Trafficking in persons is a heinous crime with serious International dimensions. Internally organized crime syndicates involved in migrant smuggling, and trafficking of narcotics and arms, often control trafficking in persons as well. Trafficking is an exploitative process starting with the recruitment and transportation of persons, after which they are sold or forced into all forms of labour and servitude, including trafficking into forced marriages, and forced prostitution. Trafficking is a crime that violates the fundamental human rights of its victims, alongside which there are several consequences for the countries of origin, transit and destination involved, notwithstanding risks for national and international security.
Despite the loud public statements about the sanctity of human rights and the dignity of human beings, flesh-trade remains uncontrolled; which shows that is a denial of all the moral declarations of development and equality. In the world globe, human beings in general, and women and children in particular, are bought and sold to cater for a variety of needs: sex slavery, prostitution, legal and illegal labour and marriages, bonded labour, and other forms of exploitation.
In the context of Pakistan, the problem of human trade and trafficking is multidimensional, as it needs to be addressed on various fronts. First of all, it is the destination point for those being trafficked in from Bangladesh, Burma, Afghanistan and Central Asia; secondly, a transit point for those brought from Far East Asia and Bangladesh to be taken elsewhere; and additionally, it is a recruiting ground for those who are trafficked and sent to Gulf.
The victims of trafficking are either lured by better job prospects or kidnapped against their wishes. In some cases, women and children are sold by their parents, guardians and husbands. Sometimes girls are sold after fake marriages, or deceived into illegal cross-border migration.
Because of poverty and lack of resources Pakistan, has not been able to provide a remotely satisfactory standard of living to its people. According to some estimates, 1.1 million people are added to the labour market each year. With the limited absorption capacity of the labour market, more than half of these new entrants are unable to find jobs. The induction of trafficked workforce into an already saturated market further deteriorates the situation.
The main hindrances in the elimination of the problem are lack of sufficient information on the issue, lack of awareness at the community level, lack of knowledge regarding safe migration, absence of shelter and rehabilitation programmes, lack of political commitment on the part of governments, and the other circumstances due to which the crime itself often remains invisible. Traffickers, recruiters and agents, on the other hand, who are working in organized groups, have clear links to shine the trade. Trafficking is an international as well as regional concern that needs to be faced on a priority basis.
In 2020, Pakistan received a tier two rating for its handling of human trafficking in Pakistan which means the Government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The biggest obstacle standing between Pakistan and a tier-one rating is the prominence of bonded labour. Bonded labour is when a person, whether it is a man, woman or child or transgender person, must work to pay off a debt. This labour is intense and usually takes place on farms or in brick kilns. The amount of debt is often ambiguous, and labourers do not receive clear contracts. On some occasions, human traffickers force entire families into bonded labour under unclear terms for open-ended periods. While there is still work to do, Pakistan has made major strides in the right direction.
Pakistan first took measures to combat human trafficking at the national level back in 2002. Since then, the Pakistani government has been working to pass more and more legislation to effectively resolve the problem. In 2018, Pakistan passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTPA). The PTPA calls for prison sentences ranging from 2 to 10 years for labour and sex trafficking violations, as well as fines.
Human trafficking in Pakistan remains a high priority issue and the government is taking more steps to combat it. The silver lining is that there is a solid foundation to build on. The government is working to raise awareness, government officials passing new legislation, and survivors providing intel to law enforcement. With all of these parts working in tandem, Pakistan is one step closer to attaining a tier-one rating.
Recently Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through a notification of Home and Tribal Affairs has established Provincial and district level District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) which began to implement its mandated activities to check human trafficking, child and bonded labour the DC would head the DVC as chairman while DPO, additional deputy commissioner, representatives of Labour department, social welfare and women empowerment, district public prosecutor, assistant commissioner headquarters and two representatives from civil society are the members.
It is expected that police would submit a breakup of the cases of human trafficking, child and bonded labour, and the DVC members would conduct monthly monitoring visits to all the tehsils and towns and compile a detailed report for taking remedial measures. The members of civil society organizations would facilitate arranging awareness sessions to improve prevention and response to human trafficking.
The author is a human rights activist and Tweets @QamarNaseemPak