On board flight number ED 410, Nazar Muhammad Chohan, a lawyer based in Lahore, senses something dubious around him on this Dubai-bound flight.
More than half the passengers on this flight constitute young girls, dressed provocatively, he says. The one sitting next to him says that all of them have been booked by various hotels and clubs of Dubai as ‘dancing girls’. She stealthily reveals that Jajee, a resident of Lahore’s red light district, arranges these supposed ‘cultural exchange programmes’.
Chohan reaches his hotel in Deira Dubai and curiously questions his host regarding the ‘dancing girls from Lahore’. His host confirms the girl’s claims and directs Chohan to the nearby Pakeeza Pakistani Club in Hotel Ramee Guestline.
“There I saw almost 15 to 20 Pakistani girls who were called down for dancing,” recalls Chohan.
During his visit Chohan met 18-year-old Saima* from Lahore. She has been working as a dancer in a hotel in Dubai for the last two months without getting paid for the ‘job’. The contractor who got her this job had paid Rs150,000 to Saima’s father, Riaz*. In Dubai, she isn’t allowed to talk to anybody and is bound to follow all the instructions given out by her handler.
A contractor named Jajee operates from a hotel in Lahore’s red light district and arranges ‘jobs’ for dozens of girls like Saima — these girls are engaged in bonded labour and are not allowed to leave at their will, The Express Tribune has learnt.
After returning, Chohan meets Saima’s father Riaz. He reveals that they were tricked into believing that Saima would work as a ‘cultural exchange ambassador’ in Dubai and would earn a significant sum of money for the family.
During a visit to the hotel from where Jajee allegedly operates, a person named Bilal reveals, “Jajee is just one such contractor. Many such mafias are operating from this area and are smuggling girls to different countries for dancing and prostitution. These girls are sent abroad as members of cultural delegations visiting foreign countries to highlight the country’s positive image”.
When contacted, Jajee was not available to comment. Meanwhile, Chohan has filed an application with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) titled: “Slavery/bonded labour from girls by Lahore Mafia/Public Interest Complaint”.
“This is a clear violation of the basic fundamental rights laid down in the constitution,” the lawyer writes in his complaint.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Council Member Nadeem Anthony condemns this practice. “This is not only a case of bonded labour but of our country’s integrity. These girls are sent on the pretext of being artists but are forced into prostitution.”
Many girls from middle-class families were being trapped by agents who make promises of ‘big money’ and popularity in the cultural exchange/showbiz profession, says a visa consultant requesting anonymity.
“Majority of the parents are being told that their daughters are going abroad to work in honourable jobs,” he maintains.
Meanwhile, regarding Chohan’s official complaint, FIA inspector Sheraz Ahmed says the ‘unique’ complaint has been received and an investigation had been initiated.
(*Victims’ names have been changed)
Edited by Musab Memon
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2011.