CHENNAI, India — India’s cabinet approved a tough new law that could jail human traffickers for life on Wednesday, giving a boost to efforts to crack down on the fast-growing crime.
The Trafficking of Persons Bill, which will go to Parliament for approval after it reconvenes this month, aims to prioritize survivors’ needs and prevent victims, such as women and girls found in brothel raids, from being jailed.
“It’s a victory of the 1.2 million people who participated in 11,000 km long Bharat Yatra [India March] for this demand,” Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said in a statement, referring to a month-long march he organized last year.
“Intrastate trafficking of children is a rapidly growing organized crime…. A strong anti-trafficking law in India will send a powerful message.”
Calling it a “historic” achievement in the campaign against trafficking, Satyarthi urged Parliament to pass the law.
The comprehensive bill unifies existing anti-trafficking laws and aims to make India a leader in the fight against such crimes in South Asia, one of the fastest-growing regions for forced labor, begging and forced marriage in the world.
Many poor victims from rural areas are lured by traffickers with promises of good jobs, only to find themselves forced to work in fields or brick kilns, enslaved in homes as domestic workers, or sold to brothels.
Indian government data shows reports of human trafficking rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year, to 8,132 cases.
Acknowledging the magnitude of the crime, a government statement said the bill “addresses one of the most pervasive yet invisible crimes affecting the most vulnerable persons, especially women and children.”
Under the new law traffickers could be jailed for 10 years or for life. Conviction also includes a fine of at least 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,534).
“In order to break the organized nexus, both at the national and international level, the bill provides for the attachment and forfeiture of property and also the proceeds [from] crime,” the government said.
The legislation also provides for special courts to expedite trafficking cases, setting a deadline of one year for trial and repatriation.
Under the law, a rehabilitation fund will be set up to help victims rebuild their lives and they will be allowed to give evidence through video conferencing without being identified.
Anti-trafficking committees — at district, state and national levels — will be set up to oversee prevention, protection and victim rehabilitation.