On June 30, the Draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 was announced by the Union government. However, stakeholders were given time until July 14 to submit their comments for consideration.
It soon met with opposition from sex worker organizations who sought more time to address the vagueness of the Bill and raised concerns about the scope of the legislation. Sex worker organizations also stressed that the short timeline did not allow them to take in feedback from all stakeholders across the country.
Despite the outcry, the government has listed the Bill for discussion in the impending Lok Sabha session without reserving space for the concerns that have been expressed. “To our utter shock, the Lok Sabha Bulletin Part II published on July 12, lists the ‘Trafficking Bill’ in the ‘Tentative List of Government Legislative and Financial Business expected to be taken up during next Lok Sabha for introduction, consideration and passing,” the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) said in a statement on social media.
Several activists also observed that legally, draft legislations must be in the public domain for 30 days. “The short notice given to stakeholders on a Bill as complex and far-reaching as the Anti-Trafficking Bill, in violation of the government’s own pre-legislative consultative policy of 2014, once again shows that the Ministry is not serious about consulting stakeholders,” read the statement from AINSW. This came as a swift blow as the Ministry of Women And Children has taken over two years to formulate the Bill but has provided less than two weeks for those who will be affected by it to respond and collaborate on it. The organization has also sent another letter to the Ministry to register their protest.
A press note issued by organizations from 17 states petitioning the Ministry also underlined that the primary contention against the Bill was that it criminalizes sex work without putting plans in place to rehabilitate sex workers who are minors or unwilling.
Another key problem highlighted is that the Bill mixes up the issues of trafficking and sex work. Members of the community stressed that there is fear that sex workers would either be seen as “victims” who need rehabilitation or traffickers if they help their peers.
Amit Kumar, the AINSW national programme coordinator, told the media that they were yet to receive a response from the Centre. Kumar remarked that this was a gross injustice to the community, which the Bill will have the most impact upon.
(Edited by Sanhati Banerjee)