Trafficking in Women and Children is the gravest form of abuse and
exploitation of human beings. Thousands of Indians are trafficked everyday
to some destination or the other and are forced to lead lives of slavery.
They survive in brothels, factories, guesthouses, dance bars, farms and
even in the homes of well-off Indians, with no control over their bodies
The Indian Constitution specifically bans the traffic in persons. Article
23, in the Fundamental Rights section of the constitution, prohibits
"traffic in human beings and other similar forms of forced labor". Though
there is no concrete definition of trafficking, it could be said that
trafficking necessarily involves movement /transportation, of a person by
means of coercion or deceit, and consequent exploitation leading to
commercialization. The abusers, including the traffickers, the recruiters,
the transporters, the sellers, the buyers, the end-users etc., exploit the
vulnerability of the trafficked person. Trafficking shows phenomenal
increase with globalization. Increasing profit with little or no risk,
organized activities, low priority in law enforcement etc., aggravate the
situation. The income generated by trafficking is comparable to the money
generated through trafficking in arms and drugs.
Trafficking in human beings take place for the purpose of exploitation
which in general could be categorized as (a) Sex -based and (b)
Non-Sex-based. The former category includes trafficking for prostitution,
Commercial sexual abuse, Pedophilia, Pornography, Cyber sex, and different
types of disguised sexual exploitation that take place in some of the
massage parlors, beauty parlors, bars, and other manifestations like call
girl racket, friends clubs, etc. Non sex based trafficking could be for
different types of servitude, like domestic labor, industrial labor,
adoption, organ transplant, camel racing marriage related rackets etc. But
the growing traffic in women is principally for the purpose of
prostitution. Prostitution is an international problem which can be found
in both developing and industrialized nations. Unfortunately, society
remains tolerant of this abominable crime against women. There are ways of
getting women into prostitution that are common to many countries; then
there are particular methods unique to a country. Probably the three most
common methods are false employment promises, false marriages and
kidnapping. But what makes women and girls vulnerable are economic
distress, desertion by their spouses, sexually exploitative social customs
and family traditions.
In a recent survey in India, prostituted women cited the following reasons
for their remaining in the trade, reasons that have been echoed in all
concerned countries. In descending order of significance, they are:
poverty and unemployment; lack of proper reintegration services, lack of
options; stigma and adverse social attitudes; family expectations and
pressure; resignation and acclimatization to the lifestyle.
The two principal Indian laws that address trafficking and prostitution in
The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act
of 1956 (SITA) and
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1986 (ITPA), colloquially called PITA, an amendment to SITA.
Neither law prohibits
prostitution per se, but both forbid commercialized vice and soliciting.
Aside from lack of enforcement, SITA is problematic in several ways. One
of its drawbacks is that the prescribed penalties discriminate on the
basis of sex: a prostitute, defined under SITA as always a woman, who is
arrested for soliciting under SITA could be imprisoned for up to a year,
but a pimp faces only three months. SITA allowed prosecution of persons
other than the prostitutes only if the persons involved "knowingly" or
"willingly" made women engage in prostitution. Accordingly, pimps, brothel
owners, madams, and procurers could feign ignorance of prostitution and
escape punishment. The client, moreover, was not viewed as an offender and
could not be sanctioned under SITA. Finally, SITA only addressed street
prostitution; prostitution behind closed doors was left alone -- a
loophole that actually promoted the establishment of brothels.
SITA, a penal law, was passed in 1956 and enforced in 1958 as a
consequence of India's signing the Trafficking Convention, rather than as
a result of any mass social welfare movement. SITA did not seek the
"abolition of prostitutes and prostitution as such and to make it per se a
criminal offence or punish a person one prostitutes oneself." Its stated
goal was "to inhibit or abolish commercialized vice, namely the traffic in
persons for the purpose of prostitution as an organized means of living."
Prostitution was defined as the act of a female who offers her body for
promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire. Accordingly, the engagement by a
woman in individual, voluntary, and independent prostitution was not an
The law permitted penalization of a woman found to be engaged in
prostitution under certain conditions. For example, Section 7(1) penalized
a woman found engaged in prostitution in or near a public place. Section
8(b) did the same for a woman found seducing or soliciting for purposes of
prostitution. The law also permitted a magistrate to order the removal of
a person engaged in prostitution from any place and to punish the person
upon refusal. Offenses under SITA were bailable, but a woman picked up
from the street by the police usually did not have either the money or the
influence to keep her out of custody or free from fines.
Several studies across India have shown that this is the most abused
section of the ITPA, used more as a tool for harassment and extortion by
the law enforcement. Women are apprehended from known red-light areas
whereas their brothel keepers and pimps are left untouched. In cases of
organized prostitution, this results in continual debt bondage for the
amount paid by her keepers as a fine or as a bail amount. In fact,
sometimes the brothel keepers are alleged to collude with policemen and
arrange the arrests of "their" women so they can continue to serve in
India is said to have adopted a tolerant approach to prostitution whereby
an individual is free to carry on prostitution provided it is not an
organized and a commercialized vice. However, it commits itself to
opposing trafficking as enshrined in Article 23 of the Constitution which
prohibits trafficking in human beings. India is also a signatory to
international conventions such as the Convention on Rights of the Child
(1989), Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against
Women (1979), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in
Persons, especially Women and Children (2000) and the latest South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and
Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution (2002).
A trafficked victim is therefore, a victim of multiplicity of crimes, and
extreme form of abuse and violation of human rights. The constitution of
India, under article 23 specifically prohibits trafficking in human
beings. At present the legal regime to trafficking of women and children
for commercial sexual exploitation includes the following.
a. Indian Penal Code 1860
c. J.J. Act-2000.
d. Special laws of various states.
e. Rulings of Supreme Court and High Court.
The lack of understanding of trafficking by the legal system could arise
from one or more of these factors: first, there is no definition of
"trafficking" or "trafficker" under the Act. Therefore, the police and the
judiciary do not have an understanding of the complexities involved when a
woman is trafficked, the different types of traffickers, and their
strategies. Neither does the court attempt to hear the trafficked woman
and her experiences. Second, the Act also focuses on establishing "the
purposes of prostitution" for every offence which conveniently takes the
attention away from trafficking. For example, even to convict a trafficker
for the act of keeping a brothel, it becomes important to establish that
prostitution was taking place. So, when a woman who is trafficked is kept
in captivity for a period of time, it cannot amount to an offence unless
the place satisfies the criteria of a "brothel." Similarly we find that in
every case involving a raid there is also an elaborate description of how
the woman was clothed when the raiding party found her in order to prove
that she was getting ready for sexual intercourse with the decoy witness
and thus her existence for the "purpose of prostitution" could be
established beyond "reasonable doubt." That the clothing or actions of a
woman at that point of time should not negate the fact that she was
trafficked seems to slip away from the adjudication process. The Act thus
misses out on what actually constitutes trafficking--the elements of
force, deception, and coercion, which go on overtly and covertly over a
period of time. Thirdly, in spite of the definition of prostitution having
changed from "the act of a female offering her body for promiscuous sexual
intercourse for hire, whether in money or in kind, and whether offered
immediately or otherwise" to "sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for
commercial purpose," there is no perceptible attitude shift in the
lawmakers and enforcers from taking efforts to curb prostitution to
curbing trafficking. Moreover no powers are given to the Magistrate to
order eviction of traffickers.
Thus there exists a need for a specialized legislation in India to deal
with trafficking even though the existing Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860,
deals with the offences of kidnapping, abduction, and buying and selling
of minors (Sections 359-373 of IPC). The IPC is narrower in scope to deal
with the wide range of activities involved in trafficking which do not
neatly fit into "kidnapping" or "abduction." For example luring, coaxing
individuals in vulnerable positions with false promises of better jobs,
contract work as domestic workers, mail order brides, and situations where
the women are sold in connivance with the parents or husband. The IPC is
thus less adept in dealing with the nuances involved in organized
In order to ensure effective implementation of the existing law there is a
need for sensitization of all concerned in the criminal justice system,
including judicial officers, prosecutors, medical experts, Police
officers. Moreover there should be partnership with the NGOs so as to
ensure law enforcement, rescue, prevention, counseling, rehabilitation,
reintegration, social empowerment etc.
Piloting Good Practices: 1. Compulsory Registration of birth with special focus in vulnerable
2. More than 70% of victims belong to SC and backward castes that are
desperately poor. Need to improve the lot of people especially women by
specially targeted programmes.
3. Devise a system to monitor missing persons across district and state
4. Creating a database on trafficking including routes, vulnerable areas,
information about traffickers and their whereabouts, information about
NGOs working in this filed in different districts and states, information
about local bodies, Panchayats and self-help groups in the vulnerable
5. Drawing up specific guidelines for investigation and prosecution of
6. Identifying areas for law reforms in the area of trafficking including
both substantive as well as procedural law.
7. Coordination among different state police departments working in this
field including sharing of information regarding interstate traffickers.
8. Permanently closing brothels known for repeated offences.
9. Improvements in victim care at government run facilities. These shelter
homes should have counselors, nurses, physicians, psychiatrists etc. Such
effort has been made by Maharashtra’s Social Defense Department in
coordination with NGOs which led to an overall improvement in the
environment of shelter homes.
10. Victim Compensation Fund to be created so as to provide vocational
trainings, give loans etc. so as to enable victim to become economically
11. Provision for confiscation of property and assets of traffickers and
agents of organized prostitution/flesh trade.
12. Formation of Community Vigilant groups in vulnerable areas.
13. Setting up of crisis centers at Railway Stations and bus stops in
trafficking prone areas/routes. These may be manned by a group consisting
of NGOs and police.
14. Drop in centers and night care services for children in red light
15. Promoting programs to stop second generation trafficking by providing
educational options to the children of sex workers and other vulnerable
Thus the lack of an integrative approach towards prevention, rescue,
repatriation and reintegration presses for a new legislation and in the
view of the United Nations High Commission there exists a need for
initiation of public information campaigns to make both potential victims
and the general public aware of the terrible exploitation and possible
loss of life inherent in trafficking in women and children.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org /
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Trafficking in Women: Revisited:
Trafficking of human beings is the recruitment, transportation, transfer
and receipt of people for the purpose of exploitation (labour/sexual) by
coercion, fraud, deceit, threat, abuse of power or position of
Victims of Trafficking:
The illicit and clandestine movement of persons across national borders,
largely from developing countries and some countries with economies in
transition, with the end goal of forcing women and girl children into
sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for profit
of recruiters, traffickers and crime syndicates, as well as other illegal
activities related to trafficking.
Extent to Which Immoral Trafficking is Addressed:
The most comprehensive definition of trafficking is the one adopted by the
UN Office of Drugs and Crime in 2000, known as the “UN Protocol to
Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and
Children,” 2000 under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized
Crime (UNTOC). This Convention has been signed by the government of India.
Trafficking: Role for Judicial Activism:
The 1949 Convention against trafficking gave rise to the first Indian law
against trafficking- The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Women & Girls Act
Commercial Sex Workers:
The commercial sex worker has been a universal being throughout
civilization as prostitution is the so-called "oldest profession". The
earliest known record of prostitution appears in ancient Mesopotamia.