In 2013, the UN adopted a resolution which designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons to raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.

In India, the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests that there was an increase in reported cases of human trafficking by almost 20% in 2016. Roughly 8,000 cases of human trafficking were reported while 23,000 victims were rescued in the same year with 61 per cent of them being children. The problem is so severe that India has been placed in Tier 2 of USA’s annual report regarding human trafficking and with children constituting a large number of those trafficked.

Two broad trends are making it even more urgent for a decisive and strong response with demand and traffickers. As nations in the neighbourhood tighten their response to traffickers and demand, they are moving to India where response and laws remain weak.

The other is that Children from poor socio-economic background are especially vulnerable to traffickers as unaware and uneducated parents often “sell” or “send” their children for better livelihood opportunities. The children are then forced into working at construction sites, brick kilns and other hazardous environments. While a large majority are trafficked, an equal number are being trafficked for sexual exploitation.

It is shocking that young children are forced into prostitution, with their average age reported to be around 10 years, and that individuals who were found to purchase sex from said children are not booked as offenders. 

In my opinion, apart from legislation, a comprehensive response must include - undertaking research to identify gaps, Building capacities and capabilities in all Institutions at very levels within government like District Child Protection Officer, the Juvenile Justice System for effective treatment of trafficking cases, Police and a coordination mechanism with Child Lines and NGOs to develop strategies that would deal with the detection, prosecution of the perpetrators and rehabilitation of victims. So Effective laws along with an empathetic institutional response to the victims and survivors are the required response. Although awareness and reporting have increased and government response to human trafficking has improved in recent years, justice and support still elude many victims, especially children.

In May 2014, nearly 500 children from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal were rescued from the State of Kerala after an alleged trafficking attempt. While the CBI had registered a case in this regard, I am surprised at the silence of the State Government on this very serious issue. The 2014 incident is clearly the tip of the iceberg and points to a wider, more flourishing Child Trafficking phenomenon which I have raised repeatedly in Parliament including the issue of organized sexual trafficking rackets prevailing in orphanages and the vulnerability status of children in such institutions. Recent reports of the clergy from various religions being involved in abuse and coverup point to the deep-rooted threats to our children.

The issues relating to the safety of children as deeply important and therefore, I have worked together with MoWCD, NCPCR, MHA and other stakeholders to build a critical mass of thought and leadership in a campaign against child abuse called ‘Protect Our Children’ - resulting in the National Coalition for Protection of Children (NCPOC), which drafted a clause by clause response to the then proposed Anti-Trafficking Bill, 2016. Many suggestions made, were in fact, incorporated in the current 2018 Bill.

 In June 2017, Tata Institute of Social Sciences organized a seminar to formulate a National Level Action Plan to combat the problem, where I spoke and following that the NCPOC along with TISS published a document titled National Action Plan Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

The key suggestions made were:

Demand for proactive policing – identify, name and shame ‘customers’, confiscate illegal assets;

Recommend ‘Prosecution Modernization’ – prioritize protecting children by improving prosecution and equip them with technology;

Create a national database on customers (CHILD GRID) – information and intelligence on offenders to be made available to prosecutors, caregivers and civil society partners with focused attention on curbing demand;

Integrate child protection including the prevention of sexual exploitation of children in campaigns related to children like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’;

Establish special courts similar to those in Mumbai where this mechanism exists. This should be first initiated in all metro cities then followed by areas plagued by high incidences of child trafficking;

Involve survivors who can provide first-hand information/leads to foil rackets. The survivors should also be encouraged to assume more prominent roles in the movement, which would help others realize the gravity of the problem;

Create awareness through media fraternity – curb demand by ‘shaming’ individuals who solicit commercial sex, by publicizing identities of people arrested; and

Create the political will and provide necessary push to law enforcement by engaging and increasing the crucial role of the Members of Parliaments.

It is appalling that there are ‘customers’ who ‘demand’ children for sexual activities. There is no doubt in my mind that they need to be locked up and away. Merely attacking the brothel owners and traffickers as we have been, would not solve the problem. Human trafficking as an organized crime is a multi-billion-dollar industry would continue to thrive in India unless strong measures are taken against the ‘customers’ as well.

Traffickers often take advantage of our weak inter-state policing and so children from one state often end up disappearing into another state with little policing coordination between different jurisdictions. That must change and We must ensure that different states of the country share data and intelligence in real time to curb this problem at the demand side. Additionally, it is highly important to sensitize the citizens of our country to not turn a blind eye to these heinous crimes and the nexus of criminals responsible. I sincerely believe that an informed and aware citizenry, armed with laws, technologies, rights and helpful enforcement agencies, is the best taskforce in our country to combat this criminal enterprise.

No Government to date has conducted a national study on this nor considered it important to institutionally address this comprehensively. We have been letting our children down for the last 7 decades since Independence - despite them constituting about 30% of the country’s population. As I’ve said before if children are given voting rights we would see a change in the response mechanism overnight. There is little or no follow-up on numerous cases of Child trafficking that are wholesale cases of child abuse. As someone who has been directly involved in following up cases in my city of Bengaluru, I can say that the need to do more is unquestionable. The role of the Government in ensuring the protection of children needs to be increased manifold.

To precisely get more and more Indians involved in this fight to create an India safe for our children, I initiated a change.org petition on in October 2017. It has been supported by over 2.5 lakh citizens.

The current practices adopted in India fail to adhere to human rights norms or protect rescued children from the risk of future exploitation. Therefore, we needed a new legislation and so I'm very glad that the Narendra Modi government has responded with the Anti-Trafficking Bill 2018.

I have always said that crimes against children are the worst form of terrorism and this Bill is a good start to tackle this terrorism and would make India a pioneer among South Asian countries in curbing human trafficking. While it may not address all aspects, the Bill has closed many loopholes which existed in previous legislations.

The demand for a perfect legislation should not hinder the passage of the current Bill, as no legislation can be perfect right from the word go. This Law will evolve and improve changes. For 70 years many children of India and their families have suffered silently and helplessly. It is our responsibility to change that and with this bill, I hope we can realize the vision of a country that protects and nurtures and provides opportunities to every child. We must reaffirm this on World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

Twitter: @rajeev_mp