Good intentions aren’t enough
Mains Paper 4: Social Justice
Prelims level: Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation Bill
Mains level: Important highlights and significance of this bill
- Many admire and respect the robust vision for social justice set
out by Maneka Gandhi and experienced activists in pushing for the
Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill
- The disagreement over the Trafficking Bill is not one of our
collective vision for social justice but for how we get there.
Aim of this bill
- Maneka Gandhi has clarified that “the Bill has been drafted after
in-depth study and extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders over
a period of three years”.
- A public consultation was, however, invited only once in 2016 when
a draft Bill was posted on the website of the Ministry of Women & Child
- Subsequent versions were selectively shared only with a small
group of stakeholders listed by the minister in the Lok Sabha, namely,
Kailash Satyarthi, Sunita Krishnan, P M Nair and their allies, all
organisations that believe in using the criminal law to raid, rescue,
rehabilitate and repatriate survivors of trafficking.
- The 2018 version is substantially different from the 2016 draft
and is more carceral with extensive surveillance powers for the state.
- Trade unions, bonded labour groups, migrant and contract workers’
groups, child labour groups, sex workers’ groups, transgender groups and
indeed even major feminist groups were not consulted on this version of the
Bill, which became public only when introduced in the Lok Sabha.
- The Bill’s supporters appear to have a simplistic premise: That
evil social actors traffic vulnerable persons and can be removed from
society through police enforcement of criminal laws, followed by rescue and
rehabilitation by enlightened NGOs who know what is best for the victims.
- Free from their unbearable circumstances, victims at
rehabilitation homes will restart life on a clean slate.
- The need for such humanitarian intervention is compelling, and
activists’ efforts have indeed improved the lives of several victims.
- However, the Bill is based on the Palermo Protocol, negotiated
under the UN almost 20 years back. With barely 6,000 convictions for
trafficking around the world pursuant to the Protocol, it has become clear
that a criminal law response to what is fundamentally a socio-economic
problem has failed.
- In India, socio-economic inequalities are more acute, as 37
million people have been dispossessed by the agrarian crisis leading them to
- Increased criminalisation is only likely to strengthen the hands
of corrupt police officers leading to the persecution of vulnerable sections
- The Bill is a draconian criminal law with offences unrelated to
trafficking (distribution of material on sexual exploitation), vaguely
worded offences (publicising obscene materials that may lead to
trafficking), offences where only the act has to be proved and minimum,
mandatory punishments with no clear sentencing policy.
- The Bill presumes guilt rather than innocence; this is against the
- In July, the UN Special Rapporteurs on Contemporary Forms of
Slavery and on Trafficking in Persons expressed grave concern with the Bill
- It fails to comply with the OHCHR Guidelines on Trafficking and
Human Rights which requires the non-criminalisation of trafficked persons
for immigration offences, precise definitions of crimes, proportionate
sentencing for offences, civil remedies for trafficked persons, punishment
of public sector involvement in trafficking, ensuring freedom of movement
and monitoring human rights impact of anti-trafficking legislation.
- Further, rescue operations should not harm victims’ dignity or
hold them in custody.
- The vast levels of unemployment, poverty and precarious labour in
India and its 8 million “modern slaves” as estimated by the 2018 Global
Slavery Index, a broad constellation of trade unions, civil society and
government actors should have been consulted on the Bill.
- Significantly, the Bill punishes employers of trafficked persons
and landlords and lessors who rent out property where trafficking takes
- Trafficking can also be interpreted broadly to include situations
of forced labour (which according to the Supreme Court is payment less than
the minimum wage).
- Such a blurring of lines leading to criminalisation of what can be
effectively dealt with under labour laws, also has the potential to shut
down entire sectors of the economy resulting in job losses.
- The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill was introduced in
the Rajya Sabha in August 2013 and has since been referred to a Standing
Committee, has been the subject of a Law Commission report and was further
referred to a Select Committee.
Q.1) Recently, India signed a financing agreement with World Bank for
project 'Tejaswini'. The project aims at
(a) rehabilitation of trafficked women.
(b) indigenisation of defence technology.
(c) fostering a culture of innovation,
Research & Development in India.
(d) socio-economic empowerment of adolescent girls and young Women.
Q.1) Is trafficking, a multi-faceted problem affecting millions, not worthy of
detailed deliberation in Parliament and in the public domain?