Monday, March 22, 2010

Human trafficking, a ‘major problem in Pakistan’: Report

Sarfraz Ali

A UNHCR report entitled "Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 has revealed that Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation. The report further says the largest human trafficking problem of Pakistan is that of bonded labour, which is concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces, particularly in brick kilns, carpet-making, agriculture, fishing, mining, leather tanning, and production of glass bangles; estimates of Pakistani victims of bonded labour, including men, women, and children, vary widely but are likely over one million.
Parents sell their daughters into domestic servitude, prostitution, or forced marriages, and women are traded between tribal groups to settle disputes or as payment for debts.
Pakistani women and men migrate voluntarily to Gulf states, Iran, and Greece for low-skilled work as domestic servants or in the construction industry. As a result of fraudulent job offers made and high fees charged during recruitment, however, some find themselves in conditions of involuntary servitude or debt bondage once abroad, including restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats and physical or sexual abuse.
Moreover, NGOs contend that Pakistani girls are trafficked to the Middle East for sexual exploitation. Pakistan is also a destination for women and children from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, and Nepal trafficked primarily for forced labour. Women from Bangladesh and Nepal are trafficked through Pakistan to the Gulf States.
The report alleges that the government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; "however, it is making significant efforts to do so".
Despite these significant overall efforts, including the prosecution of some trafficking offences and the launch of public awareness programming, the government did not show evidence of progress in addressing the serious issues of bonded labour, forced child labour, and the trafficking of migrant workers by fraudulent labour recruiters; therefore, Pakistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Convictions of trafficking offenders decreased during the reporting period. The government continued to punish victims of sex trafficking and did not provide protection services for victims of forced labour, including bonded labour.
The report recommends Pakistan should significantly increase law enforcement activities, including adequate criminal punishment, against bonded labour, forced child labour, and fraudulent labour recruiting for purposes of trafficking; continue to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and punish acts of government complicity in trafficking at all levels; and expand victim protection services for victims of forced labour and sex trafficking.
The report acknowledges the Government of Pakistan made insufficient law enforcement efforts to address trafficking in 2008, particularly in regard to labour trafficking. Pakistan prohibits all forms of transnational trafficking in persons through its Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PACHTO); the ordinance's prescribed penalties range from seven to 14 years' imprisonment. The government uses Sections 17 through 23 of the Emigration Ordinance to prosecute internal cases of trafficking. In addition, the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act prohibits bonded labour, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years' imprisonment or a fine, or both. Prescribed penalties for all above offences are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other grave crimes, such as rape.
Pakistan did not provide data to demonstrate any significant law enforcement efforts against labour trafficking. Though Pakistan has a substantial problem of bonded labour, neither the federal nor the provincial governments provided evidence of criminal prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for perpetrators of bonded labour, or for other acts of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment for the purpose of forced labour, and forced child labour. With respect to sex trafficking, primarily prosecuted as a translational crime under PACHTO, during the reporting period, the government secured the convictions of 28 trafficking offenders - 24 fewer than last year; unlike in past years, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) did not make available the specifics of the punishments given to trafficking offenders. During the reporting period, FIA, with assistance from IOM and NGOs, continued to offer training on investigating trafficking cases and sensitively treating victims; FIA did not provide data on the number of law enforcement officials that received such training.
Government officials at all levels have been implicated in human trafficking; there were reports of bribery of government and law enforcement officials during the reporting period. Pakistani authorities disciplined 147 law enforcement officers for complicity with human trafficking under the Government Service Rules and Regulations; 12 were permanently removed, four were compulsorily retired, and seven were reduced in rank. The remaining cases resulted in administrative actions.
The government's efforts to protect victims of trafficking were inadequate during the reporting period. Pakistan did not report any programs to identify and protect victims of forced labour – the largest sectors of Pakistan's trafficking victims – particularly bonded labour and forced child labour in informal industries such as domestic work. Foreign victims of trafficking also did not receive government protection services. Protection for victims of commercial sexual exploitation remained limited; internally trafficked women could access 25 federal government-run "Women's Centres" or 276 provincial government-run "Darul Aman" centres offering medical treatment, vocational training, and legal assistance to abused women and children.
Pakistani sex trafficking victims were sometimes arrested and incarcerated for prostitution without screening for evidence of trafficking, and some were subjected to punishment under Islamic law for fornication and adultery. During the year, the Punjab Government's Child Protection Bureaus in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Rahim Yar Khan, Multan, and Faisalabad sustained efforts begun in 2005 to rescue child beggars from the streets and provide rehabilitative services; at the time of this writing, Lahore's facility housed 219 boys.
In past years, the government encouraged foreign victims to participate in investigations against their traffickers by permitting them to seek employment while awaiting trial; there is no evidence of the government providing assistance to foreign trafficking victims in 2008 or encouraging their participation in investigations. Foreign victims reportedly were not prosecuted or deported for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, but some foreign victims may have been subject to punishment for fornication, even as victims of sex trafficking.
The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis provided assistance to repatriated Pakistani trafficking victims, such as medical, legal, and financial assistance.
Pakistan made a number of efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period, though lack of public awareness continued to be a problem. In 2008, the FIA sponsored anti-trafficking advertisements in major Urdu- and English-language newspapers, and its officers visited the five Punjab districts identified as major source areas to convene discussions with typical source communities.
The FIA launched a hotline for reporting cases of trafficking and smuggling that received 811 complaints, but did not specify the number of trafficking-specific calls. In addition, the Ministry of Interior produced and distributed a film about the dangers of trafficking on state television and to vulnerable populations along the border with India.
The government, however, did not take any reported measures during the reporting period to reduce the country's considerable demand for bonded labour, nor did it address demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its nationals deployed abroad for international peacekeeping missions. Pakistan has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

This report has also been published in Daily "The Nation".

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