Posted by Meena Saraswathi Seshu and Aarthi Pai
The introduction of the Draft Bill Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016 has added to the existing two laws on trafficking offenses. Three laws will deal with the issue of trafficking, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986 [ITPA], Section 370 -373 of the Indian Penal Code and the new draft bill 2016 on trafficking. The Ministry for Women and Child Development has declared that they would accept suggestions until June 30, 2016 on how to improve the proposed bill.
Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha [SANGRAM] and Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad [VAMP] the collective of sex workers from Maharashtra organised a training and consultation with female sex workers in Bangalore from 17th to19th June 2016. The training was conducted by Supreme Court Advocate Rakesh Shukla and Advocate Aarthi Pai. 30 women in sex work from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu deliberated various sections of the Draft Bill. They will present their report with suggestions to WCD. This is the first time that the affected have been provided an opportunity to make their comments on a bill that is likely to impact their lives.
In fact, sex workers networks had sought in vain to be included in the committee that had drafted this new bill.
Ms. Sangeeta Manoji of VAMP said, “Earlier this has not happened in the case of any law. We should use this opportunity to give our comments on this bill before it is presented in the parliament and made into law.”
The draft bill has been translated into Marathi, Kannada and Malayalam. Telugu and Tamil translations were offered during the consultation. In order to help the women, understand the bill, the three-day consultation was conducted in conjunction with ITPA and Section 370- 373 of IPC.
“This is very complicated, there are three different bills dealing with the trafficking offence, the offence is in IPC, Prevention of trafficking is in ITPA and now the rehabilitation and rescue is in the Draft Bill, 2016,” said Mukta of Uttara Kanataka Mahila Ookuta, UKMO.
Community organisations have had extensive experiences to narrate on the negative impact that ITPA has had on their lives. They stated that “ITPA violates right to livelihood and choice of employment”. Although ITPA is meant to prevent trafficking the community opined that “it does not take into account the consent of consensual sex workers and many sex workers are becoming victims under this law.” They stated that many women in sex work had been forcefully rescued under the provisions of ITPA and detained in rehab settings which had led to immense trauma for them and their families.
Talking about the Indian Penal Code, the community members condemned the act of arresting the clients which had been initiated by police in some states. They stated that sex work and clients are inter connected and a vital source of livelihood for them. “This is like the relation between the doctor and the patient. What will the doctor do without a patient? Similarly, what will the sex worker do without a client? Sex work should be recognised and they feared that if clients are arrested, then sex workers will go underground and there is a chance of increase in violence and infections like STD or HIV due to non- availability of services.”
The second day of the discussion was devoted to the draft bill. The community members were taken through each section of the bill. Many community members raised their concern on what will happen to the other laws if the present bill becomes a law?
The main objective of the Draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection. and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016 is
“to prevent trafficking of persons and to provide protection and rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking and to create a legal, economic and social environment against trafficking of persons and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”
“Our demand is that the Statement of Objects and Reason should clearly spell out that the proposed Bill does not include consenting women in sex work,” says Maya from VAMP, Sangli.
The groups have expressed concern that there is no explicit definition of the term ‘victim’ in the bill and ‘victimhood’ should not be forced or automatically applied to all women in sex work and to women who do sex work by consent. Another concern expressed by the groups was that the bill that purported to prevent trafficking had many sections that seemed to indicate that the bill is aimed to end sex work.
“There are already too many agencies and organisations working on anti-trafficking on the ground. The District Anti-trafficking Committee which is being created under this Bill is being given too many powers of prevention, rehabilitation, raid, rescue. People rescued will be produced before the Committee. This is not a healthy practice,” said a representative from Saheli Sangh, Pune.
Another suggestion that was raised across the groups is that, consent of the women should be taken before initiating any action, be it prevention, protection, rehabilitation, rescue, special homes, repatriation. The women also opposed the concept of repatriation of women within India stating that this was a violation of the right to freely move within India.
Some of the participants also stated that there was no accountability mechanism in place to monitor the performance of Protection Homes and Special Homes. Given the rampant abuse and detention against the consent of the people placed in such homes, they demanded that a strict review and monitoring process be put in place for such institutions.
Community members strongly opposed the concept where any person namely, a “public spirited citizen” can produce a victim of trafficking before the member secretary without leaving any choice to the women, this is dangerous for all women whether they are trafficked or not, they opined.
The women also called on the WCD to remove references to women in sex work in the rehabilitation section of the Bill. They called on the WCD not to conflate trafficking with sex work and demanded that welfare of sex workers should be viewed separately.
Meena Saraswathi Seshu is the general secretary of Sampada Gramin Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), a health and Human Rights NGO, focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and support with collectives of marginalised people in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Aarthi Pai is a lawyer and currently working as the Director of the Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM) in SANGRAM.
Featured Image Credit: Reuters