THIS week, a seminar in the capital city highlighted that a disproportionate number of Pakistani women and girls were trapped in the human trafficking trade. Speakers informed participants that the ages of the victims ranged between two and 50 years old, and underscored the need for greater, nationwide efforts to create awareness of the presence of human trafficking rings, while providing survivors the help and tools they needed to reintegrate back into society. The illegal trade of people through the use of deception, coercion or force remains one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it is by no means a new phenomenon in human history. It may be talked about more now, but not enough, when keeping in mind the scale of this evil practice. While boys and men typically get entangled in vicious rackets for the purpose of forced labour, young girls and women in particular are susceptible to sex trafficking, lured by promises of employment and new wealth awaiting them in other lands, or through the use of brute violence and kidnapping. The shocking revelation of Pakistani brides being tricked into sexual slavery in China was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Mostly from poor Christian families in Punjab, the women married Chinese men in the hopes of a better life, only to find themselves sold into sexual slavery once they reached their new home.
While it is difficult to collect accurate data on such undercover activity — a fact acknowledged by all organisations working to end the practice — the UN released a report on global human trafficking trends in 2018, noting that a growing number of girls were the victims of this illicit trade. According to their findings, girls accounted for 23pc of all trafficking victims in 2016, while women made up 49pc. Many of the victims hail from conflict zones, and as they try to escape oppressive conditions of violence, discrimination and poverty, they become vulnerable to predators lurking in their midst. Eradicating human trafficking is on the list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. While Pakistan has made some progress when it comes to legislature — most notably, passing the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act last year — implementing the law on ground remains a challenge. According to estimates, thousands of Pakistanis become prey to traffickers each year, and with rising poverty and income disparity, the challenge will only rise.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2019