Child trafficking

Published December 12, 2022

WHAT does it say about our child protection laws and other relevant legislation when a 14-year-old girl is abducted and sold thrice before being able to escape her captors and return home? Her ordeal indicates — as the court correctly pointed out — that kidnapping gangs are operating with total impunity. Further horrifying details emerged in the victim’s statement to the Sindh High Court on Friday. She said she had seen around 15 teenage girls at the house of one of those accused of her kidnapping. The court, while hearing the bail plea of another suspect booked for allegedly abducting the underage girl to force her into marriage, has directed the interior ministry to form a JIT to thoroughly investigate the issue of child trafficking. It is about time the criminal justice system came to grips with the terrible things happening to our minors and took proactive steps to prevent these crimes and support the victims. Therefore, it is encouraging that despite the girl in the case at hand not having made an allegation of forced marriage or rape, the court has held that further investigation is warranted.

It has been seen in far too many cases of alleged child abduction and forced marriage of minors that courts do not probe deep enough to ascertain the truth, leaving the victims vulnerable to further abuse and sexual exploitation. In the earlier stages of the Dua Zehra case, for instance, despite her parents providing verifiable evidence of their daughter being underage, a magistrate in Lahore accepted her statement that she was an adult and allowed her to go with her ‘husband’. An HRCP report published this year describes Pakistan as a “source, transit and destination country for trafficking”. This appears to be no exaggeration. Consider that in February 2022, Punjab police stated that 151 girls and young women, all abducted from Sargodha, had been recovered from various parts of the province since Jan 5 alone. It is not enough to legislate: implementation is key.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2022

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