3 brothel visitors convicted in Bengal, activists say first such order in India

Date: November 18, 2019

Location: Kolkata, India

A fast track court in West Bengal’s East Midnapur district has sentenced three men to jail for three years for visiting a brothel under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, which anti-human trafficking activists said was probably first such conviction in India.

The conviction by the Haldia court on November 15 had held Biren Samanta, Khokon Mondal and Bapi Das guilty for promoting trafficking by visiting a brothel.

The section 5 (1) (d) of the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956, under which they were convicted, pertains to the punishment of anyone who “causes or induces a person to carry on prostitution.”

In his order, judge Anil Kumar Prasad also punished brothel owner SK Pacha and manager Sahadev Maity with 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 47,000, and five other employees with seven years of imprisonment and fine.

“Conviction of customers for trafficking is very, very rare in India. This order could act as precedence,” said Dilip Shee, the public prosecutor in this case. “For West Bengal, this is the first case and probably also the first in the country,” Shee said.

In 2009, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had raided a brothel in Haldia and rescued 15 victims, including 12 minors. Most of them were trafficked from Nepal, the charge-sheet in the case said.

Among the 12 children, two survivors, testified in the court against the accused. The survivors were repatriated back to Nepal in 2014 and were placed in an aftercare home in Nepal.

Activists said the order would help discourage customers from demanding sex from minors and would curtail demand for sex workers, a reason for human trafficking in India.

“Globally, the rate of conviction of customers is low. The sex-trafficking of minors is a thriving business generating billions of US dollars because of the purchasing power of the customers,” International Justice Mission’s (IJM) director operations (Kolkata), Saji Philip, said.

“We hope that this judgement will prove to be useful not just in India but also for law enforcement agencies around the world,” Philip said in Kolkata.

Rishi Kant, one of the founder members of the Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini, said the Haldia court’s order could have far-reaching implications.

“We will place this verdict before the judges (in other courts) to show precedence,” Kant said.

Activists said that earlier various courts in the country, including Karnataka High Court (December 7, 2017) and Gujarat High Court (May 2017), had said the immoral trafficking act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions cannot be made applicable against the customers at brothers.

Karnataka High Court judge justice KN Phaneendra had ruled: “Though it is felt by this Court on various occasions that the customer virtually encourages prostitution, but in the absence of any specific penal provision, it cannot be said that he is liable for any prosecution for the above said offences.”

He had mentioned that sections Sections 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the immoral trafficking act was not applicable to those visiting brothel or a sex worker.

Now, activists and law enforcers said it would change as Haldia’s court decision was the first instance of conviction of customers under the immoral trafficking law.

Read the Hindustan Times (Source) Article here.