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SURGE IN CHILD TRAFFICKING DURING LOCKDOWN


Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here.”

- Kailash Satyarthi, Indian Activist


Earlier this month a petition was filed before the Supreme Court by an NGO headed by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi. The petitioner alerted a surge in child trafficking cases after the national lockdown gets lifted. As per the petition, the trafficking will be mainly for prostitution and labour. The petitioner in the instant case is Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) India, an NGO based in Delhi. Since its start in 1980, BBA has been working on issues related to child rights.


THE PETITION

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in the name of COVID-19. While elaborating on the concept of child trafficking, the petitioner explained the need for guidelines in light of the global pandemic. The petition stated that-

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster under Sec 2 (d) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. There is no gainsaying that the pandemic, the consequent lockdown, and its aftermath will have a dauntingly adverse impact on children."

The petitioner stated a need to take proactive steps by introducing a system before the lockdown gets lifted, through policies. This will prevent child trafficking and reduce the aftermath of the ongoing global crisis. Various pleas for help were received by the NGO from children across the nation. These are also attached to the petition.


THE DECISION OF THE COURT

The bench comprised of CJI SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy. The court directed the center and state governments to seek guidelines from NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority). This is to prevent the proliferation of child trafficking amid the national lockdown. The bench also asked the counsel for the petitioner and the Solicitor General to research ways to curb the engagement of children in labour. This research is to be completed before the next hearing which is scheduled in the last week of June 2020.


NATIONAL LEGISLATIONS ON TRAFFICKING

Various laws enacted by the Parliament as well as the State legislature aims to curb the issue of trafficking in India. These include-

The issue of trafficking is addressed both directly and indirectly under the Constitution. This is under Part III and IV of the Constitution. Articles 23 states that trafficking in human beings is prohibited as are all forms of forced labour. Articles 39(e) and 39(f) fall under the Directive Principles of State Policy and play a pivotal role in shaping the policies. These articles prohibit the exploitation of persons to perform work unsuitable to them.


More than 25 sections are dealing with the issue of trafficking under the act. These include- sections 366A, 366B, 372,373,374, etc. Section 370 inserted via an amendment in 2013, expands the definition of trafficking. It now includes anyone who recruits, transports, harbors, transfers, or receives a person for exploitation.

This act introduced tough laws against all types of human trafficking and provided punishments for the same. It is the only act that specifically addresses trafficking. However, it fails to differentiate between trafficking and prostitution and is thus pending amendment. Some major elements of trafficking covered under this act include- procuring, inducing, or taking a person for prostitution, soliciting, etc.

This act prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in specific occupations and manufacturing processes. Some of these prohibited places include- building & construction work, working as domestic servants, brick kilns, etc.

This act focuses on the rehabilitation of delinquent juveniles in society. Important sections of this act dealing with child trafficking are sections 2 (vii), 24 & 26.

Apart from these central legislations, there are various other acts also. These include the Information Technology Act, 2000; Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; Goa Children’s Act, 2003; etc.


ANTI-TRAFFICKING BILL, 2018

Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018 was brought forth to deal with the inadequacy of the legal system to prevent the issue of trafficking. The Ministry of Women and Child Development proposed a draft of this bill to prevent, protect, and rehabilitate the victims of human trafficking. This draft is in line with the Palermo Protocol. However, it comes with its inherent flaws and thus attracts criticism.

On the positive side, the bill aims to create a national anti-trafficking bureau. This Bureau will monitor the prevention and surveillance activities of the law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders. The bill also focuses on criminalizing aggravated forms of trafficking such as the use of narcotic and psychotropic drugs for trafficking. The Bill contains provisions relating to social reintegration. It has cast a duty on various committees to take steps to promote active mainstreaming of the victims of trafficking. The bill got passed in the Lok Sabha in 2018 but never made it to the Rajya Sabha, and consequently, it lapsed with the 16th Lok Sabha in 2019. The bill was reintroduced in the Rajya Sabha in February 2020. Proposals are being made to change the title of the draft Bill from “Trafficking of Persons” to “Trafficking in Persons”.


AUTHOR’S NOTE

Child trafficking is a highly organized crime in today’s world. As per the United Nations Office on Organized Crime, India is a top destination for human trafficking in South Asia. Child trafficking is for various kinds of exploitation such as- prostitution; sex tourism; child pornography; labour; etc.


There is a long way to go before we as a nation can achieve our target of eliminating this menace of child trafficking. However, the anti-trafficking bill if enforced, would act a ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel. Indeed the bill comes with its shortcomings but if deliberated upon the same could be done away with. The bill will also aid in achieving the goal of the petition. It will help ensure the enforcement of measures to prevent child trafficking.

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