NEW DELHI: Activists and civil society groups have asked the government to extend the time for submitting comments on the draft anti-trafficking bill by four weeks, saying the 10-day period originally provided by it does not do justice to the subject's complexity and importance.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development put the Draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 in the public domain on July 4 to invite suggestions from stakeholders.
The last date for offering suggestions and comments is July 14.
In the letter to the Women and Child Development Ministry, 80 civil society groups, health and social activists said, "The short notice given by the MWCD for submitting feedback does not do justice to the complexity and importance of the subject."
They said they are concerned that the draft bill conflates trafficking in persons with sex work, which may have significant consequences for the community.
"Our members, partners would like the opportunity to examine the bill and its clauses carefully in order to make comments and suggestions to the government.
"The tight deadline given by the MWCD does not allow us to communicate and consult with our groups and network, which are spread across the country including in towns and cities that are still under lockdown or restricted movement orders on account of the second wave of COVID-19.
Since the draft bill is only available in English, we also need time to factor in translation in regional languages," they added.
The draft bill proposes severe punishments for aggravated forms of trafficking.
The ministry has said the objective of the bill is to prevent and counter trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide care, protection and rehabilitation to the victims while respecting their rights and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them.
It also seeks to ensure prosecution of offenders and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Once finalised, the bill will be sent to the Union Cabinet for approval and then tabled in Parliament for passage.
It will apply to every offence of trafficking in persons with cross-border implications.
According to the draft bill, a person guilty of an offence of trafficking can be imprisoned for a term which shall not be less than seven years but may extend up to 10 years.
Such a person shall also be liable to a fine which shall not be less than Rs 1 lakh but may extend up to Rs 5 lakh.