Human trafficking continues to surge in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency says Punjab and Sindh have the highest number of traffickers, ranging from 30 to 35.

Human trafficking is an issue in a lot of countries, involving millions of people, yet Pakistan remains one of only a handful of countries that is still struggling to prevent and punish traffickers. Every country in the world is affected by these crimes and not just the countries but its people as well.

According to a recently-published report by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Punjab is native to approximately 20,000 children who are suffering from microcephaly and being sent to servitude as forced beggars. The illicit trade of human trafficking in

Pakistan stands as a lucrative business with a yearly valuation of $30 billion. Domestic trafficking, especially of women and children, is also one of the biggest concerns in Pakistan. The task for all countries, rich and poor, is to identify and prosecute criminals who prey on desperate individuals, as well as to protect and support victims of human trafficking, many of whom face terrible suffering in their search for a better life.
As per research by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, the number of victims of modern slavery today is approximated to be 40 million.

Pakistan is a developing country that has been a prey to this trade. One of the reasons is the ongoing poverty, lack of resources for the public, lack of awareness, lack of education and failure of the government to take action against such inhumane practices. For several reasons, women and children are among the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking in Pakistan.

Pakistan have been the biggest target for these illegal gangs responsible for kidnapping children, raping and sexually assaulting women, selling women for prostitution as sex slaves among other heinous crimes. Slavery and trafficking of women have been widespread throughout history, with far-reaching consequences that have reached Pakistan.

Forced marriages, sexual assault, and physical violence are among ways in which women are exploited. Poverty has compelled a large number of women to marry for money without their consent in order to support their poor families, with some being sold as debt repayments in rural areas. Girls are sold by their parents into forced marriages, domestic service, and prostitution, while women are exchanged between tribal groups as a form of payment and to settle disputes.

According to Director FIA Islamabad Zone Waqar Ahmed Chauhan, “The agency would continue to act against human smugglers without any discrimination.”

Recently, a girl named Dua Zehra went missing outside of her house in Karachi on April 16. Dua’s parents filed a First Information Report (FIR) alleging that their daughter had been kidnapped when she left the house to dispose of some garbage. The act generated mass outrage, particularly on social media, forcing authorities to take note.

The news was all over the social media, celebrities and general public were highlighting the issue as everybody thought this is another case of human trafficking because according to a report more than 70 percent of bonded laborers in Pakistan are children and traffickers also target lower-caste Hindus, Christians, and other minors specifically for forced and bonded labor.

Traffickers buy, sell, rent, and kidnap children for forced labor in begging, domestic work, small shops, and sex trafficking. The police raided different places in search of the missing girl. The Karachi police said that “The raid was carried out on secret information regarding the presence of Dua Zehra.”

According to sources, a police party of the Anti-Violent Crime Cell, along with Lahore police, raided the house of Zaheer’s relative in the Chishtian Tehsil of Bahawalnagar between Saturday and Sunday night. The law enforcers managed to recover Dua and Zaheer during that action. Police say that the authorities will record statements of the recovered girl.

SSP Zubair Nazeer Shaikh of the Karachi Anti-Violent Crime Cell told media that Dua had been brought into safe custody. He claimed that the youngster and Zaheer Ahmed, the man who is supposed to have contracted marriage with Dua, regularly changed their places and never used cell phones, making it impossible for authorities to track them down. Dua has been seen with her husband Zaheer in videos drooling on social media and the public thinks she has been drugged by traffickers who are behind this heinous act.

Dua’s father claims that his daughter is 14 years and her age status is illegal to get married but Dua’s statement is totally different. The case is still in the court. One of the reasons Dua’s case seems like trafficking is because there is a whole gang that has been operated by expert gangsters. They kidnap young boys and girls, force the guys to drag young girls into marriage and later on use both of them in prostitution and child labour.

The gang of traffickers traumatizes the young kids to an extent that they don’t speak up in front of police and their families. Dua’s father claims that his daughter is not in safe hands and whatever she is saying is because of being under pressure.

The Sindh law is very clear that a girl has to be 18-years-old to marry. In Dua’s case, it is very important for the authorities to verify the relevant documents. Justice Junaid Ghafar says that “A proper investigation will take place on this case and Dua will be under observation.” Dua has recently been recovered and has gone to a safe shelter.

Given the scale of human trafficking in Pakistan, experts insist urgent action is required to solve the problem.

To begin, they say, the government should conduct comprehensive surveys to determine the scope of human trafficking in all of its forms. It is impossible to design an effective action plan without first understanding its scope. Provincial administrations, in collaboration with the national government, should establish vocational and educational programmes to empower underprivileged families by providing them with job skills.
Simultaneously, treatment for victims of human trafficking should be established, as well as a national fund to give an alternative source of income for these poor families who are compelled to sell their children and women for profit.

Syed Liaqat Banori Chairman of Sharp Pakistan says that “The government could establish societal uplift programmes in collaboration with NGOs to increase awareness about the issue of human trafficking and assist in exposing locally active gangs. A check and balance on law enforcement agencies such as the police is required to prevent them from cooperating with prostitution networks. Government employees should be trained to distinguish between human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and special prosecutors should be appointed to hear trafficking cases.”

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