Third edition of discussion on experiences in the Anti-Human Trafficking sector: Key Takeaways

The Movement and Prerana

Prerana, in collaboration with The Movement India, has been organizing Digital Tables since May 2020 to bring various partners in the field of anti-human trafficking together to deliberate on the issues relevant to the domain. Previously, two Tables were held in May and July respectively, to understand the impact of the health and economic crisis on the victims and those vulnerable to human trafficking, and the efforts taken by anti-human trafficking organizations at source and destination areas in light of COVID-19 respectively.

The third edition of the Digital Table was held on 6th November 2020, with nearly 30 organizations participating in the discussion. The objective was to understand and discuss the on-ground experience with regards to the implementation of recent state initiatives (advisories, directives, and orders) in the anti-human trafficking domain.

The Third Edition of the Digital Table featured the following areas of discussion –

  • Understanding the implementation of the Ministry of Home Affairs Advisory to strengthen Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) issued in July 2020
  • Discussing the implementation of Supreme Court Order dated September 2020 on Rehabilitation of Women in Red Light Area 
  • Discussing the NCPCR Directive dated September 2020 on the restoration of children in 8 States in the country

The discussion began with Ms. Priti Patkar, Executive Director, and co-founder of Prerana set the context for holding the Digital Table and emphasized the need for collaboration between partners in the field of anti-human trafficking. 

Ms. Kashina Kareem, Assistant Director at Prerana, presented a Desk Review of News articles that covered human trafficking-related news between May 2020 – October 2020. 22 news platforms were referred to collate the information. She shared that the information had not been corroborated by the Prerana team but was relevant in understanding the nature of the crime during the pandemic. 

Session 1: Understanding the implementation of MHA advisory to strengthen AHTUs

The Ministry of Home Affairs released on Advisory in July 2020 for Anti-Human Trafficking Units on combatting human trafficking amid COVID19. It sought that Anti-Human Trafficking Units be set up in all districts across the country. The Ministry has also allocated 100 crores from the Nirbhaya fund for the same. The discussion during this session focused on understanding the on-ground situation of AHTUs in light of the Advisory. The first session was moderated by Dr. Vijay Raghavan from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

The following are the key takeaways from this session –

  • While the Advisory has been released keeping the current situation of COVID-19 as the focus, it does not list any SOP, no way to mitigate any challenges pertaining to COVID-19.
  • One presenter shared their on-ground experiences from Goa, stating some of their challenges. The participant shared that AHTU sought women police officials to be deputed in the Unit but given that there was an existing deficit of women police personnel, this would cause under-staffing in AHTUs. 
  • When analyzing the funds for each district AHTU as per the Advisory, the amount would work up to around INR 75000 for each Unit, per year. There is no allocation for post-rescue follow up and assistance to the rescued person and experiences show that police personnel are likely to pay themselves for such costs. 
  • There is no mention of NGOs in the Advisory while the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, mentions the role of NGOs as a part of the Advisory Body as per Section 13. A participant suggested that NGOs should have been listed as a part of the integrated task force.
  • Point 7(x) of the Advisory states that the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS) should be used in locating and identifying victims. This would affect confidentiality and there is little clarity if the victim’s information is supposed to be shared with CCTNS. 
  • While Advisories are helpful, they are not legally binding, hence are an Ad Hoc provision.
  • Another presenter shared their experiences of working with AHTUs in Maharashtra, adding that the provision of convergence and coordination between stakeholders was a welcome move. The participant also shared that based on their experiences, the police had received no budget, hence had not implemented the same. A case was also shared where the Navi Mumbai AHTU had managed to rescue a trafficking victim within two weeks of receiving the information. 
  • A participant shared that Advisories are an important tool to engage with state governments and be used to lobby with the state govt, and in this case can also help in mobilization of resources at the district level.
  • A participant shared their experiences in West Bengal, stating that AHTUs act sensitively, and often take on investigations. The participant also shared the systems of notification of AHTUs that varied across states. Often the officials of AHTUs are deputed on Additional Charge, and hence unable to give due time and do justice to their role
  • A key recommendation has been that there is a need for greater resource allocation. There is also a need for resource mapping before allocation, up-gradation budget. Communications on Advisories must also be streamlined by the concerned authorities and mediatized to reach widely. The formation of AHTUs was laid out through a comprehensive scheme at the central level back in 2012. It is important and relevant that such Units are made a part of the legislation like the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956 through a relevant amendment for thorough implementation and utility. 
  • Staffing and resource crunch was stated as an overarching challenge in the formation of AHTUs.
  • There were also discussions around the new TIP Bill and the relevance of the bodies suggested under the last draft of the bill was touched upon. However, there is no formal update/ information from the MHA or the WCD on this front yet. 

Session 2: Discussing the implementation of SC Order on Rehabilitation of Women in RLA

Supreme Court Order (Criminal Appeal No, 135/2010)

Recognizing the plight of victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in the light of the current COVID-19 crisis, the Supreme Court by its order 29/09/2020 has directed to the States as follows: “The learned Additional Solicitor General and the learned counsel appearing for the State Governments are directed to get instructions regarding the modalities for distribution of monthly dry rations and cash transfer to the sex workers without insisting on proof of identity.” 

This session focused on understanding the on-ground experiences of organizations working with women in the sex trade and those located within red-light areas before and after the Supreme Court Order. The session was moderated by Ms. Aneesha Reuben from The Movement India.

The session began with Ms. Mugdha Dandekar presenting Prerana’s work in the red-light areas amid COVID-19 much before the Supreme Court Order. She also shared about meetings with the District Office regarding the provision of ration cards for women in the red-light areas. Steps taken by the District post the Supreme Court Order were also pointed out by Ms. Mugdha in her presentation. The following are the key takeaways of the session –

  • A participant shared that the Order could have been inclusive of trans people as well, and not be limited to women in the sex trade. The participant added that in their experience of working in Goa, no women in the sex trade had a Jan Dhan Yojana bank account.
  • Ground realities were discussed by the organization representatives post the Supreme Court Order. Since there has not been much movement in the districts where the participants came from, it was also discussed that NGOs could use social media especially Twitter, to reach out to stakeholders and lawyers (relevant to this case) to update them on the on-ground situation since the matter has been coming for hearing on a monthly basis before the Supreme Court. 
  • Rescued victims or victims not registered with the State AIDS Control Society may not be able to utilize the provisions, shared a participant.
  • It was concluded that while dry rations may have reached many of these women, through NGOs or through government interventions the issue of financial support remained pending. 
  • It was also realized that the State heavily depended on the NGOs to get information about the women in the sex trade and those rescued and rehabilitated.  
  • It was recommended that NGOs proactively find mechanisms to update the Court about the on-ground situation to ensure that the recommendations of the Court are acted upon and assistance reaches the communities.

Session 3: Discussing the NCPCR Directive on the restoration of children 

A directive by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on the restoration of children residing in Child Care Institutions was released in September 2020. This directive is to be implemented in 8 states of India, namely, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram. As per the directive, District Magistrates/ Collectors of these states are to ensure that the children living in the Child Care Institutions in these States return to their families. It further states that children who may not be sent back to their families must be placed for adoption, or in foster homes. Since child victims rescued from sex trafficking are admitted into CCIs for their rehabilitation, it was considered important to discuss the impact of such a directive on the victims rescued from the sex trade and rehabilitated through institutional care. 

The session was moderated by Ms. Kashina Kareem from Prerana.

The following are the key takeaways from the session –

  • Speaking about field implementation, a participant shared that they were being pressured to send children back to their families by the Child Welfare Committees. In some districts in certain states, there was immense pressure to empty the CCIs.
  • A participant shared that it is important to undertake restoration on a case-by-case basis. Poverty as a context to institutionalization could not be ignored, because it helped many children access educational, vocational, and other resources that they may not be able to otherwise. 
  • A participant from Andhra Pradesh shared that child care institutions were being vacated, presumably following the Directive. In some cases, parents had not been located while in some others, parents had refused to take custody of the children.
  • A participant shared the NCPCR Directive was in violation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 as it did not take the ‘best interest of the child’ into account.
  • There was some discussion around the Supreme Court Order (suo moto writ petition – April 2020) where they had directed CWCs to monitor the well being of children living in CCIs. 
  • A participant shared that these concerns had been brought forth in a discussion with NCPCR by a group of NGO representatives, who had shared that the Directive was an initiative towards monitoring Children’s Homes and in no way was an attempt to vacate the CCIs. The NCPCR claimed to be following the principles of family-based care as laid down in the JJ Act 2015. 

The discussion ended with a vote of thanks by Prerana and the Movement to all participants. This was the third discussion held by Prerana, and the Movement in 2020 to discuss the emerging issues in anti-human trafficking amid COVID-19.


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