Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Controlling organised crime

THE SUPREME COURT'S directive to the Central Government to report within six weeks on the implementation of the Action Plan drawn up in 1998 to prevent sexual abuse of women and children is, at one level, indicative of the seriousness with which the continuing exploitation of vulnerable sections of society is viewed in the highest quarters. However, the apparent lack of progress in translating objectives into action, as may be surmised from the petition filed in the Court, must raise critical questions on a gamut of issues ranging from the efficacy of law enforcement, punitive action against perpetrators of crimes, to the repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of this form of exploitation. Trafficking in women and children has assumed alarming proportions globally and the subcontinent is a haven for international organised crime groups. Trafficking in humans is believed to be currently third in transnational illegal trade after arms and drugs. With appalling levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment and no form of social security measures to speak of for vast sections of the populations of the subcontinent, the susceptibility to the gambits of crime groups dealing in illegal drugs, weapons, money laundering and, worst of all, in humans is not hard to imagine.
The numbers of women weaned into commercial sex work, and of child or bonded labour, have steadily been on the increase over the years. If women have for long borne the brunt of domestic violence, and their family lives reveal tales of dowry-related disharmony, outside their homes, especially those among the socially and economically disadvantaged, they form the backbone of many an industry in the cottage, tourism, hotel and small scale sectors of the economy. With neither the guarantee of a reasonable remuneration nor protection from the hazardous nature of the different occupations they engage in, they are often ready victims of the constant pressure to find an escape route that perpetually eludes them. The vicious trap of physical and sexual abuse and exploitation that they fall into haunts them through the rest of their lives. At another level, the exposure of many transnational rackets in trafficking children and women has brought to light the extent to which Indian borders have become gateways to sneak in women and children from neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal, or transit points to smuggle to destinations in West Asia. In many such instances, the complicity of the police and other law-enforcing agencies has meant that racketeers and middlemen often get away with forging travel and emigration documents.

It was against this backdrop that the 1998 report of the committee on Prostitution, Child Prostitutes and Children of Prostitutes acknowledged the minimal impact of law enforcement and proposed a comprehensive plan of action. It identified gender bias in law enforcement, questioned the manner in which brothel raids are conducted and children of sex workers rehabilitated and the absence of formal mechanisms for repatriation of illegal immigrants. Clearly, each of these reflects on the performance of the police machinery, the magistracy and even the courts in some instances. Thus, it is easy to see that the Supreme Court's directive to the Centre underscores the general failure of law enforcement in the domains of labour relations, gender justice and child protection. The simple lesson to be drawn is that the effectiveness or otherwise of enforcing the law in one area necessarily depends on applying the statute book in others. In relation to trafficking in humans, the Court directive should be treated as a wake-up call to ratify the United Nations Conventions relating to organised crime and enacting corresponding legislation to facilitate enforcement of international norms and, above all, ensure their effective implementation in all given instances.


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