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Grave Concerns

By Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui

There are 92 most wanted high-profile Pakistani human traffickers, according to the latest edition of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s “Red Book-2016”, who are declared as proclaimed offenders and absconders. The Red Book provides their pictures and detailed particulars; whereas it also mentions the names of another 58 most wanted human traffickers arrested by the FIA till July 2016.

 The situation reflects on the gravity of the prevalent scale of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and human smuggling in Pakistan, which is a transit, source and destination country for trafficked persons and smuggling of migrants. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study of 2014 estimates the illegal economy associated with this form of crime in Pakistan is more than $109 million annually. The issue is considered complex, multidimensional and sensitive. Though Pakistan’s official figures are not available of the total number of human trafficking victims, it is estimated that over two million persons, including adults, children, and women, are trafficked in Pakistan every year, involving both outward and inward human smuggling, cross-border as well as internal.

On the other hand, the number of prosecutions of human traffickers is alarmingly low as the operators have intense connections and resources within the country as well as worldwide. Their strong political connections are reflected in the fact that during the period 2003-2005, only 74 persons were convicted, out of 642 arrests made by the FIA. It is however not known as to how many were victims and how many perpetrators. Often, the criminals are not prosecuted in Pakistan, and, unfortunately, only cases against victims are registered.

Globally, human trafficking is considered the second largest business in the organised crime after narcotics. It remains the fastest growing trade too. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) reports, human trafficking is a highly organised and lucrative business that earns profits of about $150 billion a year. It is estimated that nearly 21 million persons from 127 countries are traded every year in 137 nations across international borders.

Most common form of human trafficking is forced labour, as almost 14 million persons are exploited for labour, whereas the other forms include forced sex-workers and organ harvesting.

Human trafficking in Pakistan is primarily fuelled by poverty, rising population and lack of employment opportunities, whereas laxity of legal, regulatory and enforcement frameworks on human-trafficking and migrant smuggling has aggravated the problem. It is shameful that Pakistan ranks 6th, among 167 countries, by prevalence of population in modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index 2014.  Given such horrendous conditions at home, it is easy for the human traffickers to lure people by making false promises of a high-paying job or exciting education or electrifying travel opportunities abroad. It is only after reaching the destination, if one is among the lucky persons to make it, that reality of their jobs proves to be entirely different and working conditions to be substandard, if not inhumane and cruel.

Their employees exert such physical, mental and emotional control that the victim believes he has no other option but to continue working for that employer whatever the circumstances. The subjective pressures include, though are not limited to, confiscation of passports and money, debt bondage and even physical abuse. There are numerous cases of recruitment, harbouring, transportation and/or obtaining a person for labour or services through fraud, force or coercion every year. Hundreds of children were trafficked in the recent past to the Gulf States for camel racing. A large number of Pakistanis, estimated to be average 52,000 persons per year, have been deported from the Middle East, Greece, Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Japan and other countries for the reasons of illegal entry, possessing tampered or fake travel documents and illegal employment, among others.

The root-causes of the problem are the recruiting agents and travel agencies, licensed or fake. Allegedly, the powerful politicians and corrupt officials are at the back of such recruiting agents. Sadly, the government has not done enough for prevention and control of human trafficking, in spite of strong international support. In fact, the ineffective implementation of the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002, and Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Rules 2004, has failed to stamp out this heinous business. A United Nations’ Anti-trafficking Protocol (Palermo)— also known as the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime—was enforced in December 2003, creating a framework for crackdown on human smugglers. So far 117 countries have ratified the Convention; Pakistan has not consented.

Likewise, the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) had worked out in 2010 a four-year joint programme valuing $4 million to combat human trafficking in Pakistan, associating five UN organisations. Somehow, it was not implemented by Pakistan. It is only this month, on December 1, that the government of Pakistan has signed in Vienna, $70 million Country Programme with the UNDOC to jointly tackle crime, drugs and illicit trafficking.

One hopes that the funds would be effectively and judiciously utilised towards curbing human trafficking and border management as projected. Nonetheless, the human trafficking would continue to pose serious challenges to the government and the human rights organisations in Pakistan for long, given the present conditions.

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