii) re-integration of victims in society, among others.

An Anti-Trafficking Police Officer or an ATU can rescue persons if there is an imminent danger to them.  They will be produced before a Magistrate or Child Welfare Committee for medical examination.  The district ATC will provide relief and rehabilitation services to the rescued persons.

The Bill requires the central or state government to set up Protection Homes.  These would provide shelter, food, counseling, and medical services to victims.  Further, the central or state government will maintain Rehabilitation Homes in each district, to provide long-term rehabilitation to the victims.  Rehabilitation of victims will not be dependent on criminal proceedings being initiated against the accused, or the outcome of the proceedings.  The central government will also create a Rehabilitation Fund, which will be used to set up these Protection and Rehabilitation Homes.

The Bill provides for setting up designated courts in each district, which will seek to complete the trial within a year.

The Bill specifies the penalties for various offences including for (i) trafficking of persons, (ii) promoting trafficking, (iii) disclosing the identity of the victim, and (iv) aggravated trafficking (such as trafficking for bonded labour and begging).  For example, aggravated trafficking will be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of 10 years up to life imprisonment, along with a minimum fine of one lakh rupees.  Further, the publishing of any material which may lead to the trafficking of a person will be punishable with imprisonment between five and 10 years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and one lakh rupees.

More than 300,000 children went missing in the country between 2012 and 2017, government data shows. Around 100,000 are yet to be traced and it is feared that many of them could have been trafficked.

In 2016, for instance, 111,569 children were reported missing. Of these, 55,944 children were traced but only 8,132 trafficking cases were reported. Many of these children are victims of modern slavery — forced into prostitution, labour or domestic work.

They are also used as drug mules and even given up for adoption illegally. Poverty and lack of opportunity also pushes a lot of young women, especially from the interior parts of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand, into prostitution.

Despite the enormity of the problem, India lacks a single comprehensive law for human trafficking. At present, trafficking is covered under half-a-dozen laws resulting in confusion and poor enforcement.

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