Washington honours Pakistani officer as anti-trafficking hero

WASHINGTON: The US State De­­partment has honoured a Pakistan police officer, Zaheer Ahmed, as one of the eight anti-trafficking heroes of 2023 while acknowledging that the country has increased its efforts to curb human trafficking.

The honour list was announced on Thursday at a special event in Washington where Secretary of State Antony Blinken also released the annual Trafficking in Persons report for 2023.

The report places Pakistan among the tier-two countries whose governments do not fully meet the anti-trafficking standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those.

The report identified bonded labour as the most pressing problem in Pakistan. “There were reports of victims being re-victimised, and corruption continued to hinder anti-trafficking efforts. In Sindh, local officials continued to perpetrate bonded labour with impunity in brick kilns and on farms,” the report added.

The US State Department, however, acknowledged that in 2022 Pakistan “demonstrated overall increase in efforts” to investigate, prosecute and convicting traffickers.

“The government identified and referred more victims for protection services, and provincial labor departments referred more bonded labor cases to law enforcement,” the report added.

Zaheer Ahmed, a Deputy Insp­ector General in Pakistan’s Police Service, was selected from a global list of prominent law enforcers and activists who played key roles in suppressing human trafficking in 2023. He previously served as director of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Anti-Human Smuggling Unit.

The State Department said Mr Ahmed was “instrumental in increasing Pakistan’s efforts to combat human trafficking during his time as director of this unit”.

The report urges Pakistan to vigorously increase the number of bonded labour victims identified and referred to services, including by ensuring labour inspectors have sufficient resources to conduct inspections and report potential trafficking cases to law enforcement.

It asks Pakistan to implement measures to address corruption in law enforcement and take steps to shield trafficking investigators and prosecutors from external influence; increase prosecutions and convictions of all forms of trafficking, including bonded labour, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, which should involve significant prison terms.

The report urges Pakistan to ensure victims are not inappropriately penalised solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; continue to train officials, including law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors; expand services for bonded labourers, including vocational training and job placement support, debt and injury restitution, shelter, identity documents, and legal assistance.

It urges Pakistan to ensure the victims are informed of the law that discharges all bonded labourers from any obligations to render such labour through awareness campaigns; increase registration of brick kiln and farm workers to ensure their access to services and government relief, especially in response to sudden-onset disasters due to climate change.

The report asks Pakistan to increase the quality and availability of trafficking-specific services, including for males, and increase dedicated funding for services and staff training; vigorously raise public awareness of forced labour, particularly in domestic servitude, brick kilns, and agriculture; take steps to eliminate all recruitment fees charged to workers, lift restrictions on female migrants, and increase protections of migrant workers in destination countries; and establish a national hotline, in collaboration with civil society, to report trafficking crimes and provide victim assistance and referral.


Source: Dawn, June 17th, 2023