The chief justice of Meghalaya High Court, Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, recently touched upon a pertinent issue, human trafficking, that is turning into a serious social problem in the Northeast region of the country. He lamented that the region was emerging as the human trafficking hub of India with Assam alone registering as many as 1,494 such cases, the highest in the country, according to latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. The Northeast witnessed a whopping 250 percent increase in crime in 2016 compared to the previous year, which is alarming and can have a profound impact on the region. The chief justice said Nagaland appears to be unaffected by the menace from the outside. But, he said, it is taking root due to a mounting economic disparity among those living in towns and villages, and the growing demand for domestic helpers, especially young boys and girls, by well-to-do families.
Factors like poverty, a prolonged insurgency problem, and unemployment, and illiteracy lashed with ignorance have contributed to the proliferation of the social evil in the region. Section 370A of the Indian Penal Code protects the freedom and rights of the people. Under it, those convicted of sexually exploiting a trafficked minor in any manner can be punished by not less than five years of rigorous imprisonment and up to seven years, or with fine. It also says that perpetrators who exploit a trafficked person are punishable with three to five years of imprisonment, or with fine. It is a non-bail, cognisable offence, giving the law enforcement the power to arrest the accused without a warrant and begin investigations. More stringent provisions have been added to stop such offences but the social problem seems to have multiplied in the Northeast over the years. There have been cases of unsuspecting people being lured to big Indian cities and unknown places by frauds on the pretext of providing lucrative jobs; but sold off to some filthy rich people for bonded labour. It is also reported that organised human traffickers look at young girls from the region for flesh trade. We read such disgusting reports often but many still fall prey to the trap due to poverty, innocence and “easy to fool” nature of the people, especially those from remote villages.
The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill of 2018, which was recently passed by the Lok Sabha, not only deals with prevention of stated crime but rehabilitation of those rescued also. It promises punishment for perpetrators, from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment to life term for repeat offenders, besides a fine. If it comes into force, the bill may help stop human trafficking in the country but even that may not make much of a difference in the Northeast until the people shed their gullible nature.