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ISLAMABAD: Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mehrunnisa Mazari has expressed concern on placement of Pakistan in tier 2 of United States government’s report on trafficking in persons and inaction of relevant ministries.

Tier-2 countries governments do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA’s) minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

At a recent meeting of federal cabinet, highlighting another issue of Pakistan’s placement in tier 2 of US government’s report 2021 on trafficking in persons, Minister for Human Rights fretted that the Interior Division had not taken any timely actions. The matter had, therefore, now been given to the Human Rights Division. She exhorted that the concerned Ministries/Divisions should take their international obligations seriously to avert such eventualities.

According to the report, Pakistani men and women migrate overseas voluntarily, particularly to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), other Gulf states, and Europe, for low-skilled employment such as agriculture, domestic service, driving, and construction work; traffickers exploit some of them in labour trafficking. False job offers, including fake modelling advertisements, sham recruitment agencies, and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labour agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters entrap Pakistanis in sex trafficking and bonded labour, including in Gulf countries.

In 2020, foreign countries had more than 11,000 Pakistanis detained abroad, including more than 3,400 in Saudi Arabia. In many cases, observers alleged foreign law enforcement had arrested workers for fraudulent documents procured by recruitment agents or for lack of documents because their employers had withheld their documents—indicators of forced labour. Traffickers have exploited Pakistani girls in sex trafficking in Kenya and have forced Pakistani adults, including with disabilities, to beg in the UAE. Pakistani boys are vulnerable to sex traffickers in Greece. Some traffickers, including organized criminal groups, subject Pakistani adults and children to forced labour in domestic work, construction, and begging in Iran; some traffickers have targeted Pakistanis with disabilities for forced begging. Pakistan is a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour—particularly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Chinese men working in construction may be vulnerable to forced labour in Pakistan. Traffickers exploit women and girls—and, to a lesser extent, boys—from Afghanistan, Iran, and other Asian countries in sex trafficking in Pakistan. Refugees and stateless persons from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Burma as well as religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians and Hazaras, are particularly vulnerable to traffickers in Pakistan. Traffickers exploit Rohingya refugees in forced labour in Pakistan.

According to a prominent child rights NGO, the majority of children working in the streets in Pakistan are subjected to forced begging and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking. Begging ringmasters sometimes maim children to earn more money and sometimes force children to steal. Organized criminal groups force children into drug trafficking in Sindh and Balochistan. Due to the consistent lack of law enforcement efforts against those who exploited street children, including in forced labour and sex trafficking, traffickers operated openly and with impunity. Traffickers subject boys to sex trafficking around hotels, truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. Traffickers have forced Afghan, Iranian, and Pakistani children into drug trafficking in border areas and Karachi. In previous years, widespread sexual exploitation of boys in one coalmining community in Balochistan was reported. Boys as young as 6 years old from Balochistan, KP, and Afghanistan, are purportedly lured to work in the mines but subjected to sex trafficking; in some cases, parents are complicit in sending their children to the mines for sex trafficking. Within Pakistan, NGOs and police report some employers, including in restaurants and factories that require boy child laborers to provide sexual favors to obtain a job with the employer, to keep the job, and/or for accommodation. An NGO reported multiple cases of forced labor of students in government-run schools.

Some police accept bribes to ignore prostitution crimes, some of which may include sex trafficking, and some police may have refused to register cases of child sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, without a bribe, according to NGOs. Some Pakistani traffickers lure women and girls away from their families with promises of marriage, create fraudulent marriage certificates, and exploit the women and girls in sex trafficking, including in Iran and Afghanistan. Traffickers targeted impoverished Christian communities to send females to China for arranged marriages. Upon arrival in China, hundreds of Pakistani women reported their “husbands” forced them into commercial sex. In other cases, traffickers, including some extra-judicial courts, use girls as chattel to settle debts or disputes. Some traffickers force victims to take drugs and exploit the drug addiction to keep them in sex trafficking.

The minister for Human Rights raised the issue of conflicting stance taken by the Interior Division regarding the decision of the Islamabad High Court in the case of missing persons. It was explained that whereas the Human Rights Division had decided to challenge the decision of IHC to pay compensation to the family of a missing person, the Interior Division in a similar case had paid half the compensation. The prime minister assured he would look into the matter.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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