PAKISTAN has been downgraded from ‘Tier 2’ to ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department. Despite passing significant laws in 2018 — the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act and the Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act — there is clearly a long way to go in protecting the rights of victims of human trafficking and smuggling. Law-enforcement officials may have been empowered with the passage of these new laws, but the TIP Report notes that conviction rates remained low when compared to the magnitude of the problem. Moreover, when it came to pervasive issues such as bonded labour, particularly in brick kilns, law enforcement and the government continued to turn a blind eye to the plight of the victims. Last year, 19,954 trafficking victims were identified, showing a slight increase from the previous year, but there was a decrease in victim-protection measures offered by the government. Another significant finding in the report was that undocumented and refugee men, women and children were particularly vulnerable to falling prey to the human traffickers’ web of deceit.

Human trafficking is a transnational issue, involving millions of people, yet Pakistan remains one of only a handful of countries that is not a party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Those who are sold false promises of employment, marriage, or a chance at a better life in other countries, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, soon wake up to that fact that they fell for a mirage concocted by the traffickers: they often find themselves tricked into a life of debt bondage, forced labour or sexual slavery in their new countries; or they work in exploitative conditions on a contract basis, with little to labour protection, and no means of escape. There have also been instances where boys and men have been tricked or coerced into joining armed movements abroad. The government clearly has a huge issue to tackle.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020

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