CHENNAI, India — A new bill being drafted in India aims to curb the steep rise in human trafficking by unifying several existing laws, raising the penalties for offenders and providing for victims’ rehabilitation, government officials said on Wednesday.
The bill calls for the creation of an organized crime investigation agency, a special court to deal with trafficking cases and severe penalties for repeat offenders and the trafficking of minors, they said.
“Human trafficking in India has taken on many forms, with people being trafficked for forced labor, domestic work and even begging,” a senior Women and Child Development Ministry official working on the draft bill told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“All these cases are dealt with by various agencies and under numerous different laws,” she said.
“The Supreme Court of India felt that all cases, national or international, should come under the purview of one single law. The new legislation will have a more holistic approach and plug the lacunae in the implementation of anti-trafficking drives.”
As well as creating an all-embracing law against trafficking, the bill will propose increasing the penalty for offenders to up to 15 years’ jail from the present four to five years, and will provide protection for both victims and witnesses, the official said.
In addition, a separate court will be established to handle serious crimes committed across more than one Indian state, she said.
At present, human trafficking cases are dealt with largely under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, though some also come under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, or sections of the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, labor laws and overseas affairs, the official said.
“This is a big step forward,” Dr. P M Nair, a member of the expert committee set up to draft the bill, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
“Since 2000, many of us working to prevent human trafficking have been pushing for comprehensive legislation. The highlight of the draft bill is that it gives victims a legal right to rehabilitation, making the state more accountable in doing so.”
According to National Crime Record Bureau data, 5,466 cases of trafficking were reported in 2014, an increase of 60 percent since 2010.
“The new legislation hopes to fix these numbers,” Nair said. “At present investigators, judicial officers and public prosecutors lack training in handling these sensitive cases. Under the new legislation, there will be an emphasis on ensuring better justice for victims.”
An inter-ministerial committee will examine the draft bill when it is completed and send it to parliament, which is expected to pass it into law later this year, officials said.