Government Non-Compliance With Minimum Standards Against Human Trafficking
According to UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2013, 55-60% of all trafficking victims are women. Pakistan is both a country of origin and destination, as far as trafficking of women is concerned. Women in Pakistan are most vulnerable to trafficking due to poverty, gender discrimination, lack of education, and ignorance of legal rights. Women and girls are trapped in a structured system, exploited for prostitution and offered for sale in physical markets.
Reports indicate that the police accepts bribes to ignore prostitution and sex trafficking. Women and girls are also sold into forced marriages and in some cases, their “new husbands” prostitute them in Iran or Afghanistan. In other cases, girls are used as chattel to settle debts or disputes.
A large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially women, are also vulnerable to trafficking. False job offers and high recruitment fees by illegal labor agents entrap Pakistanis into sex trafficking and bonded labor.
Pakistan is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and prostitution. According to reports, women and girls from Afghanistan, China, Russia, Nepal, Iran, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan are subjected to sex trafficking in Pakistan. Pakistan is unfortunately topping all the wrong charts with regards to human rights abuse. The country retains its position in the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report for 2015. It remains on the tier-2 watch list of countries that face a major trafficking problem and whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. The report also notes that the Pakistani government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
Gender inequalities and disparities in Pakistan are the added causes of women trafficking and exploitation. In a society where males have more influence, women are seen only as submissive daughters, sisters or wives. Daughters are also viewed as an economic burden, with many families favouring sons. Early marriages and traditional dowry practices also augment the financial burden, forcing parents to sell their daughters.
Despite it being a sensitive and critical issue, the absence of any standardized methodology for collecting and analysing data hampers efforts to get reliable information on human trafficking. According to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report of 2013, victims of sex trafficking in Pakistan were often charged with crimes, while their traffickers remained free. The various government-run ‘women’s shelters’ available to female trafficking victims did not allow women to leave without a male relative or court order. Apart from reports of abuse and severe lack of freedom of movement in these shelters, there were also allegations that the staff and police had sold some women unclaimed by their families, to men under the guise of marriage.
According to the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s Red Book, the majority of human traffickers belong to Punjab province, particularly from Gujrat and Gujranwala cities, while the rest are from Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Mandi Bahauddin, Sialkot and Pakistani Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The most common routes that are used by traffickers include Gulistan, Chaman, Rabat, Nushki, Chagai, Mand Ballu, Panjgur, Taftan and Turbat, Balochistan province.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requires states to take appropriate measures to suppress all forms of trafficking in women as well as exploitation and prostitution of women. General recommendation No. 19 identifies trafficking as a form of violence against women because it puts women at special risk of violence and abuse. Pakistan passed the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PCHTO) in 2002 to specifically address the protection of human trafficking victims. The ordinance imposes a punishment of imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine on anyone who“purchases, sells, harbors, transports, provides, detains, or obtains a child or a woman through coercion, kidnapping or abduction, or by giving or receiving any benefit for trafficking the child or woman into or out of Pakistan for the purpose of exploitative entertainment”.
Despite the enactment of the Ordinance and the provisions of Articles 3 and 11 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the government has not shown progress in addressing human trafficking. Pakistan’s former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja in Criminal Review Petition No.47/ 2015 stated the “alarming lack of diligence on the part of the Government in relation to immigration into Pakistan, emigration from Pakistan, human trafficking and smuggling. Although there are a number of statutes dealing with these matters, it became apparent that these statutes are mere words on paper as the same are not implemented”.
The complicity of government employees in human trafficking remains a significant problem. Some feudal landlords were affiliated with political parties and used their social, economic and political influence to protect their involvement in bonded labor. In January 2015, the Supreme Court heard the petition of a criminal case filed in 1996 against two landowners, including a former Member of Provincial Assembly who reportedly used thousands of forced agricultural laborers in Sindh’s Digri and Sanghar. The labor group responsible for the original court petition claimed that the landowners used their influence in the Provincial Assembly to intimidate bonded laborers and their supporters.
The law criminalizing human trafficking is also flawed as it does not penalize internal trafficking.
While addressing the 13th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that “no country is immune and millions of lives are at stake as humans are heartlessly traded, exploited and ruined”. Human trafficking is not just a crime against humanity that reduces a human to the level of a chattel to be traded or exchanged. The concerned authorities must vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenders and officials complicit in trafficking to bring to an end the modern slavery that still plagues our free world.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.