A bill of con­tention

The new anti-traf­fick­ing bill passed re­cently by Lok Sabha throws up a range of ques­tions

Governance Now - - LAW - De­exa Khan­duri

In July, the Lok Sabha passed the Traf­fick­ing of Per­sons (Pre­ven­tion, Pro­tec­tion and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion) Bill, 2018. This um­brella leg­is­la­tion aims to com­bat all forms of traf­fick­ing, what­ever the pur­pose. Min­is­ter for women and child devel­op­ment Maneka Gandhi calls it a strin­gent, com­pre­hen­sive bill, fo­cussed on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of vic­tims. She says it is not in­tended to ha­rass sex­work­ers or other vic­tims of traf­fick­ing. But the bill has evoked a groundswell of crit­i­cism. First, crit­ics say all that the new law does is cre­ate some new in­sti­tu­tions: a na­tional anti-traf­fick­ing bureau; district-level units and com­mit­tees; spe­cial courts. In ad­di­tion, it makes pun­ish­ment more strin­gent, and ques­tion­ably in­cludes some an­cil­lary acts – such as al­low­ing a house to be used for traf­fick­ing – in the scope of pun­ish­able acts. Sec­ond, they say it draws on sev­eral ex­ist­ing laws for pros­e­cu­tion and penalty, so what is new other than mak­ing the penal­ties and jail terms more se­vere? Third, the deep­est and most tren­chant crit­i­cism is that the new law does not go into the com­plex­i­ties and sev­eral gra­da­tions of the traf­fick­ing prob­lem. A per­son traf­ficked for or­gan har­vest­ing or as cheap labour, for example, needs to be helped and re­ha­bil­i­tated in other ways than some­one traf­ficked for sex work. There are mat­ters of in­tra-na­tional and in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion, peo­ple smug­gling, the eco­nomics of labour, agri­cul­tural fail­ure, poverty, cor­rupt police and other law en­forcers...the list of fac­tors re­lated to traf­fick­ing could go on. Se­ri­ous eth­i­cal ques­tions, such as that of whether pros­ti­tu­tion or sale of an or­gan is out-and-out il­le­gal; ques­tions of choice, such as whether an adult en­gaged in pros­ti­tu­tion wants to be re­ha­bil­i­tated in the man­ner the state chooses – these go un­ad­dressed, as if they are of no con­se­quence or have been de­cided with ut­ter fi­nal­ity.

Gov­er­nance Now presents a range of opin­ions on the bill:

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