Human trafficking has become a serious global issue of unforeseen proportions of the twenty-first century. By its nature of exploitation, human trafficking has also been increasingly referred to as “modern-day slavery”, and this has prompted rapid proliferation of international, regional, and national anti- trafficking laws, and inspired states to devote enormous financial and bureaucratic resources to its eradication. Over the last decade, the volume of human trafficking has increased though the exact numbers are not known; it is one of the most lucrative criminal trades, next to arms and drug smuggling undertaken by highly organized criminals. The reasons for increasing it, as a global phenomenon, are multiple and complex which also affects rich and poor countries alike. The popular perception of trafficking is the sexual exploitation of women and children; however, children are trafficked for a variety of reasons. There are various social, economic and political conditions, which create a situation of vulnerability specially, for women and children, who were trapped into trafficking.
The United Nations “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” (otherwise known as the Palermo Protocol) adopted in 2000 has been widely and internationally accepted Convention. According to Article 3 of the UN Protocol, trafficking in persons is define as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”. Exploitation here shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other form of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. Thus trafficking can be conceptualise in, first, the transportation of a person; second, force, fraud, or coercion; and, finally, exploitation. UNODC (2014) reveals that most of the offenders are mostly of men, while most of the detected victims are female (mainly women, but also a significant number of juvenile girls) and trans-regional trafficking accounts for nearly a quarter of all trafficking flows albeit it is less common than the domestic or intraregional types.
In Indian context, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 amended section 370 of the Indian Penal Code defined trafficking as whoever, for the purpose of exploitation (a) recruits, (b) transports, (c) harbours, (d) transfer or (e) receives, a person or persons, by – first- using threat, or secondlyusing force, or any other form of coercion, or Thirdly, – by abduction, or fourthly- by practicing fraud, or deception or fifthly – by abuse of power, or sixthly- by inducement, including the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, in order to achieve the consent of any person having control over the person recruited, transported, harboured, received, commits the offence of trafficking. The person who commits the offence of trafficking shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, but which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable fine.
The International Agreement for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic formed during 1904-1910 was the first of its kind to combat human trafficking in trafficking history. Thereafter, a series of legal instruments (with or without amendments of the above mentioned instrument) came into being for the criminalisation of human traffickers. Some of them are, Trafficking in Women and Children (1921), International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age (1933), Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949), etc. These above mentioned series of instruments were either inadequate as a law to be applied or enforced and the concept is often confused with human smuggling and migration, given that these practices also involve the movement of persons albeit there are important differences between them. As a result, these above mentioned early anti-trafficking conventions were eventually consolidated into the 1949 Convention known as the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which basically referred to trafficking as a problem associated with prostitution. Thus, having started in early decades, a series of international instruments against trafficking were adopted throughout the twentieth century. Further, it adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all Form of Discrimination against Women, in 1979 with and objective to improve the situation of women in the World. Article 6 of the Convention obligates the states parties to take all appropriate measures including enactment of legislation to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, also stresses the importance of working towards the elimination of all forms of sexual harassment, exploitation and trafficking in women. India has also signed said convention the 30th July, 1980 and ratified on the 9th July, 1993. India is one of the parties to Child Right Convention, 1989 as well to the first Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict 2000 and the Second Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, 2000. She has to fulfil the international obligation by implementing the provisions of the CRC, 1989 and its optional protocols under international law and practice. India has finally ratified the UN protocol on human trafficking on the 5th May 2011, along with conventions against internationally organised crime and corruption. In fact, ratification of this convention means that it is now binding on India to develop a law that conforms to the international convention and its provisions. Nevertheless, traffickers of forced labour now come within the purview of the law in the country. Thus, the criminal gangs involved in large-scale kidnappings, abductions and forced labour of children go scot-free as the laws in the country are more biased towards prosecuting the employers or pimps in the case of prostitution.
At the regional level, the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children was unanimously adopted by the SAARC countries on the 5th January 2002 in Kathmandu. The purpose of this Convention is to promote cooperation amongst Member States so that they may effectively deal with the various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children; the repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and prevent the use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where the countries of the SAARC region are the countries of origin, transit and destination.
The Constitution of India, general criminal laws and special laws prohibits and criminalises human trafficking. Article 23 of the constitution of India prohibits trafficking in human being and other similar forms of force labour and pronounce that such acts are offences punishable in accordance with law. Article 24 of the constitution also provides that no child, below the age of 14 years, shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. It is further provided by the article 37 of the constitution that the state shall direct its policy towards securing that children are given adequate opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner, so that children and the youths are protected against such exploitation. Besides IPC, the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Draft Bill, 2016 are some of the important mechanism for combating human trafficking. On top of it, many policies are also formulated for rehabilitation and reintegration of the victim of human trafficking. So, India has now steel frame of law which can prosecute those who are involved in committing the crime of human trafficking and policies for rehabilitation and reintegration of the victim. However, India has been a source, destination and transit country for human trafficking. The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh, while inaugurating the National Conference on Anti Human Trafficking 2015, has stated that human trafficking is a very sensitive and serious issue and termed it as a borderless organised crime. He cited the that more than 1.5 lakh people (as per UN Office on Drugs and Crime) were reported as victims in a single year in South Asia. It is reported that India is the main recipient of an estimated 150,000 women and girls trafficked into India from South Asia to feed the commercial sex industry. In addition, India is also reported to be the source and transit country for the sex trafficking of women and children from and for the Middle East. On the other hand, more than two million women and children are trapped in commercial sex work in the red-light districts of India.
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