Faced with criticism from several quarters, the Ministry of Woman and Child Development has withdrawn three of the earlier drafts of the anti-trafficking legislation. It has now issued a new comprehensive draft Bill that introduces severe punitive measures for trafficking of all kinds, from using victims as bonded labour or as child soldiers to forced begging.
Apart from civil society organisations, the original Bill was also slammed by the National Commission for Women chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who termed it ‘untenable’.
The original version of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, released by Union Minister Maneka Gandhi in May, had punitive measures for only two kinds of offences. These included administering narcotic or psychotropic drugs or alcohol to the victims for the purpose of trafficking or using chemical substances or hormones for the purpose of exploitation.
Moreover, the draft focused mainly on crimes such as prostitution or slavery.
The revised version now spells out a range of other offences, expanding the very definition of trafficking. The new list of offences includes trafficking for the purpose of bonded labour, begging, bearing a child, under the pretext marriage, using as a human shield or child soldiers.
The penalty for most of these crimes is a fine of Rs 1 lakh to 10 lakh and a jail term of anywhere between seven years to life imprisonment. Similar offences include causing serious injury to the victim that could lead to her death or suicide or causing life threatening illness or sexually transmitted diseases. The penalty and sentences are enhanced in case of repeat offenders.
“The earlier draft left all these areas untouched. Moreover, the government has dropped its initial plan to repeal the existing Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956, which is a progressive move,” said Pravin Patkar from Prerana, an anti-human trafficking organisation.
Former IPS officer PM Nair, who was part of the inter-ministerial panel set up to provide recommendations for the draft Bill, said the original draft failed to address many of the concerns raised by anti-trafficking NGOs.
“The new version takes into consideration most of these issues. For instance, all this while the accused was taken care of by the law, no one knew what is to be done with the victims. The draft Bill now paves the way for setting up a national coordinating body which will ensure that a victim rescued from Delhi reaches her home in West Bengal safely,” said Nair.