At only 15 years of age, a Pakistani girl named Zunaira Muhammad was forced into slavery and this was the price she paid for her dreams of becoming a software engineer and having an education. This happened when a kindly neighbor promised to pay for Zunaira’s education if she would come live with her and do some household chores. Unwittingly, Zunaira’s mother agreed. Zunaira went to live with her neighbor, Ayesha Ashfaq. Instead of providing a little girl with an education, Ashfaq lured Zunaira to Dubai, forced her to work in a beauty parlor, sold her into sex slavery, and tortured her when she resisted. After she managed to escape she said that her whole life is destroyed as she cannot pursue studies due to the stigma attached to her.
Zunaira is only one story among millions of young people, especially young girls, who are kidnapped, trafficked and sold into slavery around the world. There are about 46 million people living in slavery today, and over 3 million of them are enslaved in Pakistan, making it rank eight in the Global Slavery Index. In the text below, the top five facts to know about human trafficking in Pakistan are presented.
Five Facts About Human Trafficking in Pakistan
- In 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, Pakistan was upgraded in Tier 2 by the U.S. Department of State. This means that the government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is still making significant efforts to do so. For example, the government increased the number of victims it identified and intensified its investigations into sex trafficking and prosecutions of human trafficking workers. At the same time, the government efforts are inadequate compared to the scale of the problem. The biggest issue is corrupt officials. However, the government does not hold officials accountable or investigate into allegations of trafficking by officials. These problems, along with the extent of human trafficking in Pakistan, keep Pakistan at Tier 2.
- Pakistan’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labor. During bonded labor, a worker assumes an initial debt, but as they work, the debt gets bigger and bigger so they can never pay it off. In this way, it entraps other family members, sometimes lasting for generations. Other human trafficking problems in Pakistan include prostitution slavery, forced marriages, child soldiers, manual labor and forced begging. Forced begging is a situation in which traffickers make children beg on the streets to earn money, sometimes even maiming them to gain sympathy money. Trafficking rings have a structured system in place for each of these crimes, including selling victims in a physical market.
- In 2012, 823 victims of human trafficking in Pakistan sought help in shelters. Three-quarters of these victims were female and 60 of them were minors. According to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, 30 to 35 traffickers operate in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. In 2012, 40 officials were under investigation, one was dismissed, and 33 were punished for complicity in human trafficking. Currently, the estimated number of Pakistani people living in slavery is 3,186,000. This means that almost 17 out of every 1,000 people in Pakistan live in slavery, while 74 people out of every 100 are vulnerable to slavery.
- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) joined the European Union (EU) to launch The Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants Act (GLO.ACT) in 2017. Pakistan joined this program in July 2017. This project will include six responses: strategy and policy development, legislative assistance, capacity building, regional and trans-regional cooperation, protection and assistance to victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants and assistance and support to children among victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants. The GLO.ACT also includes a public awareness campaign. To raise awareness, whether as a warning or as a call to action, UNODC distributed 300,000 flyers and 80,000 posters throughout the four districts of Punjab and Balochistan, where most trafficking takes place.
- The U.S. Department of State also recommended actions for Pakistan, led by the plea to pass an anti-trafficking law that criminalizes all forms of human trafficking. If Pakistan takes these actions, such as implementing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral to rehabilitation services, they can start to move to Tier 1, which means that a country does meet minimum standards for human trafficking.
Though many trafficking victims live without hope, there can be light at the end of the tunnel. With help from organizations and governments such as UNODC and the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking in Pakistan will continue to decrease. As for a young girl from the beginning of the article, she, despite her fear of traffickers, still plans to defy the odds and apply for college, and her father promised to help her purchase books in the market on his meager salary. Her story is one of redemption, and hope for the future of Pakistan.
– Natalie Dell