Updated: July 16, 2021 10:10:24 am
A coalition of lawyers and human rights activists has objected to the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2021 slated to be introduced in the upcoming session of the Parliament.
“The most troubling aspect of the Trafficking Bill is the proposal to make the National Investigation Agency (NIA) not only the investigation agency, but also the applicability of the NIA Act to the investigation of offences under the Bill. This should be a wake up call for all states in the Indian Union,” said Professor Babu Mathew, National Law School, in a statement issued Thursday.
He called the inclusion of the death penalty unnecessary, and said the stringent bail provisions and denying the accused the right to anticipatory bail are violative of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
While the Bill sets out to “prevent and counter trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide for care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims, while respecting their rights, and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them”, over-broad definitions, a “draconian investigation process and penal provisions” defeat the very purpose of the Bill, the activists said.
In “another attack on the heart of criminal jurisprudence”, the Bill removes the presumption of innocence, the activists said. “Removal of the presumption of innocence directly impacts the crucial fundamental right to life and liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution,” said Arvind Narrain, Alternative Law Forum, in the joint statement issued by the activists.
Another problematic aspect of the Bill is that it makes ‘abetment’ liable for the same punishment as the offence itself, the statement said. When these terms, including ‘promotion’, ‘procurement’ and ‘facilitation’ are vague and ill defined, it allows tremendous overreach and misuse by law enforcement agencies, the activists said.
“Violation of the right to privacy and restricting the right to carry out research or journalism with criminal provisions strikes at the roots of the right to freedom of expression,” said Geeta Seshu of the Free Speech Collective.
“Adult sex workers, already a vulnerable section, will be adversely impacted, since the basic problem with the Bill is that it treats victims of human trafficking on par with adult persons in sex work. Trafficking of persons into forced or coerced labour (including sexual exploitation) should not be equated with sex work undertaken by consenting adults. This conflation could lead to misuse and over-broad application of the provisions in the Bill,” said Ayeesha Rai, National Network of Sex Workers.
By criminalising pornography, many private communications by workers in the adult entertainment industry would be deemed illegal. “Post-pandemic, sex workers use mobile phones and apps as their digital workspaces and the videos and photos they send customers and clients are essential working tools. Deeming these exchanges as sexual exploitation deprives sex workers, who are already struggling to make a living, of their livelihood opportunities,” Aarthi Pai, legal advisor, National Network of Sex Workers.
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