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Human trafficking in India

Human trafficking, world's third largest illegal activity after smuggling of drugs and weapons, continues to thrive despite adequate legal provisions.

By PPFI Team
December 15, 2008

Human trafficking has been defined as the commercial trade of human beings, who are subjected to involuntary acts such as begging, prostitution or forced labour. The United States (US) has placed India on the Tier-2 Watch List for human trafficking for the 5th consecutive year as India has failed to take effective measure in combating it. According to its report, India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. The report also says that the numbers of persons affected could be anywhere between 20 to 65 million. According to some estimates, the estimated annual turnover of human trafficking in India is around 20 billion rupees. What is distressing is that out of the total number of persons affected by human trafficking, as many as 80 per cent are women and 50 per cent are children (all the persons below 18 years of age come in the category of children).

The causes are obvious. Despite 60 years of independence, the benefits of economic development have not trickled down to the marginalised sections of the society and millions of people still live below the poverty line. The poverty and hunger makes children and women belonging to the poor sections of the society highly vulnerable to human trafficking. In case of India, social and religious practices too have been a big cause of trafficking in India. Article 23 under Part 3 (Fundamental Rights) of the Indian constitution prohibits trafficking of human beings in the territory of India. There are also more than 20 provisions in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which deal with various aspects of human trafficking. But despite all this, there is an inexplicable apathy in the approach of law enforcement agencies when it comes to dealing with human trafficking.

The government of India has undertaken several measures in the past to combat this menace. The Ministry of Women and Child Development was made the nodal agency by the government to deal with human trafficking in India. A nodal cell against human trafficking has been constituted in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The National Human Rights Commission has formulated an integrated plan of action to prevent and combat human trafficking with special focus on women and children. However there is still a lack of clarity in government policies with regard to human trafficking. The existing laws have not been properly defined and there are several loopholes in them due to which the perpetuators of human trafficking escape from being punished.

To combat human trafficking, several short-term and long-term measures are needed to be taken up at all levels. There is an urgent need to create awareness among the public about human trafficking. Media can play a very effective role here. Poverty alleviation measures too will help in combating it in the long run. Since India is also a transit point for human trafficking, the government should take speedy measures to secure India's borders by completing its fencing and ensuring strict vigil. There is a need to develop an institutionalised system of co-ordination between the law enforcement agencies and non governmental organisations (NGOs) who sometimes prove to be more effective than government agencies in exposing human trafficking networks. There is a need to have greater co-ordination between different states in India as trafficking has a long trail from the source point to the destination with several transit points in between. Investigation in the cases involving human trafficking should be carried out with the aim to destroy this long trail. Increased co-ordination between government departments like police, public welfare, health, women and child is required to ensure an effective response. Government and NGOs should work together to ensure post-rescue rehabilitation of the victims in terms of providing them healthcare, education and other employment opportunities.