MHA advises states to accelerate setting up of AHTUs in the wake of the pandemic

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, a surge in human trafficking is being expected. Keeping this situation in mind, the MHA has written to the States and Union Territories to fast track the setting up of AHTUs and improving the existing ones.

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In the ongoing situation of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has advised the States and Union Territories to set up Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs)across all the districts and also upgrade the infrastructure of the pre-existing ones.

THE AHTUs are an integrated task force to prevent and combat human trafficking. The task force consisted of trained representatives from the police, women and child development and other relevant departments as well as the NGOs, and was established in the year 2007.

On March of this year, the government released an amount of Rs 100 crore from the Nirbhaya fund to set up AHTUs around all the districts of the country. Although the Central Government has provided the States and TUs with some amount of financial assistance, it is their responsibility to dispatch appropriately skilled labour to the units.

Although India is the largest democracy, our country is plagued with poverty and lack of proper education which result in numerous human rights violations, especially crimes against women. As per the reports of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were nearly 4000 cases of human trafficking in 2018, and around 99% of it was internal trafficking. 92% of the people trafficked are women and children. But these numbers do not account to all of the actual traffickings that takes place in the country. These are only the statistics of the instances when trafficking has been reported. Human trafficking in India affects about 20 to 65 million people. Over 70,000 children in India are working under bonded labour. The naïve and uneducated children are an easy target for the traffickers.

In India, there are currently around 330 AHTUs which work as the confluence centres for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Ministry of Labour and External affairs to combat human trafficking. The States are required to evolve a co-ordination mechanism for the smooth sailing of the same. It should be monitored periodically by the highest level of officials of the particular State.

“Domestic violence, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect and other forms of trauma and violence makes a person vulnerable to human trafficking,” the advisory from MHA said. They also added “Traffickers often exploit the vulnerabilities of people by making false promises of a new job, better income, better living conditions and support to their families etc. While such promises of perpetrators appear legitimate to people, unfortunately, it makes many men, women, and children easily fall prey exploitation.”

Experts have welcomed this advisory, and say that the situation in the wake of the pandemic is ripe for the traffickers to exploit due to massive job losses and an expected increase in child labour.

There should be community awareness programmes and engagement at the local level with panchayats. Appointments of leaders and village wards are also recommended. The rural population is more prone to human trafficking since they are always hopeful and inclined towards the idea of going out somewhere and working. The panchayats can also be asked to maintain a register of complete information about the villagers and keep track of their movement because the people, especially children, can be transported in a large scale for wage labour, prostitution and trafficking.

The shelters for women and children are to be permitted to remain even during the pandemic and be called for the sensitization of the police personnel. The police situated at border outposts should “look out for trafficked children.”

The police are also told to make full use of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS) and the Crime Multi-Agency Centre (Cri-MAC) applications launched by the NCRB in March this which facilitates the dissemination of information about significant crimes which includes human trafficking across the country in a real-time basis. The portals can help in locating and identifying the trafficked victims and also help in the prevention, detection and investigation of crimes. The police department is also required to constitute specific ‘intelligence’ and ‘surveillance mechanism’ to identify the gangs and gather information about their history, affiliations, modus operandi to deceive people, activities of the gang members, links with others, etc.

Former DGP, PM Nair who was a key instrumentalist in the establishment of the AHTUs in 2007, said that there has been a surge in the trafficking of children both online and physically. Nair said to The Hindustan Times, “I have held various discussion with many stakeholders across the government and non-government sector, Trafficking during Covid-19 times has increased manifold.” He also said that the increase in consumption of child pornography which is accessed by around 5 million Indians has led to the sexual exploitation of children.

The President of the NGO Shakti Vahini, Ravi Kant in a conversation with the Hindustan Times has said that the majority of the trafficking goes unnoticed by the NCRB. Solely based on the fact that not all of them are registered as trafficking cases, many of them are registered as kidnapping, abductions or missing person cases.

The states of West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha are the states which have been worst affected by human trafficking. Children from tribal areas are at a greater risk of human trafficking, including the Kuki people from Manipur as well as the Nagas from the Northeast, while Jharkhand and the Anantapur and Prakasam regions of Andhra Pradesh are some areas prone to human trafficking. The cities of Mumbai and Kolkata are also cities which rank at the top. Post-pandemic, these areas will be more vulnerable to trafficking because of job losses. The parents will try to force their children into labour for money and due to the desperation on their part.

The MHA’s advisory to strengthen efforts to fight against human trafficking is welcomed by all.

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