A file photo shows a victim of sex trafficking at Darjeeling district in West Bengal. The bill proposes ban on disclosing the identity of the victim of trafficking or a witness to it. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
A file photo shows a victim of sex trafficking at Darjeeling district in West Bengal. The bill proposes ban on disclosing the identity of the victim of trafficking or a witness to it. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Bill proposes rehabilitation as a legal right for trafficking victims

Apart from providing for a state-level anti-trafficking fund, the draft bill also proposes establishing anti-trafficking committees at district, state and central level

Victims of trafficking for sex work, beggary, child labour and other purposes will have the legal right to be rehabilitated under a draft bill released by women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi on Monday.

Trafficking is the third largest organized crime in India after the arms and drugs trade. “India has become the source, transit and destination of trafficking. The same is happening in other South Asian countries as well. Our children are being trafficked to the Middle East and then to Africa," said Gandhi, releasing the text of the Draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016.

India currently has a special law to deal with trafficking—the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA), 1956—along with certain provisions of the Raj-era Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. The law, however, deals only with trafficking for the purposes of sex work and does not cover other criminal activities for which women and children are trafficked.

“The proposed draft bill is an effort to plug these loopholes and bring additional crimes, which have not found place in the IPC, under the new Act. It recognizes the safety of trafficking victims after rescue as well as considers instituting measures in assisting victim recovery and integration into society. The highlight of the draft bill is that it gives the victims a legal right to rehabilitation, which makes the government more accountable to provide them with safety," said Gandhi.

Rehabilitation services will also be extended to victims once they have left shelter homes. “In the ITPA, the victim becomes as much of a criminal as the criminal themselves. Most of the cases are currently registered under Section 8 of the ITPA as a consequence of which victims rather than traffickers constitute the largest number of arrestees. The new bill, thus, is more victim-oriented," said Gandhi.

Apart from providing for a state-level anti-trafficking fund, the draft bill also proposes establishing anti-trafficking committees at the district, state and central level.

The draft law proposes that a special agency along the lines of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be set up by the centre for probing offences. Special courts with experienced special prosecutors will also be established in each district for speedy trials and to reduce the trauma faced by the victims.

Other provisions in the proposed law include a ban on disclosing the identity of the victim of trafficking or a witness to it; recovery of the victim’s unpaid wages or back wages; and jail for the use of alcohol, narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, or the use of chemical substance or hormones for the purpose of exploitation.

Experts welcomed the draft bill as a strong measure towards the protection of children.

“It is heartening to know that victim-friendly procedures such as dedicated courts for trafficking cases, victim witness protection, along with a dedicated anti-trafficking fund and institutional mechanism at the centre stage and district level for rehabilitation have been included and minimum standard of care for rehabilitation homes has been prioritized," said Kailash Satyarthi, child rights activist and Nobel peace laureate.

The draft bill has been put up on the ministry’s website for a period of one month for feedback and inputs.

The ITPA will not be subsumed into the new Act, but will continue functioning as a separate Act, according to Maneka Gandhi.

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