An illegal trade

June 23, 2011

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DESPITE the passage of the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act 2010 last year, the illegal organ transplantation racket in Pakistan continues to thrive. The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Human Rights echoed this concern in its meeting on Wednesday. Committee members said the poor were pressured by mafias to sell their kidneys for as low as Rs100,000. Bonded labourers in Punjab are among the major victims, as people part with their organs to pay off debts or meet other pressing financial obligations. Committee members had visited different areas of Punjab to get more details of the racket; one legislator presented documentary evidence in the form of a film in which hundreds of people in Sargodha are seen willing to sell their kidneys.

There exists the Human Organ Transplant Authority to monitor the illegal sale of organs, but it has clearly failed to live up to its mandate, rendering the authority toothless. The passage of the law, hailed across the world, was indeed a major achievement. Pakistan was once known as an 'organ bazaar', a cheap destination on the transplant tourism trail. The illegal organ racket was — and, unfortunately, continues to be — big business as one figure says wealthy foreigners pay up to $30,000 for a transplant. Major public outcry and a sustained campaign by civil society and the media against illegal transplants resulted in the passage of the law, seen as a well-deserved victory against vested interests. Experts, including Dr Adeeb Rizvi, who has been at the forefront of the campaign, feel the law is excellent. As always, what renders it useless is the lack of enforcement. Hence the state needs to wake up to its responsibility and crack down on all the individuals and concerns — many publicly named and shamed — that continue to exploit the poor by profiting from the illegal organ trade.