Human Trafficking is the one of the most serious and profitable organized crime, in which humans are treated as commodities for material gains and benefits. The women, children and youth are main targets of traffickers who are lured with fascinating dreams, bright future, better living standards, lucrative employment, financial gains but at the end they are put forcibly into beggary, slavery, servitude, prostitution and other trades depriving youth and families of their hard-earned money and ruin their honor, self-esteem, future and even lives. Human trafficking is a burning issue also in Pakistan, with thousands of people, mostly women, children and youth, being trafficked every year for various purposes including forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced marriages.
According to the United Nations, Pakistan is source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, with many victims being transported to the Middle East and other parts of Asia and Europe. The problem is exacerbated by poverty, illiteracy and lack of awareness about human rights, which make vulnerable populations easy targets for traffickers. The Pakistani government has taken steps to combat human trafficking, but more needs to be done to address this pervasive and disturbing issue including robust implementation on legislation to protect victims and punish traffickers.
Pakistan introduced the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PACHTO) 2002, which was limited to the external trafficking with the authority of investigation through Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). It couldn’t make much positive impact due to lack of coordination among the institutions; absence of engagements of relevant stakeholders particularly civil society; conflict in penal code and PACHTO; and the lack of human right component approach. The PACHTO was not an all-inclusive response towards trafficking because it has limited scope of external trafficking, it also did not cover bonded and forced labor servitude. The civil society and international community had lots of reservations and demanding the inclusion of internal trafficking as part of the law. The government of Pakistan introduced two new laws i.e. “The prevention of Trafficking in Person Act 2018” and “The prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act 2018” in which the internal trafficking has been included; however, the human right factor is still missing. The absence of rules and assigning a clear responsibility of dissemination and awareness are also not covered under the new laws.
A study conducted by SHARP-Pakistan in March 2019 shows that 99.5% lawyers and civil society actors are not aware of the promulgation of these two new laws, which speaks volume of the concerns and importance being given to this crucial human issue. Another gap in the act is limiting trainings only to the prevention aspect by simply sensitizing concerned government officials on the limited approach of prevention while other two important components of the trafficking protection and prosecution are not focused at all.
Over the past three years, the emergence and presence of COVID-19 has introduced a new level of uncertainty into many people’s lives, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Measures to curb the spread of the virus increased the risk of trafficking through major job loss, creating new opportunities for criminal networks to prey on those who are desperate. Lockdowns and limitations on anti-trafficking services limited a means of escape or rescue for victims. During this time, there was also a marked increase in the number of children and women targeted by traffickers on social media and other online platforms.
The ACT project in collaboration with Australian high commission focuses on educating people about the true nature of that crime and its consequences. Within the general population, specific groups will be targeted with more specific messages or by specific means. Awareness raising campaigns shall provide potential victims of trafficking with sufficient information about the risks of human trafficking, the possibilities for migrating legally in order to work and earning possibilities to enable them to make informed decisions about migration, to evaluate whether job offers are realistic and to seek help in the case of trafficking. Awareness raising shall also address the health risks, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, associated with sexual exploitation. Other messages to be conveyed are vigilance and public accountability (taking action when trafficking is detected), information about anti-trafficking programs and criminal penalties for trafficking.
Activities under ACT are as follows: