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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 17 May 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Sold Into Slavery


By Salman Ali

May 17, 2014

Common reasons cited for this disgusting category of child exploitation are poverty, low status of girls and women, rapid urbanisation, breakup of traditional families, consumerist values and sensational mass media

There are lots of definitions currently being used by UN agencies, governments and other stakeholders to describe the words ‘trafficking’ and ‘human trafficking’. What actually does trafficking means? According to the dictionary, trafficking means to deal or trade in something illegal. Accordingly, human trafficking means the “trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

As we all know, trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. Trafficking is fostered by social and economic disparities that produce forceful migration for better prospects. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation including prostitution or for the production of sexually abusive images and to be used as cheap labour.

Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), about 12 million Pakistani children are forced into child labour, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in conditions of real slavery. An estimated 70 percent of those trafficked are females under 25. There is extensive trafficking of children from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries to destinations within Pakistan, largely for the purposes of forced prostitution. India and Pakistan are the main destinations for children under 16 who are trafficked from South Asia.

Millions of workers in Pakistan are held in contemporary forms of slavery. Throughout the country, employers force labour from adults and children, restrict their freedom of movement, and deny them the right to negotiate the terms of their employment. Employers coerce such workers into servitude through physical abuse, forced confinement and debt-bondage. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) have reported that, in most cases, they are given away by impoverished parents, sometimes in “marriage” and sometimes to agents who promise lucrative jobs as domestic servants in large cities for amounts of money ranging from $ 1,300 to $ 5,000.

Pakistan is a country of origin, transit and destination for women and children trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation. Children are taken or sent from their homes through abduction. Moreover, Pakistan has became a source country for young boys who are kidnapped or bought to work as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, a trade that can cost them their lives and limbs. A study in recent years conducted by Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) in Pakistan is of the view that Arab sheikhs come to Pakistan (mostly Bahawalpur, Rahimyaar Khan, Kahsmore and Multan) to select children for camel racing. Through my research I have come to know that these traffickers use different networks and routes that vary according to the purpose of trafficking.

On the other hand, Pakistan is a signatory to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children and promulgated the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance in 2002. Rules under laws were framed in 2004 but enforcement mechanisms are still missing. Millions of children throughout the world and in Pakistan mostly are targets of child trafficking. They are victims of pornography, trafficking and child prostitution. Common reasons cited for this disgusting category of child exploitation are poverty, low status of girls and women, rapid urbanisation, breakup of traditional families, consumerist values and sensational mass media. Trafficking deprives child victims of the privilege to exercise their rights, including the right to belong/identity, the right to freedom, education and healthcare, as well as not being subjected to torture or cruel and inhumane treatment.

I am of the view that Pakistan’s laws on child trafficking need to urgently be strengthened to consistently protect all children against trafficking. A few issues should be addressed to control child trafficking; there are no specialised child protection units in Pakistan, even though plans to establish these have been in the pipeline for the past few years. While the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000 offered greater protection to children, it is not being implemented in its totality. However, the judiciary should assume the leadership role for ensuring its implementation if provincial governments lack the interest to provide direction in this regard.

Secondly, the trafficking ordinance’s offence of child trafficking does not include cases where children are threatened or coerced into providing consent to be trafficked. Since its provisions are limited to trafficking in and out of Pakistan, it leaves out cases of internal trafficking. Moreover, Pakistan must ratify the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and sign the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons. The state offers these workers no effective protection against this exploitation. Although slavery is unconstitutional in Pakistan and violates various national and international laws, state practices support its existence. The state rarely prosecutes or punishes employers who hold workers in servitude.

I would suggest that action be taken to rescue children who have been trafficked and to return them to their families and school so that they can rebuild their lives. If return is not immediately possible or desired, alternative arrangements must be made so that the child’s future is secure and meaningful. For this purpose, international NGOs should collaborate with government agencies to overcome capacity issues and contribute to the training of officials and police who may need support in understanding both the exploitative nature of trafficking and the need to protect the rights of children. I would also suggest that any NGO or government institution conduct, at the national level, a study on the trafficking of children to learn the measure and magnitude of the problem and develop strategies to discourage and eventually eliminate the scourge of trafficking, saving children from becoming victims of the worst forms of child labour and exploitation. It must ensure that their lives do not fade out before having seen the light of day. Child trafficking is a horrific act and we, together as a society; need to make an effort to combat this heinous crime.