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Akshyat Das; 2nd year; Soa national institute of law (SNIL)


In the vast and diverse landscape of India, the shadow of sex trafficking casts a dark and distressing pall over the lives of countless individuals, predominantly women and children. This pervasive issue transcends geographical boundaries, reflecting a complex tapestry of socio-economic disparities, cultural nuances, and systemic challenges. Despite progress in various domains, the underbelly of sex trafficking remains deeply entrenched, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive understanding, dialogue, and collective action to address this egregious violation of human rights.

Gauging the gravity of the issue

Trafficking refers to illegal trade which implies that human trafficking is illegal trade in human beings. According to UNODC, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception to exploit them for profit. Human trafficking is the third largest organised crime after trade in illegal drugs and arms. Moreover, owing to its mammoth population, bureaucratic lacunae, and widespread poverty caused by the failure of governmental mechanisms to ameliorate the pitiable conditions of the poor and intersectionality of various prejudicial rungs in the social ladder such as belonging to the discriminated castes, tribal and backward regions and gender disparity makes a large yet often overlooked section of the society vulnerable to horrors of human trafficking. It is revolting to the basic human nature to contemplate the gravity of this issue. It is revolting to know that India which ranks amongst the leading economies and global powers, has a shadow economy which is run by the blood and sweat of trafficked humans who are reduced to mere chattel and commodity. India ranks as a tier II country in human trafficking and organised crime, a rank higher than tier III countries like Libya and UAE. Numerically, it surpasses other countries and has an annual trade of 9 billion dollars only in sex trafficking, the data for the rest is difficult to achieve owing to the nature of this shady trade.( TIP, 2010)

Besides the purpose of prostitution which takes up the major share of the blame, organ procurement for transplant and labour for hazardous industries like glass, chemicals and explosives constitute the various niches where the commodified humans are destined to suffer. As a student of sociology, it is imperative to analyse its causes and disproportionate impact on the vulnerable sections of society.


Who are vulnerable?

Everyone irrespective of age, sex, caste and place of birth can be a victim. However, the institutionalised disparity amongst the various caste, sex, racial and regional identities and their unfortunate intersection deems young women and children belonging to the low castes and backward regions vulnerable to human trafficking, especially for the sex trade. This accursed combination has come up due to the rigid basis of stratification of Indian society. As advocated by Marxist sociologist Alexandra Kollontai, economic insufficiency is the root cause of evils such as prostitution and sex trafficking. It is poverty that compels a woman to sell her dignity and prostitute herself. Similarly, heart-wrenching stories of parents selling their children for a sack of rice unveil the all-encompassing hunger and poverty which consumes all those emotions which essentially constitute humans. Poverty in India is often the sole inheritance in the lower caste and tribal families. Thus, social status and the juxtaposition of several other factors enhance their vulnerability.

The Economics of Sex Trafficking

It is hard to digest it that India has a rampart trafficking trade which generates a recorded revenue of $9 billion and an estimated $360 billion is generated by enslaving young girls in brothels across the country( since victims are resold several times till, they reach their destination cities), which amounts to a fifth of the nation’s GDP.  This black money propels further corruption because many brothels in areas such as GB road , New Delhi are owned by politicians.( Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson Global March Against Child Labour, 2010)

80% of India’s sex workers i.e. 16 million women are victims of trafficking. ( Dasra, 2010). In the sex trade there is a high demand of young virgin girls since it is believed that sex with children has less risk of HIV infection and infact can even cure the disease. This is the reason why 40% of victims are adolescents and 15% of them are below the age of 15.( Hummingbird Trust, UK and Kamonohashi Project Japan, 2010)

The economics of sex trafficking is so profitable and alluring  and penalties so nominal that there is nothing to discourage the perpetrators of this crime. A brothel in Sonagachi or GB Road generates an annual revenue anywhere between 2 to 14 crore rupees( Dasra, 2010). The brothel owners secure for them a profit margin of atleast 70%. Further, they extort the sex workers by not paying them because of the debt they have incurred from them. Further the brothel owners keep a high profit margin so that they can restart their business after police raids.


Modus Operandi

According to reports, 60% of victims left their homes for a better life in cities, while the remaining 40% were abducted or duped with false promises of marriage and love (Global March Against Child Labour, 2010). Traffickers often have close ties with the victims' villages and families, luring poverty-stricken parents with promises of providing better lives for their children. Victims are then trafficked to cities, where their identities are forged, and they are sold to adoptive families who groom them until puberty and force them into prostitution.

The traffickers maintain a closely guarded network, selling victims from smaller to larger towns, where they are stripped, examined, and their prices double at each step. For example, a victim initially sold for ₹50,000 may cost ₹6 lakhs at the final destination (Pallabhi Ghosh, 2023). Their journey is marked by rape and abuse. Placement agencies, euphemisms for modern slave markets, scrutinize and categorize the victims based on their physical attributes, forcing some into prostitution, others into labour, and selling those deemed unfit for their organs. The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act of 1956 criminalizes trafficking and sexual exploitation, but a loophole regarding voluntary prostitution is exploited by traffickers to protect their trade (Budhadev Karmaskar vs. The State of West Bengal, 19 May 2022).

Legal Provisions in force for the regulation of Trafficking

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 aims to prevent the commodification of humans, particularly women and children as an object for sex in commercialised human trafficking nexus, while the doesn’t explicitly criminalise voluntary sex work, yet it forbids the activities surrounding it, such as soliciting and running of brothels, by application of the street rule.

Sec 2 defines brothel as any place used for sexual exploitation or abuse for commercial gain. Sec 5 penalises those who procure, induce, or take individuals for prostitution purposes with 3-7 years imprisonment and a fine. Recently, the Kerala High court expanded the interpretation of “procure” in Sec 5 to include customers seeking services of prostitutes. This ruling allows customers to be charged under Sec 5, however, they aren’t presumed to be guilty without a mandatory trial. However, High Courts like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have decided against prosecuting brothel customers under Sec 3-7 of the act, showing contrasting legal opinion.

The Supreme Court, through its recognition of prostitution as a profession, in its judgment in the Budhadev Karmaskar v State of West Bengal(2011), upholding the fundamental rights of sex workers under Art. 21, however, has made the ground fertile for unscrupulous persons to further their trafficking of innocent women, by forcing them to give false testimony that they are engaged in voluntary prostitution. However, in the brighter side, in cases such as Gaurav Jain v Union of India (1989), the Apex court secured the right to dignity and opportunity to the children of sex workers.

The state, under its initiatives like Ujjwala scheme, National Commission for women and NHRC recognition of sex workers as informal workers, has often endeavoured to rehabilitate and resocialise the sex workers in the mainstream society. However, societal want of awareness has put them in great distress due to stereotypical and judgemental attacks, lack of acceptance and integration by their own family and community.

Further, the state has established rescue and rehabilitation centres for victims of trafficking, where their physical and mental health is kept under constant care and attention. Further through the concept of zero FIR, many victims, too young to trace their place of residence, have been repatriated with their family, moreover, victim compensation, awareness workshops in villages in the source states of Eastern and Northeastern India and greater participation of civil society and human rights activists in the fight against this heinous crime are crucial for addressing this issue successfully. Finally, the grave and unfortunate nexus between perpetrators of trafficking and people with political and economical clout has existed as a death blow to every substantial step taken towards annihilation of the phantom of human trafficking for sex, the most ignominious expression of the society’s tolerance of crass injustice and inhumanity.




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