In a Writ Petition filed by Prajwala, a Hyderabad based NGO, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) submitted a report to the Supreme Court of India pertaining to effective tackling of the issues of trafficking in women and children, rescue, rehabilitation, monitoring and functioning of shelter homes. The report was submitted based on deliberations of a committee that consisted of eminent judges from the Supreme Court of India and various other members from several government and non-government organizations.
The Committee analysed the lacuna in existing statutory regime and identified a vacuum in respect of justice for trafficked victims. In the report it has been pointed out that the shelter and protective homes prescribed under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) do not have adequate facilities to cater to victim’s needs, whereas victims in child care institutions are ousted upon reaching the age of 18, due to the absence of after-care homes.
The report suggests that raid and rescue operations must not be conducted in an ad-hoc manner resulting in victim penalising. It says that pervasive intervention right from counselling the victims, psychological study and consideration of their views to effect rehabilitation is warranted since the ultimate aim is social integration, whether it’s trafficked victims or voluntary sex worker.
Absence of a victim/witness protection protocol that ultimately exposes them to pressure, exploitation and threats from traffickers forcing them to turn hostile or worse pushing them back into the trade due to lapses in background verification of applicants seeking release of victims have been remarked as the major flaws with the present system. The absence of a single investigating agency along the lines of the Narcotics Control Bureau has also been identified as a gaping hole in the institutional framework since Anti-Human Trafficking Units have to rely on existing police for manpower coupled with absence of a separate budget dealing with trafficking.
The report recommends that during rescue operations, differentiation between voluntary sex workers and trafficked persons should be maintained to protect civil and human rights of the former along with right to dignity and access to government programmes as well as proper identification while maintaining confidentiality of victims to prevent re-trafficking or re-establishment of contact by the exploiters. The Committee also culled suggestive changes in legislation regarding the definition and ambit of ‘sexual exploitation’ with recommendations to amend the ITPA.
There are also recommendations for improving the security and vigilance over shelter homes, enforcement of strict vigilance policy and ensuring the competence and quality of attending personnel. “As the physical and mental trauma suffered by most victims requires hands-down caretaking, the in-house counsellors, medical personnel, volunteers should be trained in anger-management, conflict management, socialisation/sexualisation, grooming, self-defence and leadership, and be equipped to handle difficult cases,” report says.
The report envisages participatory role of residents in the running of the shelter homes to effect smooth re-integration of victims into ordinary life schedule. Systemized vocational training has also been recommended to equip them with employability and aptitude.
Regarding the legal process it has been set out that “victims should have all information regarding the legal recourse available to them, rehabilitation options and accessible welfare schemes. The prosecutors, judicial officers as well as the judges should be sensitized on how to handle cases of trafficked victims on priority being given to trafficking cases, to exercise vigilance to prevent re-victimization through court processes while exercising caution in releasing the victims through thorough background checks ensuring they go into safe hands without any hurry or urgency to dispense such cases.”
Court proceedings in trafficking cases usually run aground due to lack of evidence or victims turning hostile. To tackle this, video conferencing facilities has been suggested in the courts to enable them to testify away from the threat of traffickers by putting a Witness/Victim Protection Programme in place applicable across the country. The report says “ample time must be allowed to the victims to recover from the trauma before recording their statement u/s. 164 Cr. P.C. FIR must be registered after guidance from legal services authorities so that offenders are convicted after trial.”
In order to successfully combat the interconnected network of human trafficking, the Committee has suggested creation of Nodal Agency, State Agency and District Task Force Agency. It shall meet once in three months, to facilitate convergence, intelligence sharing, monitoring compliance, to oversee issues of cross border trafficking, repatriation of foreign nationals and shall also make policies in this regard. It shall conduct training programmes for police, rescue personnel and staff of shelter homes, affix responsibility when any stakeholder is found wanting in their response and also make suitable record of appreciation for reasons of accountability and better cohesion, said the report.
Last month, the ministry of Home Affairs had issued guidelines to set up a Central Victim Compensation Fund (CVCF) to support and implement the Victim Compensation Schemes, reduce disparity in quantum of compensation amounts notified by various states and UTs and encourage the states to effectively implement the Victim Compensation Schemes (VCS) notified by them under the provisions of 357-A of Cr.P.C. and continue financial support to victims of various crimes such as rape, acid attacks, exploitation of children and human trafficking.
A couple of days back, in a Petition filed by a minor rape victim the Allahabad High Court had directed the state government to make a fixed deposit of a sum of rupees ten lakhs in the name of victim in a nationalised bank to be given to her when she reaches the age of 21 years. The state government was also requested to conduct a socio-psychological study based on appropriate survey on the number of rapes, number of children born out of rape, number of abandoned children, reactions of the victims, ways and means to counter the trauma of rape and the choice of the rape victims as to what are their expectations for rehabilitation and other related and ancillary issues, in order to frame suitable legislation in the matter of rehabilitation of rape victims.
Image from here.