On the eve of monsoon session of Parliament, a controversy centred on an anti-trafficking draft Bill is gathering steam with even Congress MP Shashi Tharoor opposing the legislation in an official letter written to Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill-2018 is scheduled to be tabled under Justice and Law category.

Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala, a Hyderabad-based NGO, who was part of the drafting committee of the Bill, told
The Hindu
, “Mr. Tharoor forwards the allegations of sex workers’ unions who do not want this legislation”. Ms. Krishnan, who is a professed sex-work abolitionist, further said the draft Bill “only pertains to trafficking and not sex work. Only those who indulge in human trafficking should fear the Bill”. Meanwhile, a collective of activists and lawyers in New Delhi held a media conference on Tuesday accusing the Bill of being “a veiled attempt to further criminalise sex work and other marginalised sections of society like unorganised workers and transgender persons”.

Incomprehensive Bill

In the letter dated April 17 to Ms. Gandhi (a copy of which is with
The Hindu
), Mr. Tharoor contended that the proposed Bill was not comprehensive as it does not harmonise all related laws, but creates more confusion among law enforcement agencies by adding to the existing range of laws. It also stated that there were many legislations that deal with human trafficking in the country, including Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 (ITPA), and Juvenile Justice Act 2015. The letter further accused the Bill of being vague when it comes to definitions of “protection homes” and “rehabilitation homes”. Citing research, the MP’s letter further pointed out that 77% of women who were released from rehabilitation homes returned to sex work. Mr. Tharoor further urged Ms. Gandhi to reconsider the Bill and undertake a consultative process with organisations and activists who deal with victims of trafficking in order to produce a comprehensive legislation that brings together relevant sections of existing laws against trafficking. The letter also urged the Ministry of Women and Child Development to re-examine and amend ITPA which has an “outdated moral approach towards sex workers”.

Dismissing the observations of Mr. Tharoor, sex workers’ unions and civil society representatives, Ms. Krishnan, speaking to
The Hindu
, said: “Every developed country has a law on trafficking and India cuts a sorry figure if we do not have this comprehensive legislation which is the product of several years of research and legal battles.”

Though ITPA has not banned prostitution, the 1956 Act which was amended in 1986 opposes prostitution defining it in Section F as, “sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes,” Ms. Krishnan said. The final draft Bill defines protection homes as institutions which provide “immediate care and protection” for short-periods whereas rehabilitation homes provide, “long-term rehabilitation of victims.”

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