SINCE 1986, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has acted as a conscience keeper of the nation. Its flagship, the annual State of Human Rights in Pakistan, should jolt any government out of its stupor.
How did this government respond to the latest report? The human rights ministry, headed by Shireen Mazari, had a knee-jerk reaction and apparently without reading the report carefully issued a statement accusing the HRCP of having “overlooked several major milestones towards securing and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups” in 2019. It even questioned the ‘intent’ of the HRCP.
The HRCP immediately issued a statement giving meticulously the page numbers indicating the locations of all those ‘milestones’ that Ms Mazari’s ministry had overlooked.
The fact is that the working of the government is tardy and inefficient — especially in matters affecting the common man, woman or child like Zainab, the little girl who was raped and murdered. Take the case of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, (adopted in March) that took two years to legislate in the National Assembly. It still has to become functional. No director general has been appointed so far to head the Zarra Agency. This was pointed out to me by Naeem Sadiq, that intrepid champion of the Right to Information Act, 2017, and Citizens against Weapons. He has written to the prime minister and Ms Mazari’s ministry asking for information on this matter.
The state cannot safeguard the security of its women and children.
While the government hems and haws, we do not know how many little girls will be meeting a fate similar to Zainab’s or would be there being trafficked for prostitution.
This is another issue that needs the government’s immediate attention. I hope the HRCP will also single it out in their future reports rather than garb it under the cloak of ‘violence against women and girls’. The annual report states, “Despite the legislation enacted to protect and promote women’s rights in recent years, violence against women has escalated.” The report mentions all kinds of use of force and discrimination against women. But it fails to take explicit note of trafficking for prostitution. The closest it comes to this taboo issue is when it reveals that “629 women had been trafficked as brides to China”. This is nothing to be made light of.
I have been following this issue closely since I stepped out to help a ‘vulnerable woman’, my domestic help, recover her two teenage daughters who vanished after being abducted by her stepson in 2016. When she confided in me and accepted my offer of help, the gravity of the situation dawned on me.
I managed to have her FIR registered and the stepson was arrested, though he somehow succeeded in obtaining his release on bail without the mother even being summoned before the judge to plead her case. I was told by the police that the stepson refuses to divulge the whereabouts of his sisters who were sent by him to work as “domestics in a household for Rs120,000 a month”. The police also expressed their inability to trace the girls. One officer, however, indicated that he had found some clues and was preparing for a raid. We were excited but suddenly he was transferred from his post at the Anti-Violent Crime Cell (of the CIA) where I had managed to take the case with the help of Roshni Trust, an NGO working for the recovery of abducted children. The case drags on at the City Courts.
I would like to remind the HRCP as well as the Minister for Human Rights, that M and S, my protégées, are not the only girls whose childhood has been devastated because the state of Pakistan cannot safeguard the security of its women and children. A seminar held last year in Islamabad in which representatives of the FIA (the security agency concerned with cases of human trafficking), UN Women and other agencies dealing with this heinous crime estimated that the number of the victims runs into the thousands.
If the custodians of human rights still need to be convinced of the magnitude of the crime they would do well to look up the website of the US State Department which publishes every year an international report on the Trafficking in Persons covering 177 countries. The last report covers 2018 and places Pakistan on Tier 2 with the comment: “The Government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” It obviously gets its data from reliable sources. According to this document, Pakistan reported investigating 2,367 alleged cases of sex trafficking and initiating prosecutions in 2,212 cases in 2018 while the data for conviction was glossed over. Here it must be clarified that each case would be involving several girls.
My heart goes out to Zainab as it also does to the Ms and Ss who met a somewhat similar fate, except that they may still be alive somewhere with their agony continuing night after night.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2020