Lok Sabha finally passes the anti-trafficking bill. About time.

By Prarthana Mitra

The Lok Sabha cleared a crucial law to deal with human trafficking on Thursday, after a long and hard-fought battle.

The Anti-Trafficking Bill (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) 2018, introduced in the House by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, laid down a stringent punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment for “aggravated” forms of human trafficking.

Minutae of the law

It covers selling and purchase of persons for the purpose of forced labour, childbearing, begging and marriage. Gandhi also mentioned cases where chemical substances or hormones are administered and/or a survivor acquires life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS.

The Bill further proposes to establish a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau (NATB) to coordinate, monitor and surveil trafficking cases. “Trafficking is a borderless crime but jurisdiction issues come in the way of investigation. This Bill provides for the NATB to effectively address this aspect,” said the cabinet minister, adding that the bureau will also for a Relief and Rehabilitation Committee and Rehabilitation Fund.

The case for sex workers and transgenders

Some Members of Parliamentincluding those from the Congress, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) demanded that it be sent to the Standing Committee. When Gandhi mentioned that the bill would also provide for “attachment and confiscation of illict assets born out of trafficking crimes“, it drew ire from parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (the CPI) who expressed concern for potential misuse of this provision.

When CPI’s Badaruddoza Khan raised the issue of protection of transgenders under the new Act, Gandhi responded in a manner that doesn’t behoove a minister, said trans activist Meera Sanghamitra.

While many are hailing the law for being comprehensive, Sanghamitra further said that the Act “unfortunately refused to understand the complex set of differences and dynamics between “adult trafficked persons” (who need to be liberated and rehabilitated with their consent) and “adult sex workers” (whose ‘choice’ of livelihood within their complex circumstances needs to be understood and respected by also allowing them access to a range of skills and livelihood opportunities to choose from).”

On the glaring lack of safeguards to ensure that people entering into sex trade voluntarily are not harassed, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also said that trafficking should not be conflated with sex work. He called the bill “regressive and paternalistic as it ignores the agency of the victims.”

Gandhi, however, reassured that it would not interfere with sex workers, calling the new law “victim-centric” and compassionate towards unwitting victims of a sex racket. However, at the same time, she said, “If the provisions [of this Bill] are implemented, the hellholes of Kamathipura and G.B. Road will be a thing of the past because these will come directly under confiscation of property.”

Last word

“When 11-year-old Tara is traffickes from her village and sold into bonded labour, beaten and burnt by her owner, how do we save her? When she is sold to marriage to a 45-year-old man and raped everyday for months, how do we save her? asked Gandhi, concluding and justifying the need for this law with, “We have no institutions, no processes to do so. And today, if we are passing this bill, we are choosing to deny Tara and all the millions like her fundamental right ot life and liberty.”

Coming just days before World Day against Trafficking in Persons, this move is hoped to help combat a social menace termed as the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Anti-traffickingHuman RightsHuman TraffickingLok Sabha