The coronavirus and the pandemic-induced lockdown resulted in a dip in child trafficking cases across India. After registering a growth of 2.8% from 2,837 cases in 2018 to 2,914 in 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau recorded 2222 child trafficking cases in 2020- a decline of 23.75%.
Even though there is a dip in official numbers, activists believe that the pandemic has led to an aggravation of the vulnerabilities of the marginalised children in India. Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a sister organization of KSCF has rescued more than 9000 trafficked children and 260 traffickers from trains, buses and factories along with law-enforcement agencies since the beginning of the pandemic from across the entire country.
Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, which covers the anti-trafficking legislation in India, has been criticised over the years for being more criminal-centric and victim-centric and offers vague answers to rehabilitation protocols of victims. In 2018, the then Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi introduced The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha but was never tabled in Rajya Sabha and it lapsed with the dissolution of the last parliament.
A new draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 has been introduced which covers the various aspects of trafficking by including various offences pertaining to trafficking, including aggravated forms of trafficking. It creates a dedicated institutional mechanism at the district, state and national level to prevent and counter-trafficking, and also for the protection and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.
In July 2021, Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi along with members of the civil society organisations and survivor leaders has demanded urgent passage of the Anti-Trafficking Bill 2021. The fight for a stronger law against trafficking gained popularity in 2017 when 12 lakh Indians along with Satyarthi marched across 22 states, covering 12,000km demanding changes to the existing bill.
Speaking about the importance of the Bill, Satyarthi had told IANS, "A strong anti-trafficking law is the moral and constitutional responsibility of our elected leaders, and a necessary step toward nation-building and economic progress. As long as children are bought and sold at a lesser cost than cattle, no country can call itself civilised. COVID-19 has caused a rise in trafficking, especially of women and children. We cannot take this lightly".
He continued, "A law for prevention, timely investigation, punishment for traffickers, and the protection and rehabilitation of survivors is a matter of urgency. I call on all parliamentarians to pass a strong & comprehensive antitrafficking law in the upcoming session of Parliament. Our children, their freedom and dignity cannot wait."
The Trafficking in Persons Bill, 2021 is yet to be passed in both houses of the parliament.