Combating Human Trafficking in India

“If we truly want to have world peace, we have to end human trafficking”- Jason Mraz.


Human Trafficking involves the movement of men, women, and children for economic gain or sexual exploitation. Victims are often seduced or kidnapped and given false promises of jobs and money. In India, human trafficking is the second-largest form of organised crime. Although it is illegal, human trafficking remains a significant issue in India. People are illegally trafficked through India regularly for commercial sexual exploitation and forced/bonded labour. Being a flourishing organised crime in India, human trafficking is well regulated and supported by Industrialists and Politicians.

Human Trafficking in India Post 2020

According to the data published by National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), there were over 900 cases of human trafficking reported in 2020, with over 3,000 victims. Maharashtra had the most human trafficking cases nationwide; around 150 cases were recorded in the state. According to activists, the strong demand in places like Mumbai, Pune, and Thane is the reason for the high number of trafficking incidents reported in Maharashtra. Telangana recorded 104 cases of trafficking. Most saved victims had been coerced into prostitution, labour or forced marriages. Criminals are using the IT advancement in the state to prey on young women.

In 2021, according to a Free a Girl Foundation report, 700-800 children were trapped in Nagpur’s red light district. According to a Reuters study, 16 million women and girls will be victims of sex trafficking in India by 2021. According to Legal Services in India, four girls in India enter prostitution every hour, three of them against their will. And as per a survey conducted by the Kailash Satyarthi Foundation, it was found that 21% of the households are potentially ready to send their children into child labour due to their increased economic vulnerability.

In 2022, Mumbai remains ahead with the highest number of victims of human trafficking, followed by Delhi and Pune.
Cities that have been recording highest number of victims of Human Trafficking in 2022

International Conventions against Human Trafficking

There are primarily three conventions to combat human trafficking for prostitution. Firstly, The United Nations Convention on Transitional Organized Crime, 2000 (UNCTOC), which India has ratified, establishes effective measures for eradicating, preventing, and punishing human trafficking, particularly among women and children. Additionally, this treaty ensures that all nations that ratify the Protocol must make all forms of trafficking illegal, including sexual exploitation.

Secondly, The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention, which India has also adopted, strongly emphasises the trafficking of women and children for prostitution. A Regional Task Force has been established to carry out the requirements of this convention; it has already held five meetings. At the fifth meeting, SAARC members were allowed to participate in a study tour to learn from anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs).

And thirdly, India and Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in July 2015 about their bilateral cooperation to stop women and children from being trafficked across borders and to rescue, recover, reintegrate, and repatriate those who have already been victims of such trafficking. A Task Force has been established for quick disposal and victim-friendly practices. The Task Force of India and Bangladesh have held five meetings.

Indian Protections against Human Trafficking
  1. Human trafficking and forced labour are prohibited by Articles 23 (1) & 24 of the Indian Constitution.
  2. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 (ITPA) makes trafficking for sexual exploitation a crime.
  3. Through the Child Labor (Prohibition and Abolition) Act of 1986, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976, and the Juvenile Justice Act, India forbids forced and bonded labour.
  4. IPC has 25 sections, such as 366A, 366B, 370, and 374, to deal with human trafficking.
  5. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 370 and 370A set forth comprehensive measures to combat the problem of human trafficking, including the trafficking of children for any form of exploitation, including physical exploitation, sexual exploitation in any form, slavery, servitude, or the forced removal of organs.
  6. The Indian Penal Code bans kidnapping and selling juveniles as prostitutes in sections 366(A) and 372, respectively.
  7. In addition, the Factories Act of 1948 protected workers’ rights.
Developments in Lok Sabha
  1. The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, was approved by the Lok Sabha on July 26, 2018.
  2. The Bill seeks to combat human trafficking, assist victims of human trafficking in getting their lives back on track, and bring perpetrators to justice.
  3. The measure sought to create an institutional framework for protecting, rehabilitating and preventing trafficking victims, typically women and children.
  4. Additionally, the measure provided for investigations into cases of trafficking to hold offenders accountable.
  5. The law was termed “victim-centric” in the parliament, and the government plans to prosecute the traffickers by making relevant changes to criminal procedures.
  6. Though the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha, the same wasn’t taken up in Rajya Sabha and therefore lapsed due to General Elections in the following year. However, there were a few lapses that the Bill failed to address. Some of them are:
  7. The Bill appeared to mix trafficking with sex labour and illegal immigration, which failed to provide a clear-cut definition of these, leaving the burden of the judiciary to interpret on a case-to-case basis.
  8. The Bill received criticism for approaching the issue of human trafficking from the perspective of criminal law rather than completing it with a human rights-based and victim-centred approach.

Additionally, it was criticised for encouraging police “rescue raids” and the institutionalisation of victims in the name of rehabilitation. It was noted that some ambiguous rules would result in the general criminalisation of actions that don’t necessarily include trafficking. Therefore, the Bill was neither clear nor comprehensive.

Draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021

Since the 2018 law failed to go through the legislative process, the government refurbished the bill and published the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill Draft in June 2021. The bill was introduced as a comprehensive piece of legislation to stop the trafficking of persons for sexual or physical exploitation.

Provisions in the new bill
  1. It covers all citizens, both inside and outside of India, as well as those on any ship or aircraft registered in India, wherever it may be or carrying Indian citizens, wherever they may be, as well as any foreign national or stateless person whose residence is in India at the time of the offence covered by this Act. Every crime of trafficking in persons with international repercussions shall be subject to the law.
  2. Victims Protected: It now covers transgender people and anyone who might become a victim of trafficking. Previously, it only protected women and children. Additionally, it eliminates the need for a victim to be moved from one location to another to qualify as a victim.
  3. Defines “exploitation” as the use of another person for sexual purposes, including through pornography, any form of physical exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or acts that are similar to slavery, servitude or the forced removal of organs, illegal clinical drug trials, or illegal biomedical research.
  4. Penalty: In most cases of child trafficking, a minimum sentence of seven years in jail, which may be increased to ten years, and a fine of Rs. 5 lakh. The punishment is life in prison if more than one child is involved in the trafficking.
  5. National Anti-Human Trafficking Committee: Following the law’s enactment, the Center will inform and set up a National Anti-Human Trafficking Committee to ensure that the provisions of the law are applied consistently and effectively.

The secretary of the home department will serve as the committee’s head, while the secretary of the ministry for women’s and children’s development will serve as the committee’s co-chair.

Additionally, committees to combat human trafficking will be formed at the state and district levels.

Safeguard in the Constitution and Judiciary

Human Trafficking is prohibited under Article 23 (1) of the Indian Constitution. Several statutes have been enacted to ensure the Fundamental rights promised in the Constitution. Section 370 and 370 A of the Indian Penal Code have been enacted after the Criminal Amendment Act of 2013 to address the menace of human trafficking, including trafficking of children for exploitation in any form, including physical exploitation or any form of sexual exploitation, slavery, servitude, or the forced removal of organs. Tracing authority from the Constitution, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), has been enacted to tackle and ensure the prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

Another major legislation that provides statutory safeguards to minors, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, 2012, is a gender-neutral statute created to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It provides statutory definitions for several types of sexual abuse, such as penetrative and non-penetrative assault, sexual harassment, and more, to stringently deter and penalize offenders.

Other specific legislations like the Transplantation of Human Organs Act of 1994, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act of 1976, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, and certain sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), such as Sections 372 and 373, which deal with the buying and selling of girls for prostitution have also been enacted to provide legal safeguard.

Landmark Rulings against Human Trafficking in India
  • Laxmi Kant Pandey vs Union of India (1984)

While approving international adoption, the Supreme Court stated that it is essential to keep in mind that the child’s welfare is the primary goal of the adoption and that, therefore, extreme caution must be taken when allowing the child to be placed for adoption with foreign parents. Otherwise, the child may be neglected or abandoned by the adoptive parents in a foreign country, or the adoptive parents may not be able to give the child a life of moral or material security. To prevent child trafficking, the court has established processes for inspecting and overseeing international adoptions.

  • Bachpan Bachao Andolan Vs. Union of India & Ors., 2010.

A petition was submitted to the Supreme Court of India to take action against the use of child performers in travelling circuses. Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a non-governmental organisation, submitted the petition on behalf of children’s rights activists under Article 32 of the Constitution. Children from Nepal were being trafficked or abducted, enslaved in these circuses, and abused physically, mentally, and sexually.

The Supreme Court issued an order to ban the employment of children in circuses, conduct raids on circuses to free children, and set up rehabilitation programmes for the child victims after realizing that this practice violated child labour laws, rules on a child’s right to an education, as well as other national and international statutes. This case demonstrated the willingness of the Supreme Court of India to consider petitions from non-governmental organizations and is a significant victory for children’s rights in India, where parents frequently sell their young children for labour.
The judges decided that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights shall be designated as the Nodal Agency for implementing the Juvenile Justice Act. The Supreme Court further ordered all States to immediately execute the requirements of this Act and establish district-level juvenile justice boards, child welfare committees, and special juvenile police units.

Role Of NGO’s

Numerous organisations and people identify trafficking survivors, help them as they pursue justice, attempt to rehabilitate them, and raise awareness about the impunity of traffickers. To release females who have been trafficked into prostitution, the Rescue Foundation undertakes intelligence-based operations and works with the state police and anti-human trafficking units. Their legal staff collaborates with public prosecutors to secure convictions against alleged perpetrators and compensation for victims. They rescue close to 150 girls annually and place them in safe homes. Another is, Prajwala runs three crisis counselling centres in police stations, three transition centres for children of prostitutes, and a production-cum-training facility for economic rehabilitation.
Additionally, they operate a therapeutic shelter for women and children who have been sexually exploited; most of them are HIV positive. Seventy per cent of its 200 staff are also survivors. Then, Prerana aims to legal and socially reintegrate trafficking victims into society through rehabilitation. One of the most effective approaches to combat the issue is the Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) campaign paradigm.

International Protocols and Conventions

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is at the forefront of the fight against trafficking by using a human rights-based strategy. The Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children; the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children; the Special Rapporteur on Child Prostitution; and the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its Causes and Consequences are some of the special offices of the Human Rights Council that OHCHR supports. These mandates are crucial in encouraging a human rights-based strategy for dealing with the infractions that fall under their purview.

The Palermo Protocol, an addition to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, is the most influential international instrument to combat trafficking (2000). According to Article 5 of the Protocol, States must make attempts at trafficking, as well as any other purposeful involvement or organisation in a trafficking scheme, illegal.

Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air aims to safeguard migrant rights and lessen the influence and power of organised criminal organisations that exploit migrant workers. It highlights the importance of treating migrants humanely and the need for comprehensive international initiatives to stop people smuggling, including socioeconomic measures that deal with the underlying factors that lead to migration.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is the international torch-bearer document for human rights. Article 3 (the right not to be subjected to slavery or servitude) and Article 4 (the right to be free from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment) prevent Human Trafficking.

Blue Heart Campaign educates people about human trafficking and its effects on both individuals and society & provides support for victims of human trafficking. The UN’s commitment to ending this crime against human dignity is symbolised by the colour “UN blue.” The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, receives 100% of the earnings from the Blue Heart Campaign.

Sustainable Development Goals or 2030 Goals talk about inclusive development. SDG objective 8.7 states that forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking must be ended, as well as the worst types of child labour, including the recruitment and employment of child soldiers. By the year 2025, all kinds of child labour must be eliminated.

Way Forward
  • To prevent misunderstanding or duplication for enforcement agencies, the Juvenile Justice Act’s current provisions and other pertinent Acts should be effectively integrated into the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021.
  • It would be beneficial for the Central Government to create model rules for the States to utilise to effectively implement the Act.
  • The authorities must examine the extent of trafficking crime concerning social media. A section of the new law should target offences involving human trafficking on social media.
  • To combat the problem of human trafficking, it is vital to enhance the capacity of both the police and NGOs via sensitisation and awareness camps and training modules in collaboration with various NGOs.
  • The proper data exchange must be ensured domestically within an administration, between organisations like the police and NGOs, and between various nations.
  • The Justice Verma Committee has suggested a census of the missing children. To make data reporting more comprehensive, the state and federal governments should collaborate.
  • The appropriate application of the current legislation ought to take precedence. It is necessary to improve law enforcement’s capabilities, knowledge, and resources by strengthening the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs).
  • The government must take specific preventative measures, such as educating kids about the crime of human trafficking by incorporating it into the school curriculum.
  • Making society aware that if a person observes any suspicious conduct, s/he should report it to the appropriate authorities.

With the advent of newer threats, the security and dignity of people are yet threatened by human trafficking. Human security is threatened by human trafficking and Indian human development, given that the majority of women who are employed are people who are trafficked and financially weak. The Indian Constitution ensures the equality of both men and women, yet they frequently amount to empty rhetoric regarding the issue of actual application. However, there are numerous regions where India’s efforts to protect victims of trafficking are insufficient. International actions are taken, policies are created, and rigorous implementation has been done to improve the global situation. India must align its domestic policies with international commitments to address the issue with a multifaceted approach. Hence, there is a need to take prompt action on this issue.

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Author: Anjali Yadav