A survivor of sex trafficking, Lilufa Bibi, had hoped that the Indian parliament would finally enact a new anti-trafficking law that could help thousands trapped in modern slavery.
After multiple consultations and years of lobbying lawmakers, the bill was finally cleared by the cabinet in February. Unfortunately, India’s parliament ultimately failed to table the bill in its last session.
Bibi and other survivors say they feel betrayed by yet another delay by politicians. “The delay only means that there are traffickers out on bail who continue to threaten victims, many of whom are still waiting for proper rehabilitation,” she said.
Many activists and observers worry that India’s anti-trafficking bill will fall off the radar or be delayed until 2021 as the country begins to shift its attention to the 2019 general elections.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that this law would have expanded human trafficking offenses to include forced labor and forced marriage:
Crucially, say campaigners, the new law would expand the focus to forced labour outside the sex trade, said P.M. Nair, a human trafficking expert and professor at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“For the first time it moved away from just sex trafficking and recognised trafficking for labour, begging and marriage as offences,” said Nair, who helped draft the legislation.
Under the new law, traffickers could be jailed for 10 years or for life. Conviction would also incur a fine of at least 100,000 rupees ($1,534).
The legislation calls for special courts to expedite trafficking cases, and a rehabilitation fund to provide victims with legal aid, counselling and quick repatriation in cross border trafficking cases.
The bill also includes guidance on how evidence should be collected and presented in court, as well as witness protection, said Chetan Sanghi, joint secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Yet for Bibi, the prospect of waiting years for parliament to act is deeply frustrating and disappointing.
“We wrote letters, met parliamentarians, shot small videos to explain the importance of the bill and sent in practical suggestions.”
“It feels like our efforts were in vain,” she said.