Editorial 17th August, 2018

A Comprehensive Understanding Of Child Trafficking.

Every 8 minutes, a child goes missing in India.

Trafficking of human beings, especially of women and children, has become a matter of serious national and international concern. It is a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Trafficking of children is a massive organized crime scene and a worldwide phenomenon affecting a large number of boys and girls every day. Children and their families are often lured by the promise of better employment and a more prosperous life far from their homes and others are kidnapped and sold.

Trafficking deprives children of a family environment, forcing them to work in sectors where working conditions and the approach of employers towards them violate their human rights and freedom. Children, boys and girls, are used in illegal activities like prostitution, begging, pickpocketing, drug couriering, bonded labour, and are also often forced into early marriages, etc. It hurts the child’s mental and physical health and they lose their childhood.

What is Trafficking?

According to United Nations’ Palermo protocol, “Trafficking in persons can be defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation should include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

Causes of Trafficking

The causes of global trafficking are diverse and complex, but most notably include poverty, lack of opportunities, the economic gains to be made through the exploitation of children, entrenched gender discrimination and discriminatory cultural practices. Human trafficking, over 20 % of which is trafficking in children, is believed to be a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Over the last decade, the dimension of human trafficking in India has increased, though the exact numbers are not known. It is one of the most lucrative criminal trades, next to arms and drug smuggling.

What are children trafficked for?

  • Labour
  • Bonded labour
  • Domestic work
  • Agricultural labour
  • Construction work
  • Carpet industry, garments industry, etc.
  • Illegal Activities
  • Begging
  • Organ trade
  • Drug peddling smuggling
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Forced prostitution
  • Socially and religiously sanctified form of prostitution
  • Sex tourism
  • Pornography
  • Circus, dance troupes
  • Camel jockeys

The magnitude of the problem

Child trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime in India. According to UNICEF, 12.6 million children are engaged in unsafe occupations while NHRC of India stated 40,000 children are abducted each year, out of which 11,000 are untraced. Every 8 minutes, a child goes missing in India. Human trafficking is on the rise, and nearly 60% of victims of trafficking are below 18 years of age (NCRB 2005).

NHRC has stated in its report ‘Trafficking in Women and Children’, that the population of women and children in sex work is in between 70,000 and 1 million, and of these, 30% are 20 years of age. Nearly 15% began sex work when they were below 15 and 25% entered between 15 and 18 years (Source: Mukherjee & Das 1996).

According to NCRB reports in 2010, almost one in every three missing children were untraceable and in 2013, one in two missing children were lost forever. In 2016, 63,407 children were missing in the country. Of these, 41,067 were girls and 22,340 were boys. Children are trafficked not only for the sex trade but also for other forms of non-sex based exploitation that includes servitude of various kinds, such as domestic labour, agricultural labour, begging or even for organ trade and false marriage.

Legal framework

India has a fairly wide framework of laws enacted by the Parliament as well as some State Legislatures, apart from provisions of the Constitution, which is the basic law of the country.

Trafficking is prohibited by the Indian Constitution. The right against exploitation is a Fundamental Right guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 23(1), which provides that “traffic in human beings and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law”.

There are 25 provisions relevant to trafficking in the Indian Penal Code, significant among which are: section 366A – which makes the procuration of a minor girl from one part of India to another a punishable offence; section 366B – which makes the importation of a girl below the age of 21 years punishable; Section 374 allows for punishment for compelling any person to labour against their will.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956

In 1986, SITA (Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act) was drastically amended and renamed the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. It is a special legislation that deals exclusively with trafficking.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) Section 12 (a), (b) and (c)

Although while this law is essentially about prohibiting child marriage, there is recognition that there is a lot of trafficking for and through marriage. Therefore, it categorically states that child marriage is recognised as invalid, especially where some of the following means are used for the purpose of marriage: use of force or, inducement, kidnapping, sale or trafficking

The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 amended in 2016

The Act prohibits the employment of children in the specific occupations set forth in Part A of the schedule of the Act. It lays down the conditions of work of the children, and as per the Act, no child can work for more than three hours, after which an interval of rest for at least one hour is stipulated.

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act)

POCSO is one of the most recent legislation to deal with the crime of child sexual abuse. It brings in more stringent punishments and covers a wide range of sexual offences against children. Often, children are sexually abused either in the process of trafficking or after the process of trafficking. POCSO, being a special law with severe punishment provisions, has a greater role to prosecute both the actual perpetrators of sexual abuse and the traffickers who can be booked for abetment.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 amended in 2015

This Act was passed in consonance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The focus of this act is to provide for the proper care, protection and treatment of the child’s developmental needs and adopts a child-friendly approach.

Goa Children’s Act, 2003

This Act addresses several child rights in an integrated manner. The features of this act are:

  •  Trafficking was given a legal definition for the first time in Indian jurisprudence.
  • The definition of sexual assault was expanded to incorporate every type of sexual exploitation,
  • The responsibility for ensuring the safety of children on hotel premises was assigned to the owner and the manager of the establishment. For example, photo studios are now required to periodically report to the police that they have not shot any obscene photographs of children

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018

The Lok Sabha passed a comprehensive law to deal with the menace of human trafficking by providing for confidentiality of victims, witnesses and complainants, time-bound trials, repatriation and rehabilitation services for the victims.

Currently, India uses different laws to deal with human trafficking cases depending on the facts of the case. The police use the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act to raid brothels and rescue the women in it, while in other cases, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is used to prosecute traffickers.

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, when enacted will be the only legislation dealing with all form of human trafficking.

International laws

International laws lay down standards that have been agreed upon by all countries. By ratifying an international law or convention or a covenant, a country agrees to implement the same. To ensure compatibility and implementation, the standards set forth in these international conventions are to be reflected in domestic law. Implementing procedures are to be put in place as needed and the treaties must be properly enforced. The following are the most important International Conventions regarding trafficking of children:

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.
  • The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, 2000.
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, (CEDAW) 1979.
  • The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
  • Declaration on Social and legal principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with special reference to foster placement and adoption nationally and internationally, 3 December 1986.
  • SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare, 2002.

Combating Trafficking

Prevention of human trafficking requires several types of intervention. Prevention as a strategy has to focus on areas of sensitization and awareness among the public, especially those vulnerable pockets of trafficking at source areas as well as the convergence of development services to forestall conditions responsible for it.

Role of the State

  • The government should strengthen the law enforcement agencies and implement existing laws to protect children from trafficking.
  • The government should create compulsory high-quality education, employment opportunities as well as income generation programmes and produce relevant IEC materials. They should promote sensitization programmes for teachers in government schools, parents and community workers.
  • The government should include gender-centred education curricula in schools and introduce subjects of child sexual abuse and trafficking.
  • The governments of different nations must share the information with each other to evolve a programme that will help both the countries in preventing trafficking.

Role of NGOs

  • The community should be sensitized about trafficking and should be motivated to keep a watch in the community for irregular movement of child victims to and from the area of their possible traffickers and hideouts.
  • NGOs working in rural areas should ensure that parents are aware of safe migration practices.

Role of Media

Media attention reaches several hundred thousand viewers and should, therefore, serve the following important functions:

  • The media should transmit an appropriate message to ensure that the victims learn they are not alone.
  • Victims can be made aware of places and institutions where they can seek help.
  • Create awareness that human trafficking is inappropriate, illegal and has negative consequences. Wide publicity should be given to legal and penal provisions against trafficking and the modus operandi of the traffickers through radio, television, etc.

Awareness and Advocacy

  • Awareness and advocacy are required at the policy level i.e. NITI Aayog, bureaucrats, politicians and the elite of society. Awareness at the local level, in the community through workshops, songs, drama, poems, meetings, leaflets and posters, especially in rural areas, is also required.
  • The role of gender in daily life, training programmes and activities for gender sensitization must be conducted by NGOs. The key to preventing trafficking in children and their exploitation in prostitution is awareness among the children, parents and school teachers.
  • The government must launch media campaigns that promote children’s rights, elimination of exploitation and other forms of child labour.
  • Police advocacy is an important intervention that has to be fine-tuned.


Trafficking in human beings, especially children, is a form of modern-day slavery and requires a holistic, multi-sectoral approach to address the complex dimension of the problem. It is a problem that violates the rights and dignity of the victims and therefore requires essentially a child’s rights perspective while working on its eradication. In the fight against trafficking, government organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society, pressure groups, international bodies, etc., all have to play an important role. The law cannot be the only instrument to take care of all the problems.

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