Activists flag focus on criminalisation over welfare in draft anti-trafficking bill

Existing laws on juvenile justice, bonded labour and POCSO sufficient, say experts.

Updated - November 22, 2021 10:01 pm IST

Published - July 18, 2021 06:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

The emphasis on criminalisation and policing instead of welfare measures in the new proposed anti-trafficking Bill makes it anti-migrants and anti-sex workers, warn experts.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development recently placed the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 , in the public domain and sought stakeholders' comments till July 14. The Bill is also scheduled to be taken up by Parliament during the upcoming monsoon session.


The draft Bill empowers the NIA to carry out investigation, prosecution and coordination in cases of trafficking. It categorises offences into trafficking and aggravated forms of trafficking, with the former carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and fine of ₹1 lakh and the latter carrying death penalty and fine of upto ₹30 lakh.

“The criminalising intent of the Bill expects a tribal or a dalit migrant worker to take on his employer, but doesn't deal with improving employer-employee relationship. Instead of harping on creating harmony in the labour market, it talks about forcefully rescuing and sending workers into institutions which will deprive them of their livelihoods,” says Chandan Kumar, National Co-ordinator, Working People's Charter.

He adds that the worker-centric Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, along with CrPC and IPC are sufficient to deal with labour trafficking and a new law is not required.

Delhi-based NGO HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, in its submission to the WCD Ministry, has underlined that conflation of exploitation with “forced labour” will result in all migrant workers in the unorganised sector to be treated as forced labour.

“While anybody who is subjected to forced labour should find recourse in law, the recruitment and movement for such labour which is often a result of inducement and may also involve false promises and deceit, will bring them under the definition of trafficking,” notes HAQ.

Similarly, “equating sex work with sexual exploitation and by rendering the consent of a sex worker immaterial in the determination of whether she was trafficked or practising sex work of her own volition leads to harmful practices such as forced rescue of adult women, their detention, and rehabilitation as victims of trafficking against their consent as well as separation from their families,” says the Coalition for an Inclusive Approach on the trafficking Bill.

Lack of consent

Activists have flagged the lack of consent while rescuing, rehabilitating or repatriating a person as deeply problematic as it could lead to victimisation of vulnerable populations.

Experts have also criticised institution-based rehabilitation provided in the draft Bill instead of family and community based rehabilitation.

As far as child trafficking is concerned, HAQ’ co-founder and Executive Director, Bharti Ali points out that Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, along with IPC and CrPC are sufficient and a new law will lead to confusion in implementation.

Experts have also said that involving NIA officials in investigating trafficking crimes involving children as victims is against the principle of the best interest of child. In this respect, the draft Bill is contrary to the JJ Act, which emphasises on child friendly mechanisms through the provision for Child Welfare Committees, Special Juvenile Police Units and Child Welfare Police Officers.

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