Anti-trafficking Bill could harm victims, warn experts

UN officials urge rethink on crime-centric approach of draft Bill

July 25, 2018 12:33 am | Updated 12:33 am IST - NEW DELHI

Two UN experts have urged India to revise the planned new anti-trafficking bill, saying that the document could harm the trafficked individuals. The opposition from the experts followed similar comments from critics, who observed that the bill fell short of meeting international human rights standards.

“We are gravely concerned about the Bill as presented by the Government to the Indian Parliament on 18 July. Its focus on addressing trafficking from a criminal law perspective is not sufficiently complemented by a human-rights based and victim-centred approach, and this risks further harming already vulnerable individuals,” said Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, and Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery Urmila Boola.

The Union Cabinet approved the draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, before the government tabled it in Parliament on July 18. However, soon thereafter, the Bill was criticised for taking a crime-centric view of trafficking.

Primacy for rights

“Trafficking in persons is primarily a gross human rights violation. However, the Bill over-emphasises the criminal response and does not give due consideration to the rights and needs of victims and their effective protection and proper rehabilitation,” said Ms. Giammarinaro and Ms. Boola in a statement.

The UN experts said the proposed bill overemphasises the role of the police who are tasked to ‘save’ the victims and send them to rehabilitation centres, without addressing the need for a more substantial programme.

“The proposed Bill seems to promote ‘rescue raids’ by the police, and the institutionalisation of victims in the name of rehabilitation, rather than applying appropriate screening methods and standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of victims or potential victims of trafficking and social integration programs which are respectful of their rights,” they said.

UN guidelines

The Bill has also been criticised for not being in accordance with the recommendation of the Human Rights Council of the UN. Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking highlights care for the victims of trafficking.

“We urge the Indian Parliament to revise the Bill in accordance with human rights law, including the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, in consultation with civil society organisations, UN agencies and other relevant partners,” the experts emphasised.

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