Prerana vs. Union of India & others: Seeking directions for framing guidelines for rescue and rehabilitation of victims trafficking

HRLN on behalf of PRERANA, a registered society and non- governmental organization, petitions guidelines and for the effective rescue and rehabilitation of victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, compensation to the victims, enforcement of the legal provisions, prosecution of the offenders and for preventive measures to be taken to eliminate trafficking. It is hoped that this PIL will lay down certain guidelines, which will provide relief to the victims and put an end to the violation of their fundamental human rights. The petitioner PRERANA is a registered NGO working since 1986 in Mumbai for the welfare and development of victims of commercial sexual exploitation. It has initiated enormous amount of anti-trafficking work and conducted rescue and rehabilitation operations. 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 of low social standing, living in poverty, as they are vulnerable to exploitation. Millions of women and children are trafficked annually, of which approximately 25 percent are children. Trafficking has increased in recent years with the average age of victims steadily decreasing. Today, it is not unusual to find children as young as nine trafficked for sexual purposes. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (1956) allowed the authorities to raid red light districts and arrest women working there. After paying a fine, these women were released back 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 the authorities began a similar set of raids on red light areas in an attempt to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation. These raids still happen today. While such raids are meant to curb trafficking and rescue, rehabilitate and restore victims, they have largely failed, as the Government does not offer any meaningful support and protection to victims who have been rescued from sexual exploitation. Thus, three-quarters of them 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 and mistrust of police officials who often treat them harshly and are sometimes known to collude with brothel-owners and pimps. Conditions in protective homes for rescued 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 and little follow up monitoring takes place. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956, contains provisions for special courts to be set up by the state and central governments and for summary trials to be directed by state governments to ensure the speedy trial of trafficking offences. To date, none of these provisions have been enacted either by the state or central governments. This makes the trial process in trafficking cases unnecessarily lengthy, and the end result is low conviction rates. The Committee on Prostitution, Child Prostitutes and Children of Prostitutes and Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children, 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. Existing laws do not protect the welfare of women and children who have been rescued from trafficking and sexual exploitation. Thus, PRERANA invoked Article 32 of the Constitution to file Public Interest Litigation to force the Government to implement existing laws that protect the rights of trafficked victims. Furthermore, trafficking contravenes Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution of India when victims are not rescued or rehabilitated and offenders are not punished. The petition highlights the government s failure to implement set laws regarding the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficking victims The petitioner together with the National Commission for women held 20 consultations with state's Women Commissions and others on the changes needed in law, policy and practice relating to commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. The petitioner is calling for: 1. Directions to the respondents to frame guidelines for the prevention of immoral trafficking. 2. Directions to the respondents to frame guidelines for the rescue, rehabilitation and relief of the victim of trafficking as stated in the petition 3. To set up a high power monitoring committee at center and state levels to monitor the implementation of anti trafficking legislation in the areas under jurisdiction. 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.