By Dr AP Maheshwari
On the occasion of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which is falling on the 11th January 2022, it is time for all of us to revisit both, the gravity of the whole issue and the renewed efforts that are required at various levels to contain it. The problem is no longer limited only to sexual or commercial exploitation or forced labour in certain sectors for profit, it has now gone far beyond that. It has merged with other types of trafficking; be it drugs, weapons or counterfeit currencies providing a further boost to the menace generated by the globally networked criminal syndicates as well as different terror modules.
Socio-economic vulnerabilities, inequities and marginalities definitely facilitate the game plans of local predators but now to add further to the woes they are being governed, controlled and driven by larger players whose elimination calls for different strategies. Allurements for overseas jobs and series of enormous remittances, besides exploitation and radicalization have been unearthed during investigations of various terror attacks. Secondly, the online trafficking and exploitation has given a different twist to the whole scenario where the victim is not even aware that he or she is actually being exploited, rather they may even willingly cooperate with the exploiter. Investigations in many such cases have been an absolute eye opener. The cyber platforms too have now assumed global dimensions, making it difficult to detect, prevent and punish the guilty. Thirdly, the entire counter response needs to be made much more inclusive and comprehensive. In other words, it should be increasingly victim centric and not simply limited to taking action against the perpetrator. This calls for a holistic eco-system approach which must ensure integration of various vectors that re-empower the victim. This would include legal aid to the victims, their care and rehabilitation, health and recuperation and re-settlement in life so as to obviate any possibility of re-trafficking. Fourthly, when we talk of the victim-oriented ecosystem, let us first view the perpetrators’ ecosystem on which they thrive. In this context, multi-lateral cooperation between countries, coordination via UN agencies, regional cooperation, activation of integrated financial task forces and various anti-terrorism efforts become really crucial. These arenas nevertheless remain very complex with a constant need for real time monitoring backed by strong data bases, vibrant strategies and intelligent diplomatic interventions. The apex agencies at the national and international levels thus have an extensive agenda before them. Fifthly, amidst the immense challenges the global community is facing, given a grossly estimated 150 billion dollar human trafficking business, inter-agency coordination and capacity building at global, national as well as local level in an optimal manner continues to remain a major concern. Sixthly, trafficking needs to be analyzed well in terms of sexual trade, that may be willful or compelled; child labour that may be under duress or as a wage earner impelled by poverty; forced marriage of girls under certain socio-economic conditions or such similar variants. Do the law enforcement agencies understand the concept of freedom and choice that a conscious civic society would find in order? Are they adequately sensitive to the situation? On the contrary, some of the researchers find evidence of further exploitations by law enforcers themselves. The problem of refugees, illegal migrants and their exploitation too calls for a cogent policy response. Last but not the least, the recent siege laid on the society by covid onslaught has reportedly resulted in further unemployment, say around 2-3 crores people in India itself. Twenty one percent increase in child labour, seventeen percent increase in forced marriage of girls and such similar figures are presently being quoted which could actually be an under estimate. This would be in addition to the deemed regular trafficking. Some of these estimates tell us that there are already 2 crore plus commercial sex workers and nearly 80% of them are there against their wish. Every hour 4 girls are inducted into this trade and 3 out of them are hapless victims.
It is now not merely a question of threatened human rights or the protection of victims, but also the urgency to protect the Nation. One doesn’t know how many sleeper cells and proxy war agents could be infused within the territories. The problem is grave and calls for a multi-pronged approach.
The foremost and most realistic step we can take is to create an AWARENESS: an awareness at home, amongst parents as well as children; awareness at school and an awareness in the community at large. This awareness has to be in real time in actual life as well as on the virtual platforms. We need to cover all the vulnerable areas. Today, with covid piloted learnings, life has shifted to the digital platforms. How radicalization as well as cognitive molding is very conveniently done on such platforms along with pseudo-visual impacts that are actively created needs our immediate attention.
It is imperative that we eliminate all types of gender inequalities, hate environment, cognitive addictions and all forms of exploitations. Several NGOs are undertaking these tasks and they are being actively supported by the governmental agencies. MHA as well as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment are constantly creating favorable policies and providing a supportive framework. The websites of these ministries regularly indicate the updated positions. The opening up of Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTU) is one such step.
However, the cultural transformation towards collaborative functioning by multiple agencies still remains an unfortunate casualty. We still work in silos or refuse to take a comprehensive view. Several cases suffer owing to a lack of coordination between the central and state agencies, in particular the border areas. We as a society need to appreciate the beauty of the federal system. The local vested interests need to be prevented from making it go defunct. Low capacity-building of the local investigating agencies at times also impedes its effective working.
Lately many legal amendments have been carried out in various acts including ITPA, juvenile justice Act, POCSO and even IPC and CrPC. However, the operational entities in the legal ecosystem still need to be further strengthened in terms of awareness, appropriate tools and skill sets. The varied areas of forensic evidence, cyber architecture, video trials, and collection of clues from across various global agencies, evolution of different protocols to meet legal tests of relevance, validity and integrity need to be constantly revamped.
We need to intensify our efforts in Mission Mode as the fact remains that really no big syndicate or network has yet been busted and liquidated. Only isolated couriers have been nabbed. Even the conviction rate in many such cases unfortunately has not even been one percent.
We must do it proactively lest human beings themselves be used against human beings. We already stand witness to ‘suicide bombers’ and the most recent is the baffling biological nightmare still looming large across the globe.
(The author is – Former DG, Bureau of Police Research & Development and DG CRPF. And, Internal Security, Policing & Crisis Management Expert. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).