Human trafficking survivors identify gaps in draft Bill, seek community-based rehab

With the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) draft Bill 2021 expected to be tabled in Parliament this session, survivors of trafficking have demanded that the Ministry of Women and Child Development define and include provisions of funds for the rehabilitation of survivors as well to investigate cases, often across states and even countries.

The draft Bill, which is being touted as one of the most comprehensive documents on prevention of trafficking, was initially slotted for the Monsoon session but could not be tabled due to repeated disruptions.

The Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), a forum set up in 2019 by trafficking survivors, has now written to the Ministry identifying gaps in the Bill.

The victims have said that while the Bill provides for their rehabilitation, it does not extend the relief beyond shelter homes. They have demanded a community-based rehabilitation model that provides health services, legal aid, access to welfare schemes and income opportunities crucial for ensuring “all-round reintegration of victims’’ back into their community and family.

They have also said that the Bill needs to give “more agency to the victim’’ to decide the duration of their stay in protection and rehabilitation homes.

One of the survivors, who was rescued and rehabilitated in a shelter home for six months, told The Indian Express that she faced extreme discrimination when she was returned to her family. The woman, who was married off after she was returned to the community, faced physical abuse from her husband. She has now been living separately with her daughter. “When I returned from the shelter, I had been gone for over six months. So my community accused me of being a ‘fallen woman’. Family, friends, neighbours – no one would talk to me. This is why it is important for the Ministry to define how survivors should be rehabilitated. They should also provide funds for our education and vocational training so that we can be financially independent,’’ said the woman who now works with other survivors.

A survivor from West Bengal, who is now an anti-trafficking advocate, said victims must have a greater say in their rehabilitation process. “Shelter homes, which are often run by NGOs, need to show occupancy to be able to get funds. So they are reluctant to send survivors back to their communities, often keeping them longer than they need to be. Secondly, the investigation in cases takes years to conclude, and the survivor, who is the prime witness, cannot go home before the proceedings are over.’’

Uma Chatterjee, Founder Director of Sanjog, an NGO whose focus areas include gender rights and trafficking of women and children, said, “Rehabilitation is a fundamental right, but there is no clarity in the Bill on any funds that will be allotted, which is crucial. Studies have shown that community-based rehabilitation strategies are based on equalisation and social inclusion by addressing the needs of survivors outside of institutions.”

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