Human Trafficking And The Lesser Known Evil
Amongst many abduction cases where victims have undergone a long period of captivity before being recovered, there was one famous case involving an American girl, Amanda Berry, who was kidnapped at the age of 16, raped and consequently impregnated by her abductor before she finally managed to escape along with three other women who confined with her. Such examples leave a sense of hope for the relatives of the abducted despite there being many cases to this day in which the kidnapped have not been recovered.
From Thailand to Germany, and from Russia to Bangkok, for years women have been forced into the highly lucrative business of modern day slavery known as sex trafficking. In countries like Germany where prostitution is legal, most victims are under constant scrutiny by their captors making it very difficult to differentiate between women who are victims of sex trafficking and those who have been forced into prostitution from a very young age. In Thailand, people operating highly secretive gangs that recruit young underage girls have meticulously formed chain groups and networks throughout the country. Some women end up in this job market as a result of abduction that involves being injected with drugs. The innocent and vulnerable young girls are most appealing to such gangs as they can easily be maneuvered.
Modern day slavery is of two kinds. The first is human trafficking, which includes forced labour of sexual orientation or physical labour, and the second is child labour. As per the statistics accumulated by the Walk Free Foundation, there are currently 45.8 million people who are enslaved worldwide. Other organisations have also joined the fight against human trafficking. Over half of the victims of global slavery are females, whereas 60 percent are subjected to forced labour. Many cases were reported in the last couple of years where girls in Pakistan were found working in brothels. It was later discovered that they were kidnapped at a tender age and forced to work as prostitutes. A few of them were even murdered for refusing to act upon the commands of their captors.
Poland is one of those European countries where human trafficking exists in exceedingly high numbers. According to a report by the Bureau of Public Affairs of US Department of State, “Men and women from Bangladesh, China and the Philippines are found in conditions of forced labour in Poland.” The government of Poland has collaborated with some Commonwealth organisations to eradicate human trafficking and has criminalised all types of trafficking under Article 253, Article 204, Sections 3 and 4, and Article 203 of its Criminal Code. Sentences of up to 15 years of imprisonment are outlined to combat the issue of different forms of human trafficking.
There is another menace that is often overlooked as if it is a lesser evil: the phenomenon of forced marriages. Keeping in view the definition of human trafficking whose contours are along the lines of “… illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation,” there is a very thin line between human trafficking and forced marriages, which in some cases is almost nonexistent.
Hence, both can be regarded as a form of a criminal activity that is similar in nature, abuse being the key factor at its core. The issue of forced marriages is a universal dilemma that various countries are dealing with. Some victims are continuously raped through these marriages or are used for domestic labour where they are cruelly treated and beaten like a chattel.
Forced marriages are typically connected to the Mirpuris/Kashmiris as far as Pakistanis living in Britain are concerned. They make around 85 percent of the Pakistani diaspora inhabiting different parts of Britain. Many girls and young women from Yorkshire and Bradford are forced to marry their cousins or relatives back home in Pakistan.
In June 2014, the UK government criminalised forced marriage by introducing a new law under the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, making the practice illegal. Forced marriage is considered a serious human rights violation and both UK and international law acknowledge this.
In the United Kingdom, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was established to tackle this problem. The FMU is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit that was established in 2005 to work on UK government’s policy on forced marriages. It operates both inside and outside the UK to provide support for individuals in need. According to the statistics by FMU, 594 cases were reported to the FMU during January to May, 2012. As per the FMU, the indictors showed that people of Pakistani origin had the highest rate of forced marriages followed by the people of Bangladeshi origin.
In 2015, the FMU provided support to about 1,220 of such cases out of which many involved girls under the age of 15 years. Moreover, last year, a man from Cardiff was the first person to be convicted for rape and forced marriage and sentenced to a 16-year jail term.
Women and girls in Pakistan too have certain legal rights related to marriage but traditional customs and practices become an obstacle for implementing those rights by the law enforcement agencies, creating serious obstructions for those trying to stop or annul a forced marriage. The law governing marriage of Muslims in Pakistan is the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance as per which the age of consent for marriage for both men and women is when he or she reaches puberty.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 attempts to set an age barrier for marriage at 18 for males and 16 for females, with punishments for guardians and those solemnizing underage marriages. The penalties in law, however, are too low to have much of a deterrent effect. Furthermore, tribal customs play an important role in many areas and marriage laws may be interpreted and enforced through tribal elders and jirgas (councils of elders). Generally, there is no strict enforcement of laws pertaining to age in cases of marriage and there are limited remedies for victims if they are violated.
An earlier version of this article was published in the Daily Times.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.