HUMAN trafficking remains one of the most pressing, cross-border issues of contemporary times. And its victims are on the rise, warns a recent UN Office on Drugs and Crimes report. More victims were reported in 2016 than in any other time in the past 13 years. The anti-immigration policies of some countries, along with the reality of repressive regimes, war, poverty and climate change have led to higher numbers of people escaping their homes and risking their lives in search of greener pastures. And criminal syndicates are more than willing to profit off of human misery and desperation. Terrorist groups are also involved in or profit from this multi-billion dollar criminal industry. In Pakistan, it is estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 citizens attempt to illegally cross into Europe, the Middle East, Turkey and Russia each year. Many are from the small towns and villages of Punjab. They are promised prospects of freedom, adventure and opportunity. But the journey is dangerous, and many do not make it to their promised lands. Some end up in detention centres. Others have to contend with cultural and language barriers in their new ‘homes’. They face difficulty finding employment, and some are forced into sex work and a life of petty crime to make ends meet.
Authorities cite low conviction rates among the hundreds of traffickers who sell false hopes and dreams to vulnerable citizens as the reason why the business of human smuggling continues to thrive — despite two new laws passed by the government in 2018. In October 2018, police in Balochistan claimed to have caught around 100 boys — nine aged 13 and under — being smuggled out of the country. The UN report has noted a global increase in the number of children being trafficked, while adult women made up nearly half of the victims in 2016. One of the grimmest revelations include the fact that, over the past 15 years, women and girls represented more than 70pc of detected victims — and the sex trade continues to be the predominant reason for trafficking, accounting for some 59pc of all cases. There is limited information available from Pakistan regarding the involvement of its citizens in sex trafficking, but the probability cannot be ruled out. International and regional cooperation is imperative in order to counter transnational crimes. Additionally, governments, law enforcement authorities and civil society must address the social issues that make citizens vulnerable to exploitation from traffickers in the first place.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2019