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Human Trafficking: In Search of a Comprehensive Response Strategy

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  • August 05, 2011

    On July 26, 2011 six women from Uzbekistan were arrested in New Delhi on the charge of running a sex racket. Earlier, on May 18, 2011 an orphan girl from Amritsar was rescued by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at the IGI airport in New Delhi from being trafficked to Bahrain. The following day, 44 children from Bihar were rescued by the Delhi Police from a dark cell of seven leather goods processing units in Delhi. These children were being forced to work for 16 to 17 hours a day in the dark cells. 1 India is turning out to be a source, destination and transit for trafficking men, women and children meant to be exploited as bonded labourers and sex workers.

    In the South Asian region, women from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal as well as from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are being trafficked to Indian cities. Besides, Indian women are trafficked primarily to Middle East countries where illicit business of such nature is considered to be highly profitable and lower in risk. Despite the range of legal provisions to check human trafficking framed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), International Labour Organisation (ILO), Charter of the International Criminal Court (1998), international conventions and national laws, it has acquired transnational dimensions and is increasing in a clandestine manner. Nonetheless, the prime factors for thriving human trafficking has been attributed to the involvement of organized crime syndicates with network operability across the world; weak legal provisions; lack of political will; poor socio-economic conditions of the victims; insensitivity of the administrators in terms of advocacy and action and the huge profit associated with cross-border trafficking facilitated by globalization.

    In India, trafficking of men, women and children is an awful crime that has violated the livelihood of the individuals and privileges of the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. It has even emerged as a threat to the nation’s peace, security and stability. Given the transnational dimensions of human trafficking, it has the potential to destabilise the democratic political system. The challenge of human trafficking, therefore, cuts across national boundaries and requires collective initiatives. In other words, the scale and the (complex) nature of such an endemic socio-economic problem surpass the capability and jurisdiction of national government(s), thus necessitating a more comprehensive prevention, control and response framework that hinges on strategic regional/ sub-regional cooperation.

    Though the problems are identified, the lack of a viable response strategy further aggravates the situation. Even if the victims are rescued, the rehabilitation measures are not promising enough. For instance, in the case of the girl who was rescued at the IGI airport in New Delhi while being trafficked to Bahrain, she had been earlier taken to Dubai in 2010 and was forced to work as a bar dancer. The advantage to the traffickers in this business is that since human beings are not degradable elements they can be resold again. Unfortunately, the social stigma attached to it, especially in the Indian context, is so deep rooted that the trafficking victims simply fail to live a normal life thereafter.

    One can’t help critiquing the current approaches in combating human trafficking through administrative and legal measures like prevention, prosecution, protection and rehabilitation that have not provided conducive results. Illicit trafficking flourishes as an underreported crime eating into the vitals of the Indian nation in a clandestine fashion and is spreading its tentacles beyond the borders. As a result, the need for a comprehensive strategy to counter the hazards that threaten the security of the nation is arising. Therefore, while dealing with the scourge of human trafficking, the concerned stakeholders need to consider the imperative of revisiting the current policies and actions, and further discuss the various response options.

    First, a multilateral framework of regional cooperation pursuing a pan-India counter trafficking vision focused on regulation and control measures should be adopted. This must be followed by soft-policy options like sharing of information and intelligence and harmonisation of (national) legal systems. Second, a Human Rights based strategy where the basic human rights of the victims are protected need to be placed at the forefront. This implies the imperative of curbing trafficking (as a crime against humanity) and, at the same time, minimising the risks encountered by the victims. Third, there is a dire need to address the root causes of trafficking such as lack of education, poverty, and weaknesses in the administrative and legal systems. Fourth, there is also a need to reorient the foreign policy of the country. Human trafficking should be given much higher priority in the foreign policy which is otherwise weighed down by issues of security, defence and economics. An argument for policy review is that, apart from focussing on the root causes of human trafficking internally, India should consider the gains of using its resources towards socio-economic development in countries like Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh. It would help in countering the threats from these neighbours and also strategically improve its position vis-a-vis China and Pakistan. 2

    Moreover, civil society too can play a vital role in the crusade against human trafficking. There are voluntary organisations already pushing the government on this issue. What is necessary is the political will to build a strategic partnership with the people. Further, sincere participation of individuals, community, NGOs, civil authorities and politicians is crucial in resolving the complex issues of human trafficking which poses severe development and security challenges to the nation.