Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) – A Platform for Survivors, From Survivors and By Survivors

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Human trafficking is a severe global concern and has substantial social, economic and health implications. While there are several stakeholders with a shared vision of a nation free of all forms of trafficking, a crucial element during the formulation of policies and laws related to trafficking is the inclusion of survivors’ voices in the decision-making process that is currently missing in the discourse of anti-human trafficking efforts.

With this premise, 4000+ survivors of human trafficking formed a national federation – the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) as the first forum formed by the survivors, for the survivors and to the survivors of human trafficking to ensure their voices are central to combat trafficking. With their vision of revolutionising the laws, policies and systems that impact victims, ILFAT is representing unified voices of survivors from ten States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh.

The Forum acts as a catalyst and convener for sharing expertise, insights and evidence relevant to human trafficking in India that are indicating systemic failure to combat these organised crimes. ILFAT engages in policy and law consultation processes with the media to share their findings and experiences to strengthen the existing system.

ILFAT believes that a comprehensive law against trafficking must be inclusive of all forms of trafficking – forced and bonded labour, sex trafficking, begging and servitude. Currently, there is a multiplicity of laws that deals with different forms of trafficking under the different laws in silos. Some laws define and penalise only one part of human trafficking. Punishment of traffickers is weakened by fragmented prosecution of these organised crimes under different laws.

“We fought for the TOP Bill and made efforts for more than one year. However, when the Bill did not pass, we were all disheartened. Hence, we decided to form a forum, as a unified voice of survivors can be much stronger than a few limited voices. For this purpose, we would like to go to Survivor Collectives in other States to spread the message of joining ILFAT and how would can all benefit when we have a forum. We hope to take it to the national level in future,” says Firoza Khatun, Founding Member of ILFAT.

Manifesto and Work       

ILFAT believes that a comprehensive law against trafficking must be inclusive of all forms of trafficking – forced and bonded labour, sex trafficking, begging and servitude. Currently, there is a multiplicity of laws that deals with different forms of trafficking under the different laws in silos. Some laws define and penalise only one part of human trafficking. Punishment of traffickers is weakened by fragmented prosecution of these organised crimes under different laws. The multiplicity of laws has indeed weakened their implementation on the ground. It was for this reason that the Forum unequivocally want the anti-trafficking legislation to be passed as it is comprehensive and includes all forms of trafficking.

The voices of survivors of trafficking must be heard and prioritised in the drafting and passing of legislation that seeks to support them. The survivor leaders of ILFAT were delighted to be recognised as contributors to the 230th Report on Atrocities and Crimes against Women & Children submitted to the Parliament of India, in which ILFAT’s recommendations were adopted. 

For this purpose, it has been actively working in the mission to change public perception of victims to survivor leaders through a three-point strategy in place:

  • Engagement and Relationship Building with Key Policymakers: Actively conducted forum-led representations and meetings with the key decision-makers and influencers in the ecosystem to develop ILFAT as an influential voice on core policy issues in the anti-human trafficking space. “As a member of ILFAT, I wish to engage with the government to nudge the criminal justice system to punish the traffickers, find ways to rehabilitate and empower the survivors of trafficking, and help them receive victim compensation,” vows Fathima, a survivor.
  • Build Allies and Partnerships: To build ILFAT’s network, the Forum forged partnerships and associations to grow and join forces – building collaboratively for tackling human trafficking in India. For instance, it collaborated with the National Commission for Women for a Tweet Chat on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, ensuring the inclusion of survivor voices for the first time. 
  • Build a Compelling Narrative by Projecting Survivors as Leaders: To amplify the voices of survivor leaders and their demands through mainstream media and social media.

Success Stories      

The voices of survivors of trafficking must be heard and prioritised in the drafting and passing of legislation that seeks to support them. The survivor leaders of ILFAT were delighted to be recognised as contributors to the 230th Report on Atrocities and Crimes against Women & Children submitted to the Parliament of India, in which ILFAT’s recommendations were adopted. 

ILFAT leaders are invited to speak and inspire others at coveted platforms such as Kalinga Fellowship, IIT, Josh Talks, and the Rotary Club of Indiranagar. 

“I do not want any other girl to feel what I felt – to remain confined in a closed room. And that is the reason I have taken up the cudgels to fight for freedom – of mine and others,” said survivor Rahima, during her talk at IIT. 

Giving back to society and supporting the community in the COVID-19 pandemic has been ILFAT’s biggest achievement. Through a crowdfunding campaign – “Rebuilding Migrant Lives” – in partnership with a digital agency, the Forum raised Rs 25 Lakhs to help migrant workers and vulnerable groups in severe distress across the country during the pandemic and cyclone Amphan. Through these efforts, it has gained respect and dignity in the community.     

 

ILFAT demands the rights to victim compensation, adequate mental health services, criminal justice for perpetrators, community-based rehabilitation, livelihood training and social reintegration free of stigma. Trafficking survivors are critical to anti-trafficking efforts at all levels, given their experiences as trafficking victims. Therefore, platforms like ILFAT have immense importance as advocates for the treatment of trafficking victims, preparation for leadership, and opportunities for trafficking survivors to become leaders. “We will fight for the justice and upliftment of survivors like us,” pledged the leaders of the Forum with their vision for a world free of the menace of human trafficking.

Contributed by:
ILFAT