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