Coming straight to the key issue, it is a matter of great satisfaction to learn that the government is now all set to introduce a new law to guard against human trafficking. It has proposed a 10-year punishment for those engaging in “aggravated forms of trafficking” while seeking life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Trafficking any person just for the sake of earning extra cash and thus ruining the entire life of that person is a completely unpardonable offence which must invite the strictest of punishment. Even death penalty will not be too harsh and must be used as long as this death penalty itself is not abolished!
To be sure, this landmark Bill which has been proposed to identify various forms of trafficking, including for the purposes of bonded labour, sexual exploitation, pornography, removal of organs and begging, has proposed severe punishment for those engaging in the heinous crime. Very rightly so! No leniency is warranted under any circumstances for such despicable and ghoulish crimes!
To put things in perspective, the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2017, initiated by the Women & Child Development Ministry, is currently with a Group of Ministers (GoM) that will take a final view on the matter. The draft Bill was released in May 2016. The Bill proposes the establishment of a national anti-trafficking bureau, which shall be entrusted with the gamut of issues aimed at controlling and tackling the menace under various forms. These include coordination, monitoring and surveillance of illegal movement of persons and their prevention.
It is noteworthy that the national anti-trafficking bureau will also be entrusted with increasing cooperation and coordination with authorities concerned with organisations in foreign countries for strengthening operational and long-term intelligence for investigation of trafficking cases, and driving in mutual legal assistance. This will certainly go a long way in ensuring that trafficking cases don’t go on unchecked and those involved in it are prosecuted and punished according to the law of the land! There can be no denying it.
Let me bring out here that while listing out the ‘aggravated forms of trafficking’, the Bill speaks about offences such as bonded labour, by using violence, intimidation, inducement, promise of payment of money, deception or coercion. It also mentions trafficking after administering any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance or alcohol, or for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage. The aggravated form also includes trafficking for begging or forcing those who are mentally ill or are pregnant.
No doubt, such aggravated forms of trafficking must invite the strictest punishment. Even lifer is not enough. It must invite death. No person can be allowed to indulge in trafficking of any person and then escape with just lifer! This is just not done under any circumstances!
Let me also bring out here that this Bill proposes specifically that, “Whoever commits the offence of aggravated form of trafficking of a person shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 10 years, but which may extend to life imprisonment.” For repeat offenders, it suggests imprisonment for life “which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life”, apart from a fine that will not be less than Rs 2 lakh. I very strongly feel that for repeat offenders the punishment should be mandatory death penalty and fine should not be less than Rs five lakh.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that as per data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), human trafficking numbers rose by almost 20% in 2016 against the previous year. NCRB said there were 8,132 human trafficking cases in 2016 against 6,877 in 2015, with the highest number of cases reported in West Bengal (44% of cases), followed by Rajasthan (17%). How can all this be allowed to go unchecked and unpunished? This alone explains why this Bill proposes stringent punishment for those indulging in human trafficking!
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that of the 15,379 victims who were caught in trafficking, 10,150 were female and 5,229 males. NCRB revealed that the purpose of trafficking included forced labour, sexual exploitation for prostitution; other forms of sexual exploitation; domestic servitude; forced marriage; child pornography; begging; drug peddling; and removal of organs. It is widely believed that the numbers recorded by NCRB are a far cry to actual incidences of trafficking as many cases went unreported with many people still unaware of the crime or lacking faith and confidence in seeking police help.
As it turned out, for those engaging in ‘buying or selling’ a person, the Bill proposes rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than seven years which can be extended to 10 years with a fine upwards of Rs 1 lakh. It must be pointed out that the Bill also seeks punishment for those engaging in trafficking with the help of media, including print, internet, digital or electronic. It stipulates a punishment of not less than seven years which can extend up to 10 years and a fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh.
It is also pertinent to mention here that it is provided explicitly that, “Whoever distributes or sells or stores, in any form in any electronic or printed form showing incidence of sexual exploitation, sexual assault or rape for the purpose of extortion or for coercion of the victim or his/her family members, or for unlawful gain, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but may extend to seven years.”
Truth be told, apart from the national bureau, the proposed Bill also aims at having state-level anti-trafficking officers who shall also provide relief and rehabilitation services through district units and other civil society organisations. The Bill also spells out measures towards relief and rehabilitation for the victims of trafficking. This is really commendable!
What I like most about this proposed Bill is that in a sharp departure from the past, it does not treat a trafficked person as an offender but a victim. It has to be noted with deep regret that the existing laws do not take this laudable approach and instead most atrociously and unfairly treats both the trafficked person and the trafficker as criminals which under any circumstances can never be justified!
Be it noted, the Bill mandates that the constitution of District Anti-Trafficking Committee for every district. This Committee will perform various functions pertaining to the prevention, rescue, protection, psychological assistance etc of the victims. There will also be a State Anti Trafficking Committee to oversee the implementation of the law and advise the state government on matters pertaining to the prevention of trafficking and protection/rehabilitation of victims. A Central Anti-Trafficking Advisory Board will perform similar functions at the Union level.
It cannot be lost on us that the Bill also takes into account various aspects of trafficking and the punishments as defined in Sections 370 to 373 of the Indian Penal Code. It also cannot be ignored that the Bill also aims to include other offences which are not dealt with in other laws for the purpose of trafficking, such as punishment for disclosing the identity of the victim, using narcotics/alcohol for the purpose of trafficking etc. The Bill stipulates mandatory reporting within 24 hours by a police officer, public servant, any officer/employee of protection homes or special homes having custody of the victim to the District Anti-Trafficking Committee or in case of child victim to the Child Welfare Committee.
Let me hasten to add here that a separate chapter on offences and the penalties is also a part of the Bill. It seeks to establish special courts in each district of the country and simultaneously also ensure that special prosecutors are appointed to fast-track the trials and increase prosecution. It also envisages the creation of a fund for rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.
It would certainly not amount to an exaggeration to say that the earlier this landmark proposed Bill is passed, the better it shall be in the interests of those who are trafficked and their families because it is they who are ultimately the worst affected in the whole process. Once this landmark Bill is finally approved by the Cabinet after giving it the requisite thoughtful consideration, it will then be tabled in Parliament where MPs of different parties would be free to give their valuable suggestions and then it will be referred to the Select Committee before being taken up for debate and getting it passed!
It merits no reiteration that the menace of human trafficking has acquired serious proportions in last few decades. It has to be addressed on a war footing. This certainly entails strict punishment for offenders indulging in human trafficking and strictest punishment for repeated offenders! The Bill must be promptly enacted into a law and implemented swiftly and strictly to ensure that those indulging in it reap the consequences of their heinous acts and don’t escape lightly!
All said and done, human trafficking is the worst form of crime for which there can be no justification. Those indulging in it must be awarded not just life term but death penalty also especially repeated offenders! Only then will a right, strong and clear message go out to all those indulging in it that they will have to face either life term or death penalty and also would have to pay a very heavy penalty not less than Rs 5 lakh for daring to indulge in it!
It brooks no more delay and the punishment prescribed must be enhanced significantly especially in case of repeated offenders much more as I have spelt out so that those indulging in it are made to pay through their nose! Only then will it go a long way in serving as an effective deterrent in discouraging potential offenders from indulging in it! Hope so!
By Sanjeev Sirohi