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Published: Thursday, July 28, 2022, 15:41 [IST]
Every year on July 30, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) observes the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Being the nodal body to stop the organized crime of trafficking, the UNODC assists the member countries in implementing the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocols. These protocols are part of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC). Adopted by the General Assembly in 2000, the convention came into force in 2003. It was the first universal and legally binding instrument against trafficking.
Human trafficking for exploitation is a global organised crime, which includes trafficking for forced labour, prostitution, organ trade and slavery. Though the contours of trafficking are broadly similar across the globe, some country-specific trends exist. For instance, in India, a common form of this heinous crime is trafficking children for forced labour.
The issue of trafficking children was relegated to the fringes until Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi started the movement against multiple forms of child exploitation. Satyarthi established Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) in 1980 to liberate and rehabilitate vulnerable and exploited children and prosecute those responsible for the atrocities. The organisation has spearheaded the movement against child trafficking for the last four decades and freed more than one lakh children from slavery.
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But trafficking was not defined in the country’s law, nor was there a viable plan to rehabilitate the rescued children. Scores of children, who were trafficked for forced labour, were denied justice without a proper understanding of the issue. In 2004, BBA became a member of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) committee, formed in response to a writ petition filed in the apex court (Prajwala vs. Union of India WP (C) 26 of 2004). This committee underscored the urgent need for a comprehensive law to combat trafficking in India.
To raise awareness among people about the issue of trafficking, Satyarthi then led the South Asian march against trafficking in 2007. A novel experiment of mass mobilisation, this march was organised from Kolkata to Delhi, covering a distance of over 5,000 km. In 2012, he organised the second anti-trafficking march in Assam- from Guwahati to Dhubri. Prominent citizens along with common people thronged the march. Former Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir inaugurated and participated in the march.
Meanwhile, in 2011, in response to a writ petition filed by BBA (BBA vs. Union of India WP (C) 51 of 2006), the supreme court, for the first time, defined trafficking. The same year in May, India ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) along with its three protocols.
In 2013, on BBAs recommendation, the word trafficking was included in the Justice Verma Committee Report, constituted for amendments in the existing criminal law. Subsequently, through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was completely reframed to include various forms of human trafficking and its punishment. A new section, 370 A (exploitation of a trafficked person), was also added to the IPC.
Despite the new provisions, the incidents of trafficking continued to spiral. By this time, Satyarthi had realised that a comprehensive legislation was required for the prevention of trafficking and for the protection, rehabilitation and care of the survivors. To raise national awareness on the issue of trafficking and child exploitation, Satyarthi organised a nationwide march, Bharat Yatra in September 2017. It was during this match that he raised the urgent need for a robust anti-trafficking law.
The 35-day-long march, from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to New Dehli spanned 22 states and covered a distance of 11,000 km. The march mobilised around six crore people. The chief ministers of 22 states reiterated their commitment to taking steps to curb trafficking and child abuse.
The Anti-Trafficking Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2018. Unfortunately, the bill lapsed, pending approval from Rajya Sabha. In 2021, the Ministry of Women and Child Development prepared a fresh draft of the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill. The Bill is pending introduction in the Parliament for its passage.” The present bill is wider in its scope and reach-providing social and financial security to the victims and stringent punishments for the offenders.
Even as the bill remains pending, Satyarthi’s struggle for the freedom, safety and security of children– for the last four decades –continues.
(Author is Independent researcher and international relations expert)
Story first published: Thursday, July 28, 2022, 15:41 [IST]