Aditi Tandon in THE TRIBUNE
Faced with one million women and children into sex work and thousands entering the system every year, India today got the United National Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to partner with it in an attempt to nail the trend at source. Signing the MoU with UNIFEM on government’s behalf today, the National Commission for Women chairperson Girija Vyas said the commitment was to prevent trafficking at source areas, beginning from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, which account for bulk of trafficking cases. The desire is also to prevent the increasing feminisation of HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The project will, for the first time, involve panchayats in anti-trafficking efforts, its goal being the creation of institutionalised prevention mechanisms to stop trafficking at source areas by 2015. Fighting stereotypes that heighten gender bias, and developing the skills of 600 women and girls are also listed as part of the MoU objectives. Boys won’t be covered, given UNIFEM’s women-centric approach. Strangely, though, resources for the new project are still awaited, with UNIFEM regional programme director, South Asia Anne Stenhammer today saying she had asked donors for help. The last such anti-trafficking effort in India was supported by the US State Department.
“We don’t know whether they would continue to fund the effort. We will have to get other donors on board,” she told The Tribune, hoping funds would not be a problem, given India’s commitment to the cause. The expert, however, highlighted the urgency of passing the amended Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), which remains stuck for cabinet clearance, following lack of consensus among ministers on whether a client seeking sexual favours should be penalised under the altered provisions.
The amended law lists Section 5C, which seeks punishment for anyone who visits a brothel for the purpose of sexual exploitation of a victim of trafficking. Within the GoM, which was earlier debating the matter, the current HRD minister Kapil Sibal was opposed to the “client penalising” move. Former health minister Anbumani Ramadoss also disagreed with it, saying it would push sex work underground, increasing victims’ vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
With matters stuck there, India has been unable to even ratify the UN Anti-Trafficking Treaty which it has signed. For ratification to happen, India must first have a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in place. That, so far, is out of sight, with the existing ITPA barely addressing trafficking issues, save brothel-based prostitution, which is minimal in India.
“It is time we approached this issue from the perspective of exploiting labour, trafficked for all kinds of work. Once the focus shifts to overall trafficking which is not necessarily for the purpose of brothel-based prostitution, it would be easier to figure out why we need to change ITPA,” experts said. Vyas also reiterated the need to penalize clients instead of victims of trafficking. With the buck continuing to be passed, trafficking scenario is becoming increasingly grim with each passing year. Under ITPA, 1956 alone, 3,568 cases were registered in 2007, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 61 girls faced importation.
New Delhi, February 1
Faced with one million women and children into sex work and thousands entering the system every year, India today got the United National Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to partner with it in an attempt to nail the trend at source.