Human Trafficing

According to the United Nations (UN), Human trafficking is “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”. In a nutshell, you are bought and sold against your will, usually for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labour, or for the extraction of organs or tissues. Trafficking is a hugely profitable industry with a turnover of billions of dollars every year. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have estimated that millions of Indians are affected by trafficking and more than 200,000 of these are children. It is often thought that trafficking affects women and girls only, but this is a myth as men and boys also face this problem. I’ve often wondered what’s being done to reduce this problem in India. On the surface, it seems that nothing is being done to end or at least minimise the problem of trafficking. For example, a brutal gang rape in Delhi in 2012 grabbed national headlines and caused a public outcry, but trafficking in India has not provoked the same degree of outrage. But digging deeper and looking beyond the surface of this issue, one can see that some measures have been put in place in an attempt to combat this grave issue.

It has been argued that human trafficking first began in the 17th century, during which the slave trade took place. This was when Africans were captured by slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas for the purpose of labour. By the 19th century, the transatlantic slave trade was made illegal. Yet, it was not until March 2013 that India’s Parliament passed a bill amending laws concerning sexual violence and making sex trafficking a criminal offence.  This decision was only reached as a result of the international outcry against the gang rape in Delhi in 2012. One can argue that had the gang rape not happened, then sex trafficking would not have become a criminal offence. However, although the bill may seem like a step forward, the gap between enactment and enforcement remains unacceptably wide. A law is only as good as its enforcement, and India’s sex trade is booming, due to poverty, corruption, and the fact that the trade is hugely profitable. It is also important to realise that trafficking does not just include the sex trade. However, some positive change has taken place.

In terms of the sex trade, sex workers have been offered health and economic assistance by government projects and decentralised cooperatives. For instance, anti-Human Trafficking Units have been established around the country and their aim is to rescue trafficked victims, mainly young girls. One example is in Maharashtra, Mumbai’s state, where Oasis, a local organisation, has helped with the rescue of 215 sex workers and children from slavery in the red-light district Kamathipura. It was set up to provide medical care, reintegration and counselling programmes to trafficking victims in this area.

When one examines the issue of bonded labour, India’s Ministry of Labour has identified significant issues with migrant, home or bondage labourers as well as child labour. A number of labour laws were established in the 20th century in order to protect human rights, including the introduction of minimum wage, maternity benefit, and workmen compensation. Yet those victims that are trafficked are not protected by India’s labour laws since they are forced into labour. According to the International Justice Mission in India, trafficking and bonded labour go hand in hand since bonded labourers are nothing more than a commodity – they can be purchased, exploited, exhausted and then disposed of. A bonded labour system is established when a wealthy facility owner offers a monetary advance to a vulnerable victim who has a medical emergency or family need. This loan comes with a condition: the recipient must work off the debt at the owner’s facility.  This deceptive agreement is the fundamental tool that traffickers use to lure victims into bonded labour. Once inside the facility, the labourers are often subject to deplorable conditions. They are paid far less than minimum wage – usually just enough for a small amount of food – and are not permitted to leave at will. The Indian government has established a Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (BLA) and those traffickers who are caught will face imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with a fine which may extend to two thousand rupees.

Finally, in terms of drug trafficking, The Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act is a drug control law which was passed by the Indian Parliament in 1988, which is meant to enable the full implementation and enforcement of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. However, as mentioned earlier, laws are only as good as their enforcement. Earlier this year, it was claimed that Delhi is witnessing a boom in drug trafficking. For example, drug cartels are smuggling in thousands of kilograms through Delhi’s borders even though the anti-narcotics forces look for leads.

A great deal more needs to be done in order to achieve the reduction of human trafficking in India but the government is making at least a moderate effort to improve the anti trafficking laws.