Human trafficking in Pakistan

Published: March 28, 2018
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There is a difference between human trafficking and people smuggling though few will realise the distinction. The latter is barely on the radar in Pakistan whereas the former is a considerable problem and one about which little is being done. Within the country people are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour, sexual slavery or other forms of commercial sexual or physical exploitation. This can include forced marriage and the illegal removal of organs for transplant. It does not necessarily mean that a person is moved from one place to another, people can be trafficked ‘in situ’.

Despite an obvious prevalence a parliamentary panel has been informed that for the last four years Pakistan has been on a human trafficking watch list run by the US State Department. The reason for that is perhaps unsurprising — the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has no capacity or jurisdiction to either investigate or curb human trafficking within the country. The FIA further admits that even were it given the legislative tools to conduct such investigations it could not absorb the additional burden of work, and was anyway struggling to cope with external human smuggling issues.

Apparently there is legislation in the works relating to human trafficking, but as matters stand there is no legislative impediment and no agency that has human trafficking prioritised. The scale of the problem is unknown as there is no data gathering beyond the anecdotal; but given the known breadth encompassing a spectrum from child brides to forced labour it may be reasonably assumed that there are tens of thousands of instances in any given year. There is international pressure to stamp out bonded labour, child labour and the exploitation of women but the provincial responses are fragmentary and uncoordinated. Yet again there is another elephant in the room that is being largely ignored despite the possibility of imminent legislation. Even assuming the passage of new laws implementation without capacity will render them worthless pieces of paper. Human trafficking is part and parcel of national culture and it is here to stay, a stain on the national character.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2018.

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