Human Trafficking in India: Know the Laws

12 May 2023  Read 1414 Views

Human trafficking is not only a serious concern in India, but it’s a global problem, with millions of people affected every year. However, due to the nature of this crime, it gets difficult to estimate the number of cases in each country accurately. Some of the countries with the highest reported cases of human trafficking are China, Russia, North Korea, Sudan etc. 

India has specific laws to prevent human trafficking, including the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act etc. However, many offenders go unpunished due to the weak enforcement of these laws, and it’s difficult to trace them down.

So, let’s discuss in this article the human trafficking laws in India along with many cases & competitive exams questions. 

Prostitution in India: Is running brothels and red light areas legal?

Prostitution is not illegal in India, but soliciting, running brothels, and pimping are. If a girl has been trafficked for prostitution, it is obvious that the trafficking is illegal, and traffickers will be punished. But if the girl volunteers as a sex worker, she will not commit a crime by engaging in prostitution, but those who facilitate or profit from it will be offenders. 

Red light areas such as Sonar Gachi in West Bengal etc., exist in India, but they are usually in a legal grey area as a few of them work with the consent of local authorities and police. Running a brothel is also technically illegal in India, as people run them for profit. The legislation prohibiting brothel-keeping is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, but this Act is not always enforced, as brothels operate with the knowledge of local officials.

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Human trafficking in India

Human trafficking is a serious problem in India, with millions of people being victimised. Here are some essential facts about human trafficking in India:

  1. Forms of trafficking: Human trafficking in India takes several forms such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, child labor, forced marriage, and organ trafficking.

  2. Vulnerable groups: Women and children are the most vulnerable groups even in India, especially from marginalized communities and rural areas.

  3. Rise of trafficking cases: Poverty, lack of education, gender discrimination etc. are a few of the key factors contributing to human trafficking in India.

  4. Trafficking destinations: Trafficking routes in India are often cross-border, with Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar being key destinations & domestically, trafficking victims are often taken to major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata, where they are exploited.

  5. Laws on trafficking: India has many laws and provisions in place to curb human trafficking, such as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, among others.

  6. How govt. Curbs trafficking? The Indian government has launched various initiatives to prevent human trafficking, such as the National Plan of Action for Children, the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, and the National Crime Records Bureau's initiative to track and report cases of trafficking.

  7. Need for awareness and action: The conviction rate in cases of human trafficking is not that good due to corruption etc., so there is a need for greater awareness and action to prevent human trafficking in India. This includes strengthening law enforcement, providing support and rehabilitation to victims etc.

3 W's of Human Trafficking

The 3 W's of human trafficking are:

  1. Who: Human trafficking includes exploiting vulnerable individuals, usually women and children, who are forced or coerced into various forms of labour or exploitation. This comprises of forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced begging, and other forms of exploitation.

  2. What: Human trafficking is a criminal activity involving force, fraud, or coercion to exploit victims, including physical and emotional abuse, threats, and manipulation to control victims and prevent them from leaving.

  3. Where: Human trafficking occurs worldwide, with victims often transported across borders or within their own countries. It is prevalent in both developed and developing countries and can occur in a range of settings, including factories, brothels, farms, and private homes.

Human Trafficking Legislation in India

Some of the key laws on human trafficking in India are:

  1. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956: The primary law which deals with human trafficking in India. It criminalises women & children trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and specifies punishments for offenders.

  2. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015: This legislation provides for the care, protection, and rehabilitation of children who are victims of human trafficking.

  3. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976: Prohibits bonded labour, which is a form of human trafficking, and gives stringent punishment to the violators. 

  4. Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012: One of the major laws in India for child protection which aims at preventing sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children.

  5. The Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act, 1986: This legislation provides for preventing trafficking in persons and victim rehabilitation.

Not only these legislations, the Indian government has also launched several other action plans such as the National Plan of Action for Children, the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, and the National Crime Records Bureau's initiative to track and report cases of trafficking. 

Which country has the highest cases of human trafficking?

Venezuela is consecutively ranked as one of the worst countries for human trafficking, as enforcing the laws improperly prevents such crimes. They have strict laws, but prosecuting this crime is rare. Shockingly, since 2013, Venezuela has convicted only 3 people under human trafficking laws. 

Human trafficking can affect people of any gender, age, or background, yet a few groups are more vulnerable than others, such as women & children. In general, the most vulnerable groups are:

  1. Women and girls: Women and girls are majorly affected by human trafficking, which makes up around 71% of all trafficking victims globally who are often trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, or marriage.

  2. Children: Children comprise around 25% of all trafficking victims globally. They are often trafficked for forced labour, sexual exploitation etc.

  3. Youths: Youths between 18 and 24 are also at a higher risk of trafficking.

Human trafficking laws under IPC

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) also includes severe punishments related to human trafficking offences. Some of these are:

  1. Section 370: This provision deals with the trafficking of persons for the purpose of exploitation and provides for stricter punishments for offenders.

  2. Section 370A: This provision deals with the trafficking of a minor for any purpose, including exploitation, and provides penalties for offenders.

  3. Section 372: This provision deals with the selling or buying of minors for prostitution and provides for penalties for offenders.

  4. Section 373: This provision deals with kidnapping, abducting, or inducing a woman for marriage and provides punishments to the offenders.

  5. Section 374: This section deals with the forced labour of any person and provides for penalties for offenders.

These provisions of the IPC are in addition with the laws and provisions mentioned in the legislations on human trafficking in India as discussed above.  

Landmark Cases on Human Trafficking Laws

There have been several landmark cases concerning human trafficking in India. Here are some notable ones:

  1. Vishal Jagannath Shetty vs. The State of Maharashtra (2017): The Bombay High Court, in this case, sentenced four people to life imprisonment for trafficking minor girls from Nepal to Mumbai and compelling them into prostitution. The significance of this case is that the issue of cross-border trafficking and the need for cooperation between countries to curb the problem is discussed here.

  2. State of Rajasthan vs. Vishram Singh (2013): The Rajasthan High Court in thiss case sentenced a man to life detainment for trafficking girls from rural areas of Rajasthan and forcing them into prostitution. The significance of this case is that it dealt with the issue of trafficking from rural areas, who are mostly vulnerable to exploitation.

  3. Prajwala vs. Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court in this case directed the central and state governments to take measures to prevent trafficking, rescue and rehabilitate victims, and prosecute offenders. The court also ordered the a central agency’s creation to put efforts in curbing trafficking. The significance of this case is that it focused on the need for a coordinated and comprehensive approach to fight human trafficking.

  4. Sankaralingam vs. State (2018): In this case, the Madras High Court sentenced a man to life imprisonment for trafficking girls from Tamil Nadu and forcing them into prostitution in other states. The court also ordered the government to give compensation to the victims. This case focused on the need for compensation and rehabilitation for victims of trafficking.


Human trafficking is a global concern, and curbing it will require a broader approach involving better government intervention, law enforcement and efforts to spread awareness. We can combat this crime if we actively report cases and seek help from NGOs, government agencies, civil society organisations etc.

Competitive Exam Questions on Human Trafficking in India

  1. What is the main legal framework in India for combating human trafficking, and what are its key provisions?

Answer: The main legal framework to combat human trafficking is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), which was amended in 2018 to include the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 (TPPRA). 

  1. What is the difference between trafficking and smuggling under Indian law, and what are the penalties for each offence?

Answer: Trafficking refers to the act of recruiting, transporting, harbouring, or transferring persons for the purpose of exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, or servitude. It can occur in the country (intra-state trafficking) or across international borders (inter-state or transnational trafficking).

Whereas; Smuggling refers to the act of illegally importing or exporting goods or commodities across borders without paying customs duties or taxes. This includes various goods, like drugs, weapons, or contraband.

  1. What is the role of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee in India & the measures it has taken to combat human trafficking?

Answer: The National Anti-Trafficking Committee (NATC) is a key body established under the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in India. The NATC is responsible for coordinating & monitoring all anti-trafficking efforts at the national level, with a motto of curbing human trafficking in India.

Measures it has taken:

  • Developing a national action plan:

  • Capacity building

  • Strengthening legal framework

  • Research & data collection

  1. How does the Indian legal system protect the rights of trafficking victims, and what services are available to them?

Answer: The Indian laws protect the trafficked victims in the following ways:

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 provides for the protection and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, which mandates that the authorities must take steps to ensure the safety and security of the victims, including their physical and mental well-being, and provides for the establishment of protective homes & shelters for their rehabilitation.

The government has introduced several schemes for rehabilitating trafficked victims, such as the Swadhar Greh scheme, Ujjawala scheme, and the Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP). Even the Indian laws also provide for the provision of legal aid to trafficking victims, including free legal aid, counselling, and assistance in filing complaints and seeking redressal with the help of DALSA & NALSA.

Even the compensation is provided by the Victim Compensation Fund established under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 to the trafficked victim. (Sec. 357A of CrPC)

         5. How does India's legal framework address the issue of transnational human trafficking, and what international conventions has India ratified to combat this issue?

Answer: India's legal framework addresses the issue of transnational human trafficking through many measures:

  1. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, 2010 provides for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking, including transnational trafficking. 

  2. Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance: India has entered into bilateral agreements with many countries for extradition and mutual legal assistance in human trafficking cases. With these India tries to cooperate with other countries in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases and extraditing traffickers who have fled the country.

  3. International Conventions: India has ratified several international conventions and protocols to curb human trafficking, such as:

  • United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC): India ratified this convention in 2011, in order to prevent and curb transnational organized crime, including human trafficking.

  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children: India also ratified this protocol in 2011, which supplements the UNTOC and provides a comprehensive framework for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of cases on human trafficking.

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): India ratified this convention in 1992, recognising children’s rights and providing protection from exploitation, including trafficking.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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