Nov 22, 2009

Human currency

The government is hesitant in showing evidence that it is addressing issues of bonded labour and trafficking of migrant workers

By Ayra Inderyas

Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), released in June 2009 by United States Department of State Publication, places Pakistan at the centre of issues like forced labour and sexual exploitation. The international face of human trafficking has its own horrifying tales of victims coerced into prostitution in various forms and manifestations. One UN estimate placed 4 million people, among them 2 millions girls, in the age bracket of 5 to 15 years that are trafficked and brought into sex industry each year. Trafficking across borders is primarily from poor countries -- from South and East and Eastern Europe to wealthier countries of Western Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and the Middle East.

As of 2006, the US State Department reported that women and children trafficked each year to the US are mostly from South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Trafficking business is now worth an estimated £10.5 billion globally according to Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking. Women and children from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal are trafficked to Pakistan primarily for forced labour, according to TIP report.

A few living experiences of women trafficking survivors of Philippines origin are eye-opening. These cases were presented last month during the Beijing plus 15 Conference on Women Rights in Manila. Various factors, emotional and economic, result in people taking to an escape route to vent out anger.

Women trafficking is undertaken by organised gangs of recruiters, traffickers, and their associated networks. Some agencies entrap women on false economic incentives such as offering them jobs in hospitals, secretarial jobs, invite them to cultural events. Many a times visa and passports are taken away and, having no other choice, victims fall a prey to this modern-day bondage. Girls live in constant fear of their employers and end up enduring and encountering sexual violence.

Offering girls in swarah to settle disputes between feuding parties is another form of trafficking. Women from rural and low-income areas are sometimes pushed into seeking employment in cities where they are exploited by all kinds of mafias and often pushed into prostitution. Sometimes girls also try to escape from violence in families and end up in the clutches of traffickers, says Rubina Saigol, a social analyst.

Prostitution also puts a victim at health risks throughout her life. Is it sane to imagine that someone would voluntarily choose to become a prostitute? According to United Nations Anglican Observer, Hellen Akwii-Wangusa, deception, betrayal and abuse of power are the tactics used in trafficking. In Pakistan, bonded labour remains an unresolved issue in brick-making, carpet-weaving, mining, and leather tanning -- a practice that is operative in Sindh and Punjab.

The aforementioned TIP report states that the government is hesitant in showing evidence of addressing issues of bonded labour, forced child labour and trafficking of migrant workers by deceptive and fraudulent labour recruiters. The government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, Pakistan is making significant efforts, such as prosecution of some trafficking offenders and launching of public awareness programmes, the report says.

Pakistan has Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance with penalties ranging from seven to 14 years imprisonment. For internal cases of trafficking, Emigration Ordinance is in place. In addition, Bonded Labour System Abolition Act has penalties ranging from two to five years imprisonment and fine or both. Under the reporting period, the government made convictions of 28 trafficking offenders but the specifics of punishments awarded to offenders were not available. On the other side, 147 law enforcement officials were disciplined for complicity with human trafficking under the government service rules and regulation revealed in the TIP report. Pakistan has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Najma's saga

Some unfortunate women, hard pressed under poverty, violence, forced marriages, and under-age marriages, find themselves left with few options. One such heart-wrenching story is that of Najma (not her real name), a 26-year old who worked as maid in Lahore and was later forced into prostitution. Ever since I met Najma, I cannot forget the despair and dejection in her eyes and the smiling yet pale face of her two-year old baby girl. Najma fell prey to a gang of women traffickers, but was fortunate enough to extricate herself from the gang, only to become their target again. Najma's naivety to the social evils in society became one of her drawbacks. Najma tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that she and her husband used to spend a comfortable life in the servant quarter of a businessman where she worked part time and her husband as a chauffeur. Coming from rural surroundings, where Najma faced abject poverty, city life was a breath of fresh air.

By a twist of fate she landed in the clutches of human traffickers. She was travelling in a rickshaw to visit a friend along with her infant girl. Since she did not know the exact address, the rickshaw driver, who happened to be a contact of human traffickers, took her to the place of the gang. Najma's hue and cry was of no avail. Later, she was offered to various clients.

The baby was given under the charge of a middle-aged maid of the house. Finally, a middle-aged client of Najma helped her to travel to Rawalpindi and got her settled as a housekeeper at a working women's hostel. Meanwhile, Najma's husband filed a First Information Report (FIR) for her missing wife. The police were hesitant to register the FIR of abduction case. Najma's husband was humiliated by the police who said his wife had eloped with some acquaintance.

Eventually, after gaining her freedom from the gang, Najma contacted her husband but she was not accepted back home. Meanwhile, Najma also lost her job in the working women's hostel. Now Najma lives alone, frequently changing places. She clings to her child with a resolve to secure her future and education. When asked why she resorted to prostitution she burst into tears explaining she had to do that in order to survive. She showed the scribe her diary which was full of contact details of her clients

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