ERODE: There is a wide gulf between National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures and reality with regard to cases of trafficking of women and children. The figures pertaining to Tamil Nadu show a sharp decline in the number of cases registered since 2016, but activists dispute claims that trafficking has reduced in the State, and say that the anti-human trafficking unit, which was set up in 2009, has become dormant.
According to NCRB, 9,564, 10,403 and 11,280 women were reported as missing in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, A total of 4,196, 4,271 and 4,519 children went missing during the same period. Whereas, a total of 577 cases were registered in 2015 and 434 in 2016. The number fell to 13 in 2017, 8 in 2018 and 16 in 2019.
This difference is because public and even enforcement agencies are not fully aware of the sections under which cases are booked in such crimes, said P Bala Murugan of Tamil Nadu Alliance, an umbrella organisation of civil society organizations working in the textile sector.
The Supreme Court while hearing a case in 2013 directed police that cases of missing children should be treated as abduction or trafficking until proven otherwise, Balamurugan said adding that was yet to become a reality.
After the IPC was amended in 2013 and trafficking cases were filed under section 370, police faced difficulties, including victims not coming to trial, changing testimony and lack of coordination with other State police, which resulted in slump in filing of trafficking cases, the activist said.
“There is a lack of awareness among the public as well as police officers about Section 370 of the IPC under which trafficking cases are registered. Thousands of children are rescued in railway stations every year, but only a handful of trafficking cases are registered. In many cases, thorough investigation is not done to identify the perpetrators,” he said.
A Devaneyan, a child rights’ activist from Thozhamai Trust, said that until people are made aware of Section 370 of IPC or an exclusive legislation on trafficking is brought in, the number of cases registered will continue to be minimal.
The lacuna in Section 370 of the IPC is that it does not address rehabilitation of rescued persons. “Currently, funds for rehabilitation are provided through the Victim Compensation Fund. Not even 100 victims have been awarded compensation from 2012 to 2019. In 19 States, out of the total allocation of Rs 544.53 crore, only Rs 128.27 crore has been utilised, said Bala Murugan.
New Bill offers hope
It is in this background that The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, introduced in the winter session of Parliament, offers hope. The Bill proposes a common law to address all forms of human trafficking — sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery and servitude, trafficking of human organs.
V Ramaraj, Member of Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights, has urged the Union government to include members of NCPCR and SCPCR in the national and state-level Anti-trafficking committees that would be constituted under the law.
Senior police officers, however, maintain that trafficking cases are registered if there is preliminary evidence. A majority of missing children are traced and trafficking cases can be registered only if there is a commercial angle, they added.