A market is defined as a place where buyers and sellers buy and sell goods and services using money. Market operators are always on the look out for options with least investments and maximum profits. Further the supply continues as long as there is a demand. Far-fetched though it may sound, the buying and selling of human beings is also a thriving market – an illegal operation where goods are men, women and children and the end objective of their sale is their exploitation of all kinds, including but not limited to sexual exploitation. This blood-curdling market, which has existed from ancient times in the form of slavery was an accepted practice in many parts of the world till just about 150-200 years ago. It has now mutated into an overtly civilized but an equally savage form known as human trafficking.
In this article it is proposed to take a hard look at this illegal activity of human trafficking, which is based on the principle of supply and demand and continues to persist due to continued demand and supply for women, children and men. Factors responsible for fostering such demand and supply are also proposed to be briefly touched upon.
A Criminal Industry
Trafficking is a market driven industry. In marketing language and the language of economics demand typically refers to "the desire and preference for a particular commodity, labor or service" (ILO, 2006:15). It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the demand for human beings continues to flourish despite the civilizing influence of advancements made in the field of education and human rights. Further, notwithstanding the adoption and ratification of UN Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by almost all the nations of the world, the demand for human beings for exploitation of all kinds remains unabated. The supply of hapless individuals especially women and children comes from the poor impoverished countries of the global South where ignorance continues to prevail and people are forced by circumstances to push their women and children into trafficking knowing fully well the exploitation and abuse which awaits them. Thus, human trafficking is a criminal industry where the supply side always meets the demand, and where traffickers make huge profits by supplying services of trafficked victims to the people demanding the same.
According to 'Global Estimates of Modern Slavery - Forced Labour and Forced Marriage' (ILO) report, in 2016, 3.8 million adults were victims of forced sexual exploitation, out of which 99 per cent were women and girls. Around 1 million children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Further, according to a 2019 National Crime Records Bureau report, there were 6,616 victims of trafficking in India, out of which 2,914 were children. In 2,080 cases, the purpose of trafficking was sexual exploitation for prostitution, while, in 1,141 cases the purpose of trafficking was forced labour. These are reported cases only, this being a well-known fact that most of the cases of trafficking remain unreported either because of the stigma of exploitation or because of the money paid to the victims or their families.
With the advancement in technology and the access to the internet having become widely available, newer forms of exploitation of women and children have emerged leading to an increase in demand for them. Pedophiles have existed since time immemorial, but earlier their lust remained suppressed due to social stigma and sanction. That has now changed. A pedophile can now satisfy his illicit lust by watching child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) on the internet. Needless to add, this in turn creates a demand for children who could be abused and their abuse posted on the internet. There has been a similar rise in demand for pornographic material portraying women leading to an increase in trafficking of women.
Human trafficking in fact manifests itself in multiple businesses which give cover to this multi-billion-dollar industry. In addition to various illegal businesses or activities, there are many legitimate businesses operating under the garb of massage parlors, spas, hospitality and tourism sectors which fulfil the illegal demand of sex, including child sex, by employing trafficked women and children belonging to the socially or economically backward sections of the society.
As stated elsewhere, social backwardness and economic deprivation act as push factors for vulnerable women and children to become a part of a vicious cycle of slavery, forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. The natural calamities, man-made disasters, rioting and arson, insurgency further render affected families defenceless, unable to resist the inducements offered by the traffickers. COVID-19 pandemic has likewise enhanced the vulnerability of those already at risk of being trafficked.
That trafficking has increased in society is amply brought out by the fact that Bachpan Bachao Andolan has rescued 9,000 children along with law enforcement agencies, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In today's world where a majority of the nations' swear by human rights and liberal and democratic values, continued existence of human trafficking is a blot on the civilization.
While on the one hand the state has a duty to lift all its citizens out of poverty and ignorance, it also has a duty to put in place a strong legislative and policy framework to effectively combat human trafficking leading to its elimination. Ours is a rights based society and we claim to be a welfare state, that being so, we as a nation have a duty to abolish trafficking of human beings and consequent exploitation of children, women and men.
The bill that the Government of India has recently come up with namely the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, is a legislation that demonstrates the will of the government to combat trafficking of human beings effectively.
The Bill has provisions to curb both the supply and demand side of human trafficking. The Bill criminalizes and prescribes punishment for those who knowingly exploit or derive benefits out of the exploitation of trafficked persons. This includes forced or bonded labour in the supply chain; customers, pimps, brokers, etc., who are responsible for generating the demand for trafficking of persons for various exploitative purposes; businesses such as massage parlours, spas, etc. which promote the exploitation of trafficked victims. The Bill also addresses in a holistic manner the issue of relief and rehabilitation of rescued victims. This is extremely essential as past evidence and experience has shown that due to extremely weak relief and rehabilitation related policy framework, many rescued victims of trafficking end up getting re-trafficked. The Bill also provides for various preventive measures including education, livelihood and skill training for economic upliftment of those who are disadvantaged so that trafficking is prevented.
The anti-trafficking bill which, the Central Government has come up with is a robust and holistic legislation which addresses all the issues connected to human trafficking. The passage of the bill will be resounding victory of 12 lakh Indians who marched across 22 states and 12,000 km demanding an anti-trafficking bill along with Kailash Satyarthi in 2017.
This is a bill which the civil society and the citizenry of the country have been demanding for a long time. It is the fervent hope of the citizens that the bill is passed in the present session of the Parliament, becomes an Act and comes into force early.