The Trap: Trafficking of Women in India
Updated: Oct 22
Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, 1st Year LLM, V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Panaji, Goa.
“For to be free is not to cast off one’s chain, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” -Nelson Mandela
Human Trafficking has emerged as a significant topic of concern all around the globe. It is the illegal and inhumane practice of exploiting human beings and treating them as a product for sale. One cannot deny the fact that most women are vulnerable to the same. Looking at the current scenario, I feel India is one of the most dangerous places for a girl to live in. Young girls and women are disappearing from the streets at a frightening rate. Many of them are trapped and sold particularly in brothels as sex workers or as slaves for domestic and agricultural work. The National Crime Records Bureau stated that a total of 5264 cases were reported in India in 2018, where 64% (majority) of the victims were women and 48% were below the age of 18 years. A 2014 Dasra Report stated that approximately 16 million women are survivors of sex trafficking in India every year while 40% of them are adolescents and children. And more than 70% of the survivors are illiterate and 50% of them have a family income of less than 1 United States Dollar (Rs.73.48/-) per day. The menace of trafficking has penetrated itself profoundly and has become successful in contributing a huge share to the economy. The offenders are earning heavy dollars every year worldwide.
Reasons for Trafficking of Girls/Women
The first answer that comes to my mind is the gender inequality that exists in the world against females. In India, a woman is idolized as a goddess but in reality, we fail to recognize her as a human being first. The social structure of the country prefers males over females. Gender-based discrimination is a cultural system in India. Most families devour in celebrations when a son is born and if it is a girl then muted or no celebration is the rule. Poverty is also one of the root causes of trafficking. It is surprising to know that most of the traffickers are known faces that lure these innocent women with job opportunities or debt relief, eventually betray them and drop them in this dirty business. Sex trafficking victims are mostly young girls, as they are considered being less likely to carry sexually transmitted diseases.
Forms of Trafficking
Under the garb of religion, the age-old Devdasi System is still prevalent in India. Young girls are married off to temple deities and are forced to provide sexual services to the temple priests and high caste devotees. Many young girls are sold in those regions where the female ratio is less due to female infanticide. Children and women are also forced to beg on the streets. India is also troubled with the problem of Organ trade. In 2007 the World Health Organization described India as a “commonly known organ exporting country”, even though the law bans it. Many traffickers torture women through illegal organ transplants. The health and life of the victims are totally neglected in the process. Bonded labour is another gruesome way of exploiting trafficked women. According to the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, September Report 2017,, an estimated 24.9 million people are working as modern-day slaves today. Women here are mostly enlisted on construction sites, mines, agricultural fields, fisheries, and other tiring jobs. The situation of domestic servants is worse than expected. They are made to slog for hours, tortured physically and mentally, are given minimal or no food at all and are paid irregularly. A modern kind of slavery is practised in Tamil Nadu in the form of ‘Sumangali system’, whereby daughters of low caste families are asked to work in textile industries in exchange of some amount for their dowry. Women are also forced into illegal commercial surrogacy where they are compelled to deliver multiple babies, like breeding machines. Also, artificial hormones are injected to them during egg donation procedures. Out of all the forms, the most common form of trafficking in women is sex trafficking or flesh trade. Women are treated as commodities to satisfy one's carnal desire. .46% of women are dragged into immoral practices like prostitution, bar dancing, live sex shows, stripping, pornography, etc. From the year 2005 to 2014 many cases were reported in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Gujarat.
The Constitution of India strictly prohibits and punishes trafficking in humans and all forms of forced labour and slavery. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 also contains certain provisions in relation to it. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for compensation and rehabilitation for survivors of human trafficking and kidnapping. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 prevents and penalizes trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and provides for rehabilitative measures like protective homes and medical care to the survivors. The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976 provides for abolition and criminalization of bondage system. The Transplantation of Human Organ Act, 1994 also prohibits the trafficking of humans for illegal organ transplants. The Juvenile Justice Act, 2000; The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 prohibits child sexual abuse and exploitation including trafficking.
The Battle against Women Trafficking: Painful Stories
It is quite heartbreaking to know that innocent little girls are raped repeatedly to such an extent that their bodies cannot take it. Some of them die early while others are left with permanent reproductive damages, depriving them of their motherhood. If they refuse to fulfil the demand then they are threatened and beaten up very badly. They get impacted with sexual torture, deprived of adequate nutrition/diet and sleep leading to a lot of medical complications. Here are a few stories of women who although survived the nightmare but are still struggling mentally to come out of the painful memory:-
Rani (12 years old), from Uttar Pradesh, was kidnapped while she was fetching water from the well. Her parents started searching her desperately until one fine day they found her lying in a brothel. With the help of an NGO Guria, they were successful in rescuing her.
Monali (13 years old) from West Bengal was kidnapped from her home, tortured, abused and raped by her trafficker and was to be sold as a child bride. However, she managed to escape and was taken to the police by a cab driver who found her in a bad condition in a local market. She was then helped with the rehabilitation process by Suchetna Mahila Mandal, an organisation.
Rekha (19 years old) from Madhya Pradesh was taken to Mumbai for work by an agent from her village. She was working as a maid in a house. Her masters treated her very badly without food for days and burnt her with a hot iron on making any mistake. She, however, managed to escape from the place one day.
“They would beat me with belts and stub me with cigarettes to down my voice but I would keep screaming,” says a survivor from Delhi.
“They wanted me to obey them, if I didn’t, they said: ‘we own you because we bought you” says Saeeda, another survivor from Delhi.
Rights of Rescued Trafficked Women
Trafficking involves the violation of many Human Rights. Many International treaties require states to provide effective rights and remedies to the survivor within their territory. Once the information reaches the police team, there should not be any delay on their part to rescue the women. They may be kept hidden in cubicles, false ceilings, boxes, cupboards or toilets, so the team has to do a careful search in every corner. Once rescued the survivor should be transferred to a safer place away from the place of rescue and offenders without any public display. She should be immediately taken for the medical examination for determining her age, detecting injuries and presence of any sexually transmitted disease. The survivor has to be interviewed thoroughly or counselled with the help of physiatrists and forensic experts (if required) to bring out the facts. She is entitled to free legal aid and should be informed about her rights in the judicial proceedings. Proper rehabilitative measures in the form of protective homes or arrangements should be made to send her back to her native home. The rescued woman irrespective of the state or country of origin is entitled to all relief compensations. The survivor also has the right to the integration with her family members and society. The main object of this right is to prevent re-trafficking and eradicate social stigma against her.
Role of Judiciary
The Indian judiciary has played a major role in combatting the plague of trafficking. In the year 1990, the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment pointed out that the appropriate government should ensure care, protection, treatment, rehabilitation and development to the rescued women. In 1997, again the Supreme Court passed an order to set up an advisory committee to make suggestions on the eradication of child prostitution, to amend the existing law and to enact a new one. The court also took into consideration the right to privacy of the survivor and held that in-camera proceedings should be involved. The Court directed the National Human Rights Commission to monitor the rehabilitation of bonded labourers in the country. The implementation of Victim Protocol was demanded and compensation was ordered to be paid to the survivor. In the year 2011, the Supreme Court highlighted a scheme known as the ‘Ujwala Scheme’ for the rehabilitation of the sex workers who wish to leave sex work and provide conducive conditions to those who want to continue working there with dignity. The Supreme Court observed that immoral trafficking is now wide-spread. Women who are lured, coerced or threatened to join the business, should be given all protection.
Stories of Rescue-
Social activist Anuradha Koirala (71 years old), founder of Maiti Nepal, an organization, rescued over 12 thousand women from sex trafficking in the past 20 years.
Subhashree Ratan (25 years old), along with her father rescued over 2500 minors in West Bengal who were trafficked from their villages.
“Becoming a lawyer is my dream and bringing justice to those trapped in forced child prostitution is my goal. I want to punish those who did this to me”, says Lata, a survivor of trafficking.
“As long as we don’t work with our boys, trafficking won’t end”, says Dr.Smita Krishnan, Co-founder of Prajwala Foundation who herself is a survivor of rape. She has vowed to rescue others from trafficking.
Conclusion and Recommendations
After doing immense research on this topic, I am of the view that trafficking of women is not a novel concept. Today, it has emerged as organized crime, with diverse offences linked with each other. There are a lot of loopholes in the existing laws. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 mainly focuses on prostitution and neglects the other aggravated offences related to trafficking. It does not provide with a definition of the term ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ nor does it expressly mentions the rights of trafficked women. The punishments are also too low. There is no witness protection and in-camera trial provisions, because of which survivors hesitate to speak up against the crime. Also, the Devdasi system is not covered by the Act.
I believe there can be certain strategies adopted to prevent trafficking in women and children. First of all, gender discriminations and patriarchal mindset have to be uprooted from the society. Creating legal awareness is one of the most important ways to sensitize people to be vigilant about any such things happening around them. Secondly, the immigration officials must be active in detecting such cases on the borders. Thirdly, the conviction rate in India is very less and the punishments are also not stringent enough, so it is a wakeup call for all the law-enforcing authorities. Fourthly, at the lowest level police can tie-up with NGO’s and bust rackets. Helpline numbers can be provided at every corner to help any person in anguish. Fifthly, the rescued survivor must be protected at any cost with proper rehabilitative, compensatory and medical facilities. On 30th July (World Day against Trafficking) in the year, 2019 many female survivors of trafficking pleaded the Andhra Pradesh Government to help them as they were going through a lot of distress of being re-trafficked by their relatives. All this was due to a lack of rehabilitative facilities. Sixthly, educational and capacity building services can be provided to them to make them self-sufficient. Lastly, there has to be a proper registration of agencies recruiting girls for employment in the domestic field so that they are not deceived.
As far as the legislative progress is concerned, the former Women and Child Development Minister, Smt. Maneka Gandhi introduced The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill in the Lok Sabha, in July 2018, but it lapsed and could not be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It provided for a comprehensive rehabilitative procedure and a confidentiality clause. The bill is likely to be re-introduced in the Rajya Sabha soon.
All I have to say in the end is that these women cannot be blamed for what they have been through. Many of them were robbed of their innocence and dragged into this pit. Instead of repudiating them, let us all help them to overcome this agony, giving them an opportunity to relive their lives, standing on their own feet and make them believe that, “An empowered woman is powerful beyond measures and beautiful beyond description.”
 The National Crime Records Bureau, available at -https://feminisminindia.com/2020/07/30/infographic-human-trafficking-india/,
Visited on 03/07/2020 at 9.45 pm.  Dasra Report 2014- available at -https://the print.in/features/on-world-day-against-trafficking-in-persons-a-look- at-the-numbers-in-India/470219/ ,
Visited on 15/10/2020 at 1.50 pm.  Human Rights First-Human trafficking by the numbers, available at- humanrightsfirst.org, Visited on 02/07/2020 at 11.45 pm  United Nations Department of Human Health and Services (DHHS), United States Department of Justice (DOJ) -Free the Slaves, available at ceufast.com/course/human-trafficking, Visited on 02/07/2020 at 11.45 pm.  National Crime Records Bureau Survey 2005-2014, visited on 02/07/2020 at 10.30 pm.  Article 23, The Constitution of India, 1949.  Section 370 A- Exploitation of trafficked person, Section 366(A) and 366(B)-Procuration of Minor girls, Section 372,373 and 374- Selling and buying of persons-Penalises offenders with imprisonment up to 10 years and also with fine.  Section 357(A)-Victim Compensation Scheme.  Protective homes –Section 16(4) (b), 19 and 20; Medical Examination of survivor- Section 15(5a) and 16(4)(b).  Vishal Jeet v. Union of India and Others, AIR (1990) SC1412.
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 Prajwala v. Union of India,(2006)(9)SCALE,531.  Budhadev Karmaskar v.State of WestBengal,(2011)11SCC 538.  State of Maharasthra and another v. Mohd. Sajid Hussain Mohd S.Hussain, etc, Appeal (Crl) 1402 -1409 of 2007, delivered on 10/10/2007 Supreme Court of India.