A new wave of trafficking in persons


By Masud Khabeki

Human trafficking and slavery are affecting every large town and city in Pakistan as authorities are unable to understand the true scale of modern slavery. This new type of slavery which is far more prevalent than ever has alleged victims as young as 6 years old. Children particularly girls are being sold to families across the country for domestic servitude, new born babies kept in the hands of beggars are visibly seen on the streets and on the traffic signals. We have to understand that the term “Trafficking in Person” may suggest movement, however no movement is required in the commission of this crime. It is a crime that can be committed against an individual who has never left his or her hometown. Individuals may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude (slavery, bondage), were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking

The only revelation of this enormous scale of modern slavery and human trafficking is through media reports, issuing warnings about the threat that is continuing to expand but there is no official word on the problem. We have no idea that how much police operations are being carried out targeting modern slavery in Pakistan. We have never heard about any operational activity of our police focusing on labor and sexual exploitation of young people including women and children across the country, as the more we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.

The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought. Once it appeared in the news as the children were trafficked for the use of camel-jockeys, then we noticed the families including children working as kiln-slaves and now a new form of trafficking has erupted in the shape of bride-trafficking. The vulnerable situation of young girls is not acceptable in any case, shape or form. The victims generally belong to the lower-middle class of the country, the struggling folks need help. The fight against modern slavery must go beyond the arrest of culprits and extend into convictions as well as improved intelligence gathering and better support of victims. We have to adopt a system to see information gathered and mined for intelligence that leads to organized networks dismantled, otherwise the whole effort would be of no use as ever happening. We need a support and care system for the victims enabling them to be no longer vulnerable to traffickers and slave masters.  We are in need of an awareness campaign for the people of Pakistan so that we can pride ourselves on being a nation that will not tolerate the evil of modern slavery. We would not tolerate or allow our law enforcement agencies to sit dormant on such an important issue of modern slavery. They have to accumulate data of the actors involved in this heinous crime that has become a threat to our younger generation and national security. For better protection and prosecution, they must identify recruiters, transporters, exploiters, organized gangs including national and international, small trafficking groups that specialized in one specific area and individual freelancers.  

This is achievable only by setting up an Anti-Human Trafficking Authority having sub-offices across the country to implement the new legislation to criminalize and prosecute the traffickers and at the same time to protect the victims. The establishment of such authority would facilitate to detect victims of trafficking and at the same time would inculcate a sense of security to report and provision of support would be much easier under the authority. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children which is an international instrument called for the criminalization of all acts of trafficking – including forced labor, slavery and slavery-like practices also emphasize on the governmental response to incorporate the “5P” paradigm including prevention, victim’s protection, partnership, pursue and criminal prosecution.

We have to adopt policies to save and protect other potential victims and have to stop the exploiters to run around the cities without any action by the police against them. Police have to set up specialized anti-human trafficking squads to tackle the problem and help victims and people want to see improvement in the reporting and recording of data in such cases. Everyone knew that the modern slavery and human trafficking are a much bigger problem than is being identified, yet we are still stumbling around because we do not have proper data as we have a habit of hypothesizing rather than collecting data since independence. Human Trafficking is a hidden crime, we have to collect figures to combat the ever-growing problem. An improved system must come in place for the support of victims once they have been identified which would in turn encourage more victims to come forward to report the issue in their area. Cities are filled with victims of slavery and are not approaching to report as they fear they would lose their so-called jobs, and no one is there to support them in a legal battle which is beyond the reach of people due to its heavy cost.

According to the Global report on Trafficking in Persons issued by the UNODC, girls account for 23% of all trafficking victims, while boys account for 7% of reported trafficking victims. The profile of identified victims revealed that more children and particularly the girls are becoming victims of trafficking and are under the age of 18 years, as the girls are typically victims of sexual exploitation, while boys are more often exploited for forced labor.

This type of situation is mostly prevalent and observed in countries having weak rule of law and lack of resources for the law enforcement agencies. The situation provides traffickers a fertile terrain to carry out operations of exploitations such as sexual exploitation, forced marriage, armed combat and various forms of forced labor. Despite, the introduction of new law by the government that has brought many changes in The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018, the situation is further deteriorating with the passage of time. The new law has enabled victims of Trafficking to come forward and report his/her exploitation as according Section 6 of the Act, a victim shall not be criminally liable for an offence under the Act but may become witness in the case, while Section 7 empowered the prosecution not to prove actual use of force, fraud or coercion in case a victim is a child it also empowered the court to not consider the consent of the victim, his parents or guardian as a defense when the victim is a child. Section 9 the Act explains that an offence under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable. Furthermore, the section 11 of the Act provide safety to the victims and witnesses of offence, as the government is held responsible to adopt appropriate measure to ensure that a victim, witness or any other related person to provide adequate protection. Most importantly, the Section 13 provides Compensation to Victims—When an offender is convicted of an offence under this Act, the Court may direct payment of compensation to the victim under section 545 of the Code.


Masud Khabeki is Adjunct Faculty Criminology at Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi