Evil has a face

The government is set to introduce a Bill in Parliament that seeks to make things hotter for those engaged in human trafficking for prostitution or other forms of exploitation, trading in human parts, or forcing people to work against their will. The objectives are laudable. The provisions include: a person involved in buying or selling of human beings is liable to a sentence of up to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to Rs.100,000; a person who forces another person into prostitution, a jail term of 10 to 15 years and a fine of Rs.50,000 to Rs.100,000; a trader in human parts, 10 years in prison and a fine of Rs.200,000 to Rs.500,000; one who forces another to work against his will be jailed for three months to two years, along with a fine ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.100,000.

It is a good thing to make the laws tougher for the aforesaid heinous crimes. But at the same time, it is even more important to put into practice the existing laws effectively. It is here that our law enforcement authorities and the judicial system have always been found wanting. Unless considerable improvement takes place on this front, mere legislation cannot make any dent into the big racket that trafficking in human beings is in Nepal. From time to time, reports surface of persons holding public posts or law-enforcement personnel being in some way connected to these nefarious practices. Sadly, actions against them have been few and far between. Under the proposed Bill, though, if a trafficker happens to be holding a public post, he or she is liable to 25 per cent more jail term as well as a fine. Though this is an improvement, it appears to be still less of a penalty for a custodian-turned-tormentor.

But where government employees such as policemen are found to be involved, even on occasions when action is initiated against them, it is often a departmental action, and such accused have tended to get away rather lightly. Departmental action is something which should be taken against employees for breach of internal discipline or norms; but criminal charges must be framed even against police personnel or holders of public office if they are engaged in any act of criminal nature. The shield against legal action for victims who injure or even kill their tormentors in attempts to escape and the provision of compensation to them in the form of 50 per cent of the fine slapped on tormentors may discourage would-be traffickers and perhaps embolden those victims who may know about the legal incentive to break free of their captors. But unless people who are charged with the responsibility of controlling crime or punishing criminals are not made to feel that if they did not perform their duties properly, they would also face legal action, mere increase in the number of prison years or the amount of fine will not go very far in curbing the crime rate. The Bill also provides a jail term of one to three months and a fine in the range of Rs.2,000-Rs.5,000 for brothel frequenters at a time when there is a greater need to change the pattern of looking at voluntary prostitution, which satisfies a socio-sexual need, in these changed times.