IT’S no secret that rights abuses are rife in Pakistan. How serious a problem this is, though, and how deep its roots permeate into the fabric of society, becomes apparent only when different sorts of abuses are considered separately. We know, for example, that women are forced by circumstances or by criminal gangs into prostitution. Delve into the issue a little deeper and it gets worse: boys and girls as young as five are bought, sold, ‘rented’ or kidnapped. Not only are they forced into the sex trade, they are also placed in organised begging rings and sold into slavery in domestic or workplace settings. There exists a structured system for forcing females, adult and minor, into prostitution, and there are physical markets where victims are bought and sold. Women are trafficked for prostitution into Iran and Afghanistan, and Pakistan is a trafficking destination for persons from Iran, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Bangladesh. There are reports of child sex trafficking between Iran and Pakistan. Domestically, the largest human trafficking problem is bonded labour. These appalling facts are the findings of the US State Department’s 2013 report on Trafficking in Persons, the US government’s principle diplomatic tool in engaging foreign governments on the issue. Sadly, Pakistan is hardly alone in this dismal picture. Secretary of State John Kerry, whilst releasing the report, referred to the global trafficking problem as “modern-day slavery”.
Pakistan may not be alone, but it can certainly do more to curb human trafficking. The report acknowledged that this state is making significant efforts, but even so we do not comply with the minimal standards for the elimination of the problem. Government officials’ complicity is a serious obstacle, and there is insufficient political will and capacity to address the situation. Yet, both will and capacity have to be found. The country is gaining a reputation for trafficking, with such gangs being caught in both the US and the UK; this is a reputation we could well do without.