Prajwala v. Union of India
HRLN on behalf of Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organisation, files a PIL in the Supreme Court petitioning the Government to create a ‘victim protection protocol’ so as to protect the rights of victims of trafficking.
Existing laws do not protect the welfare of women and children who have been rescued from trafficking and sexual exploitation. Thus, Prajwala invoked Article 32 of the Constitution to file a Public Interest Litigation to force the Government to create a protocol for the rehabilitation of women and children who have been the victims of trafficking.
India is rife with trafficking and exploitation, particularly of women and children, which involves prostitution, pornography and sex-tourism. Traffickers often target women and children living in poverty, as they are vulnerable to exploitation. Of the millions of women and children trafficked annually, approximately 25 percent are children. The volume of trafficking in recent years has increased tremendously accompanied by a steady decrease in the average age of victims. Today, it is not unusual to find children as young as nine years being trafficked for sexual exploitation.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, allowed authorities to conduct raids on red light districts and arrest women working there. After paying a hefty fine, they were released into the same conditions where they were susceptible to the same people who had exploited them previously. No provision was made for their rehabilitation and protection. In 1996, authorities began a set of raids on red light areas in Mumbai in an attempt to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation. These raids still continue. While such raids are meant to curb trafficking and rescue, rehabilitate and restore victims, they have largely failed in their objective due to the government’s inability to offer any meaningful support and protection to victims rescued from commercial sexual exploitation. Thus, three-quarters of the women rescued return to the sex industry within a year, either voluntarily or by coercion from former employers. This is because brothel owners, pimps and traffickers have easy access to victims once they have been ‘rescued and placed in places of protection.
Victims may resist rescue because of their fear or mistrust of police officials who often treat them harshly and have been known to collude with brothel owners and pimps. Conditions in protection homes for women and children are inadequate. Strict rules and regulations make them feel imprisoned again and there is a severe lack of much-needed medical and mental health services. There is little or no follow up.
The ITPA, 1956, contains provisions for special courts to be set up by the state and the central governments and for summary trials to be directed by the state governments to ensure speedy disposal of trafficking offences. To date, none of these provisions have been enacted either by the states or the central governments. This makes the trial process in a trafficking case needlessly lengthy resulting in low conviction rates. The Committee on Prostitution, Child Prostitutes and Children of Prostitutes and the Plan of Action to combat Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children, Government of India Report, 1998, and the Government of India report in 1998 and the Kamat Committee of the National Commission for Women report in 2000 made recommendations regarding the rehabilitation of women and children, which were vague and have not been fully implemented. In 2003, the Government of Andhra Pradesh created a detailed policy to combat trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual purposes
The petitioner is calling for a ‘victim protection protocol’ with detailed national guidelines with regard to the pre-rescue, rescue and post-rescue stages involved in the rehabilitation of women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. A favorable decision by the Supreme Court will be a big step in addressing a legislative gap in efforts to eliminate trafficking on a national level. Thereby saving many women and children from a life of sexual servitude by providing them with the protection, assistance and skills they need to start a new life.
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