New Draft Bill Criminalises Trafficking, Puts Onus on Traffickers to Prove Innocence

The bill provides for compulsory registration of placement agencies and orders seven to ten year of imprisonment for using alcohol or drugs on victims

Maneka Gandhi. Credit: PTI

Maneka Gandhi. Credit: PTI

While hailing provisions of the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016 released by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Monday, activists working in the field have called for more stress on collaboration with agencies involved in similar work so that existing and new laws do not get in each others way. The draft provisions seek to check the functioning of placement agencies through compulsory registration, while criminalising trafficking of persons and providing protection and rehabilitation to victims.

Sounding a note of caution, Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research, present at the release of the draft, said that though it was a positive initiative in so far as it brought traffickers under the net and ensured that women victims do not get punished, questions remained on its implementation.

As far as the law is concerned, Kumar said, “at first look it appears to be a good effort, but it talks about setting up these anti-trafficking committees which will be performing the same role as anti-human trafficking units set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs. They should not work at cross-purposes. How these lateral institutions will horizontally connect will be very important.”

With the draft criminalising trafficking, she said, “I appreciate the law; we wanted an independent law for a long time, but at the same time there are various issues pertaining to collaboration and coordination of institutions already there.”

The draft bill prohibits trafficking in human beings and beggars, and other similar forms of forced labour, making all of these punishable offences. It also lays down that the government of India has ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its three optional protocols, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children.

An important element of the draft is the compulsory registration of placement agencies. It states that “Every placement agency, whether registered under any law for the time being in force or not, shall be registered for the purposes of this act, within such time and manner as may be prescribed by the appropriate government.”

Further, it says, if any placement agency violates any of the conditions of registration then its registration is liable to be suspended, cancelled or revoked. The draft bill also lays down the penalties for various kinds of offences.

It proposes to make any person in-charge of protection homes or special homes providing shelter to the victims liable to be punished with imprisonment of one year or a fine of at least one lakh rupees in case of any kind of violation.

Similarly, media houses identifying the victims of trafficking would be liable for punishment of up to six months imprisonment or fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both.

The use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic or alcoholic substances for trafficking has also been made punishable with imprisonment for a term of seven to ten years. The use of chemical substances or hormones for the purpose of exploitation has been made punishable with a similar sentence. For both these offences, a fine of one lakh rupees will also be imposed.

The proposed law also provides for setting up of special courts for the purpose of speedy trials to deal with offences of trafficking. It also lays down the onus to prove innocence on the accused in a trafficking case. Under the clause of “presumption of certain offence”, it states: “Where a person is prosecuted for committing or abetting or attempting to commit any offence under section 16 and 17 of this Act or offences under section 370-373 of Indian Penal Code, 1860, the special court shall presume that such person has committed the offence, unless the contrary is proved.”

Describing the bill as one that was long awaited, Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, who has been regularly engaged in rescuing trafficked victims, especially minor girls, said this draft act would help in curbing trafficking through its multi-pronged approach. “It has for the first time defined what placement agencies are and made their registration compulsory. Most of them were doing illegal work. But now trafficking has been defined and the placement agencies have been brought under its ambit.”

“It also prevents use of oxytocin injections on trafficked victims in red-light areas, which are used to pass them off as grown ups by inducing early puberty. Now use of all such injections would become a penal offence. This is a major move,” Kant said.

Kant added that the bill has also strengthened victim compensation by urging all the states to define it. “Already under Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code the punishment for trafficking is ten years for the first offence and life imprisonment for subsequent offences, and now together these two laws would provide enough teeth to the law enforcement and hopefully help in curbing human trafficking and prostitution.”