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11 Feb 2018

India’s first anti-human trafficking law proposes life term for repeat offenders

A trafficking victim who was rescued, in Jharkhand.P Suchetana Ray, HT, New Delhi: Life imprisonment for repeat offenders, special courts and dedicated police units are part of key provisions in India’s first law to tackle human trafficking that is likely to be taken to Parliament for approval in the current session.

The bill, reviewed by HT, also proposes a jail term of at least a year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those who abet trafficking or fail to protect a victim; and seven years and Rs 2 lakh fine for the owner or manager of a property that has been used for the crime.

Around 8,100 cases of trafficking were recorded in India in 2016 and around 23,000 victims of trafficking were rescued that year, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures that experts call a “mere tip of the iceberg”. Currently, trafficking is covered by a clutch of laws that often delay trials but the government has been working on an umbrella legislation for more than two years.

“The bill — Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017 — is ready and we will take it to Parliament in the Budget session, itself,” said an official involved in the process, asking not to be named.

“In India, life imprisonment does not mean jail for life but usually for a defined period which is generally more than 7 years. But this Bill clearly specifies that for repeat offenders and for those who have committed aggravated form of trafficking, jail term will be for the remainder of the offender’s life,” said the official.

“No person accused of committing an offence under this Act shall be released on bail or on his own bond...,” read the bill, reviewed by HT.

Since trafficking usually involves interstate gangs, the bill proposes district-level “anti-trafficking unit” with an “anti-trafficking police officer”, and a designated sessions court for speedy trials.

State governments need to create a Rehabilitation Fund that will allocate financial resources for protection homes, legal assistance to victims and skill development programmes. The fund will also be used for victim and witness protection and for generating awareness to prevent human-trafficking.

“Section 370 of the IPC is a very strong law to deal with human-trafficking, but this bill becomes important as victims require support such as rehabilitation, witness protection etc. Also a central bill would mean budgetary support to deal with the monitoring and prevention of human-trafficking,” said Ravi Kant, president, Shakti Vahini, an NGO working to prevent human-trafficking.

(With inputs from Moushumi Das Gupta)

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