Monday, August 14, 2006

Govt push to drive against human trafficking

Express News Service

Mumbai, August 12: A total of 8900 cases of trafficking were registered in 2004-2005. 13,300 persons were arrested, 93% of them women and minors. 85% of them were convicted, IPS officer P Nair, currently on deputation to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), quotes these figures to illustrate how the justice system is criminalising victims, but not traffickers.

It is this disturbing abberation that the UN and the Central government is now seeking to attack, by training the people at the forefront of the anti-trafficking effort: India’s police investigators and public prosecutors.

The first such programme in Maharashtra, organised by the UNDOC, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and the state government began on Saturday. The two-day session was attended by prosecutors from across the state and Goa.

Bombay High Court Judge Ranjana Desai, a former public prosecutor, told the lawyers that they needed to be up to date with the law since there were a host of legal provisions to combat trafficking which were not being used while filing chargesheets.

Desai exhorted the prosecutors to work in close co-ordination with the investigating officers and avoid delays in the procedure:‘‘The greater the delays, the lower the prospects of conviction,’’ she pointed out.

Walter Vaz, doctor at the King Edward Memorial Hospital said the ‘ossification test’ to verify the age of the victim- to determine whether the victim was a minor-was erratic and flawed. ‘‘Prosecutors need to push for a uniform age estimation process. Physical characteristics like teeth can be examined for a fairly accurate estimation of the victim’s age.’’

Vaz also candidly stated that government doctors were often in league with the traffickers so that children’s ages could be successfully rigged to alter charges and the possibilities of conviction.

Senior police officials, mental health experts and child rehabilitation workers will speak to the lawyers on Sunday. Asha Bajpai from TISS said, ‘‘We want to expose the prosecutors to as many diverse perspectives as possible, with the best professionals from every field.’’

Nair explained, ‘‘We are essentially creating resource persons, and will ensure sustained monthly follow-ups. The idea is that these prosecutors go back to their respective districts and hold similar programmes for their fellow lawyers.’’


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