By Shruti Arora:
On February 28, 2018, the Union Cabinet approved the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016 for introduction in the Parliament. A critical analysis of the Bill by Tripti Tandon, Lawyers Collective and Shreshtha Das, CREA suggest that it fails to legislate for a comprehensive law on human trafficking and is only an addition to the already existing laws which deal with aspects of trafficking for prostitution, child labour, forced labour etc. Since the development of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2000) and then of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, United States (2000), there has been pressure on the Indian government to formulate stringent laws against trafficking. Prabha Kotiswaran (2013) in her research notes that the impact of international anti-trafficking policies like UN Protocol (2000) and of VTVPA (2000) in India was such that the domestic law reform initiatives came to understand trafficking only in the context of prostitution. This resulted in the Ministry of Women and Child Development introducing the Swedish abolitionist model in 2005 of criminalising the clients to amend the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act in the Parliament which ultimately, for various reasons did not get passed in the Parliament.
The approval of the Trafficking of Persons Bill once again relies on the rescue and rehabilitation model for protection of victims just like the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. If passed in the Parliament, the legislation will strengthen the power of the anti-trafficking committee to rehabilitate the “victims” without understanding that rescue and rehabilitation model further results in targeting, stigmatising and victimising women by carrying out raids in red-light areas. It is unfortunate that despite the demand of sex workers’ union to decriminalise sex work for years now, the legislation is silent on sex work, does not recognise sex work as work at all and fails to make a distinction between women who consent to sell sex and women who consent to be rehabilitated. It does not recognise the alternative of community-based rehabilitation for women who consent to rehabilitation.
The problem with the State rescue and rehabilitation model will persist, the poor living conditions of the women inhabitants in protection homes. Investigations into the living conditions of the protection homes in Delhi and Gujarat show the dismal conditions of these shelter homes; it is not only inadequate resources to support women but the restrictive and protectionist norms and culture within the homes which function very much like jail. Women are denied the right to mobility or to participate in the society and are caged as prisoners under CCTV surveillance within the homes. The investigation findings also show that some women were forced to live within the homes. The legislation even though includes a measure to improve the living conditions by providing shelter, food, clothing, counselling and medical care that is necessary for the rescued victims, is silent on ensuring women inhabitants any right to mobility and autonomy. It thus remains clear that this legislation will just be an addition to the already existing laws which offer no freedom to women in sex work whether by choice or circumstance.
Kotiswaran, P., 2013. Sword or Shield? The Role of the Law in the Indian Sex Workers’ Movement. Interventions, 15(4)