India: Reform anti-trafficking laws to better protect sex trafficking victims




               Photo ©Bernard Henin
While actual numbers are difficult to obtain, government and NGO reports suggest that hundreds of thousands to millions of women and girls are prostituted in India (median age of entry is 11 years old), many of whom are victims of sex trafficking. Despite the high prevalence, however, very few cases of sex trafficking are actually reported and prosecuted.

On the recommendation of the Verma report, the Government of India recently adopted anti-trafficking provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, to conform to the internationally-recognized definition of the crime of trafficking as outlined in the Palermo Protocol. However, India’s other anti-trafficking legislation, which includes more comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) of 1956, has not been changed in nearly thirty years. Therefore, Equality Now and Apne Aap are calling on the government to amend the ITPA by including specific provisions that will improve anti-trafficking efforts, protect children and survivors and address other shortcomings still remaining. Amending this Act will put India in line with its international legal obligations under the Protocol.


I support the cause to end sex trafficking in India and applaud the amendments made to the Indian Penal Code and other criminal laws by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, which will end legal impunity for most forms of rape and sexual violence against women and girls.

However, in order to strengthen the laws and ensure that traffickers, pimps, buyers and others exploiting those in prostitution will be prosecuted and convicted, I respectfully urge you to amend the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) to include the following provisions.

1. Ensuring legal protection and removing criminal sanctions from women and children in prostitution. Prostituted women and children must be able to seek the help and protection of the police without fear of being prosecuted. To achieve this, Section 20 (“Removal of prostitute from any place”) and Section 10 (“Detention of prostitute in a corrective institution”) of the ITPA must be removed entirely.

2. Criminalization of pimps and brothel keepers, not women or children in prostitution. The new measures in the IPC, inexplicably, do not include the offence of pimping and touting, which is completely contrary to India’s requirements to punish traffickers under the Palermo Protocol. Section 8 of the ITPA must be reworded to include the following language:

“Whoever commits an act or acts of pimping or touting for the purpose of sexual exploitation or prostitution of another person shall be punishable on first conviction with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to ten years, and also with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.

Whoever commits an offence under clause (1) above for the purpose of sexual exploitation or prostitution of a minor shall be punishable on first conviction with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life and also with fine which may extend to two lakh
[two hundred thousand] rupees.”

3. Punishment of those who pay for sex. According to Apne Aap, very few Indian women, and no Indian children, freely offer commercial sexual services to men. The vast majority are victims of trafficking who are being forced to earn a living. Men who abuse their economic power to sustain this industry are perpetuating the exploitation of the most vulnerable people in society. The law must, therefore, criminalize those who pay for sex, especially those who pay for sex with children. The following provision must therefore be added to section 5(b) the ITPA:

“(1) Any person who purchases, or attempts to purchase, another person, on making or agreeing to make monetary payment or payment in kind, for sexual use or sexual exploitation, shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than six months and may extend up to two years and also with fine which may extend up to twenty thousand rupees, and upon second or subsequent conviction shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than two years and may extend up to five years and also with fine which may extend up to fifty thousand rupees.

(2) Any person who commits an offence described under sub-clause (1) with respect to a minor shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year and may extend up to four years, and also with fine which may extend up to rupees one lakh, and upon second or subsequent conviction shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than four years and may extend up to ten years and also with fine which may extend upto rupees two lakhs
[two hundred thousand].”

4. Strict liability for traffickers and buyers of a minor regardless of whether the perpetrators knew the victim’s age. Anyone “buying” or “selling” a minor in order to exploit them in prostitution, or “buying” sex in exchange for money from a minor, should be penalized. “I didn’t know she was not 18” or “she said she was 25” should not be allowed as defenses for perpetrators. Thus, the following provision must be added to section 22 of the amended ITPA:

“When any offence under this Act or under Section 370 or Section 370-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is alleged to have been committed against a minor, the lack of knowledge of the accused regarding the age of the victim, or misrepresentation by the victim or a third party that he or she was eighteen years of age or older at the time of the offence, shall not be permitted to be raised as a defence.”

5. Establishment of a fully government-funded Trafficking Victims Rehabilitation and Welfare Fund. Provisions must be made in the law for real and sustainable rehabilitation in women-friendly shelter homes, which provide necessary linkages to various schemes and programs that trafficked women and children can benefit from.

Enacting these changes to the ITPA will make clear that the Government of India has a zero tolerance approach towards trafficking and exploitation while seeking to protect the women and children who are victims of these heinous crimes. This is a matter of great urgency as has been pointed out by the Verma Committee Report and by Honorable members of the Cabinet. We add our voices to those of these eminent parliamentarians and members of the judiciary, along with the voices of those who cry out from behind the closed doors of their bondage in sexual slavery.

Yours with hope,
Citizens of India & Global Citizens
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