Many States registered cases only under POCSO, not ITPA and IPC

Nearly 84% districts don’t have a functional anti-human trafficking unit, according to study

Updated - August 24, 2020 08:48 pm IST

Published - August 24, 2020 08:45 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Nearly 84% districts don’t have a functional anti-human trafficking unit, according to a study based on RTI responses from 16 States and Union Territories. The massive gap will hinder efforts to prevent kidnapping, forced labour, commercial and sexual exploitation when financial vulnerabilities and poverty are on the rise due to the economic impact of COVID-19, say activists.

While each district must have an anti-human trafficking unit according to an advisory notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2010, an analyses of RTI responses received from the States and the UTs shows that of 322 of the 383 districts did not have an AHTU. Further, 71% or 225 districts out of 322 districts claimed they had an AHTU, but these were found to exist only on paper.

District-wise breakup

The analyses was conducted by Sanjog, a Kolkata-based NGO which works with survivors of trafficking, and Tafteesh, a consortium of lawyers, social workers, psychologists and rescue specialists. The two organisations filed RTIs in 33 States and Union Territories out of which only 22 States & UTs responded. They collated data from 2010 to 2019 to find out the number of AHTUs notified by State and UT governments, the district-wise breakup of these AHTUs and various aspects of how they functioned and trained their officials. In July, the MHA wrote to all States and UTs to set up more AHTUs and earlier in the year ₹100 crore was allocated from the Nirbhaya Fund towards their formation.

The functions of the AHTUs include registering cases of human trafficking, conducting raid and rescue operations for survivors of trafficking, investigating the crime, prosecuting traffickers, utilising intelligence on human trafficking and sharing information on traffickers with law enforcement agencies. Complaints of human trafficking can be made before the local police, who should then transfer them to the AHTU in the same jurisdiction.

“We asked States how many AHTUs were notified and found a huge gap between the number of AHTUs that they claimed had been set up and those that were notified, had personnel and budget allocated and defined jurisdictions. These figures went further down when we asked States how many AHTUs were functional,” says Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and researcher at Sanjog and a member of Tafteesh. “The AHTUs don’t have a legal backing, they don’t derive their power from any law, and there have only been advisories and notifications issued from MHA on setting these up. This makes a big difference in implementation because States are not legally bound to comply. Moreover, this is not a political issue which is highlighted in manifestos, which means there is a lack of will power in fighting such crimes.

Hidden and organised crime

“A dedicated unit is better able to recognise a crime of trafficking, and their absence during the pandemic will be felt acutely when such crimes in many districts will go unchecked. In the past few days, we have rescued 46 children who were being loaded in buses headed to Jaipur from Patna. Traffickers not only made parents accompany children to dupe police but also forged Aadhaar cards to identify minors as adults. This is a hidden and organised crime and the perpetrators quickly evolve their modus operandi. When officials are not trained to curb trafficking, they are unable to intervene and rescue children,” says Suresh Kumar, Executive Director, Centre DIRECT — a Patna-based NGO fighting against child trafficking. In May, Mr. Kumar witnessed hundreds of children returning to Patna as lockdown forced workshops and factories that employ them to shut down and now again he is a witness to traffickers taking buses full of children to various destinations.

It was also found that there was a skewed focus on POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act,2012) cases and trafficking cases registered under this law was much higher than those under the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Trafficking in Persons Act, 1986. Ms. Banerjee explains that this shows that there is a lack of understanding among enforcement agencies about trafficking as they think only crimes involving exploitation of children imply trafficking and not those crimes committed against adult men and women.

According to the study, Bihar along with Kerala, Nagaland, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand had AHTUs in all districts. Only 31% districts in Jharkhand, 25% in Chhattisgarh and 30% in Andhra Pradesh had the field-level units.

Aadditional charge for police officials

A majority of anti-trafficking cells comprised entirely police officials and most of the members were performing their duties as an additional charge.

Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram were the only States where there were members who either had no or minimal additional charge.

Responses also show that there are rarely any training programmes for the members of the anti-trafficking cells, though Bihar is an exception.

As far as budget allocation was concerned it was found that only the Central government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, issued funds for setting up of the AHTUs and the Home Departments of States and UTs did not provide any funding in any jurisdiction.

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