Prof. Ajailiu Niumai, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad (UoH) delivered an invited Public Lecture on Current Trends of Human Trafficking and Laws in India at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia on June 28, 2023.

This event was sponsored by The Gender Institute, ANU, Canberra. Prof. Kamalini Lokuge, who leads the Humanitarian Research Program at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra welcomed and introduced Prof. Ajailiu Niumai. Prof. Niumai highlighted the various laws that govern the criminal activity of human trafficking in India. She delved into the nature and magnitude of human trafficking in India and how the modus operandi of the traffickers’ changes in contemporary society. She mentioned that the most vulnerable people lack social and political will and the victims of human trafficking are not only children, girls, and women but men too. She raised a question on how effective is the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to combat and prosecute human traffickers? She opines that the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) is an outcome of an amendment of the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956 (SITA). Niumai argued that many states in India have no separate legislation to deal with human trafficking. Hence, human trafficking cases across India were registered under ITPA as it is the only legislation that deals with commercial sexual exploitation. The main purpose of this law is to stop immoral trafficking and prostitution in India which falls under the feminist abolitionist approach. However, this Act is more aggressive than progressive since the victims of immoral trafficking and sex workers are subjected to harsh treatment without empathy by the law enforcement agency. They would be arrested and not treated as victims of crime. Therefore, there is a lack of an empathetic approach toward them and as a result, the regulationist feminist approach advocate for legalizing sex work. Niumai said that all trafficked victims in sex work did not enter the profession of their own volition, but they were deceived and coerced.

Niumai argued that ITPA and IPC are related to prostitution in public spaces only, and they are not effectively implemented. ITPA, the Protection of Children and Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, and Section 366 of IPC pertaining to abduction are the major sections that are invoked for cases relating to human trafficking. She also argued that ITPA has not made any provisions for the NGOs to involve in anti-human trafficking initiatives. Another major point that has been excluded in ITPA is the age verification of trafficked victims. The age of the trafficked victim is a vital variable to examine the guilt of the accused. ITPA is one of the most important laws on trafficking in India, but it has no provision to protect the trafficked victims nor confiscate the profits accumulated by the traffickers.

Niumai concluded her lecture by stating that the laws on human trafficking are not widely enforced and implemented against the traffickers and, this is evident from the low conviction rate of 16 percent only in India in 2021-22. Additionally, the law enforcement agency is unable to substantiate its findings and claims related to the traffickers in court. Another reason for the low conviction rate of traffickers is the law enforcement agency’s insensitivity in handling the victims, fear of threats by the traffickers and political interference, insufficient evidence to prove the exploitation, and fear of trafficked victims complaining due to fear of re-victimization and the like. She opines that the government of India’s sponsored Anti-Trafficking Units continues to thrive in every state in India, although some units in each state are not functioning properly. Naturally, it is challenging for universal laws on human trafficking to be implemented effectively across India since there is wide regional and cultural diversity. But she urged her audience to do their part by spreading awareness, doing research and publishing, and influencing the policy makers.