Pakistan’s Sindh Province has recorded a sharp increase in reported cases of human trafficking since the beginning of the year, and the trend could continue unless the authorities take action to contain it, say activists.
Some 190 cases have been reported in the province in the first two months of 2012, according to Zia Ahmed Awan, chairperson of Madadgaar Helpline, an NGO helping women and child victims of abuse and trafficking. In 2011, the NGO recorded 288 cases.
Families receive a payment for allowing their children to be trafficked: Traffickers pick up women and children from villages with the promise of getting them jobs in cities. However, once a certain amount has been paid to the family, the traffickers exploit the woman or child, often treating them as little more than slaves. .
“Most of the victims are from Bangladesh and Afghanistan, where poverty and strife have made it difficult for people to meet their basic needs,” Awan said. “Combine this with illiteracy and unemployment, and you will have people willing to sell their children.” (he is talking about the reported cases here)
She urged the Pakistani government to devote more resources to fighting trafficking and drafting new legislation to ban it.
Talking to IRIN, an official of the Ministry of Human Rights in Sindh blamed poverty. “Poverty forces people to give away their children,” said the official who requested anonymity. “In big cities like Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana you will find kids as young as five being employed as servants. The constitution grants protection to minors but sadly no one is willing to take up this matter.”
After the floods in 2010 and 2011, poverty increased in Sindh and many families dependent on farming had no other option but to send their children to bigger cities, say aid workers.
“How do you curb human trafficking and bondage when some of the most influential figures - even those in the women ministry, human rights and child protection committees - have young children as servants?” asked a social worker in Sindh who only identified herself as Aswa.
“A child of seven or eight years is available 24/7 to clean your house, carry your groceries and do other chores, for Rs. 1,000 a month,” she said. “For the same amount of work an adult servant would easily charge Rs 4,000 a month. Most people carry out the worst possible abuse of these children and if the child runs away, false cases of theft are lodged,” she said.
Call for police vigilance
Awan of Madadgaar Helpline called for increased police vigilance. “Our police personnel need sensitization trainings as often they can’t differentiate between human smuggling and child trafficking. As long as there is a feudal system in the country, we will have human trafficking and child labour,” he said.
Pakistan is listed as “a source, transit, and destination country” for trafficked persons, according to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2011. Pakistan's largest human trafficking problem, according to the report, is that of bonded labour. Concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces, it is particularly common in brick kilns, carpet-making, agriculture, fishing, mining, leather tanning, and the production of glass bangles.
According to the International Labour Organization, more than 12 million people are trafficked each year worldwide. An estimated 70 percent of those trafficked are females under 25.