WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday upgraded Pakistan from the Tier 2 watch list to Tier 2 on its trafficking in persons list, citing overall progress in eliminating trafficking.

“The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the imp­act of the Covid-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Pakis­tan was upgraded to Tier 2,” said the report.

Tier 2 includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with all requirements for discouraging human trafficking but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

In contrast, the Tier 2 watch list includes countries who could be placed in Tier 3 and be penalised with sanctions and limited access to the US and international foreign assistance because of their non-compliance.

Pakistan remained on the watch list in 2015 to 2017 before being upgraded to Tier 2 in 2018 and remained there the next year. However, the country was again downgraded to Tier 2 watch list in 2020 and remained on the list in 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken released the report at the State Department and also announced the names of individuals from around the world whose tireless efforts have made a lasting impact on the fight against human trafficking.

The report commended Pakistan for inc­reasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions, including increasing investigations and prosecutions under the 2018 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTPA).

The report also noted that the government of Pakistan “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” although it “is making significant efforts to do so”. According to the report, during 2021, the government referred more victims for protection services. The government’s provincial departments increased implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim identification and referral and trained more stakeholders.

The government allocated resources for implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) and amended the PTPA to remove provisions that allowed fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes with women and children as victims.

For a third year, the government did not take adequate action against credible reports of official complicity in trafficking. There were reports of victims being re-victimised soon after rescue, and corruption continued to hinder anti-trafficking efforts.

In Sindh, local officials continued to perpetrate bonded labour with impunity in brick kilns and on farms.

The report urged Pakistan to increase prosecutions and convictions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labour at both the federal and provincial levels.

It also urged Pakistan to vigorously increase the number of bonded labour victims identified and referred to services through training of provincial police, labour inspectors and social services on SOPs.

The report strongly suggested preventing support to non-state armed groups that unlawfully recruit or use child soldiers.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2022

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