Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, with a large percentage of trafficking occurring within the country. Trafficking, particularly of children, remains elevated due to effects from natural disasters, a weak economy, and deteriorating security and rule of law. The country’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labor, in which traffickers or recruiters exploit an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment, which sometimes persist through generations. Bonded labor is concentrated in the Sindh and Punjab provinces, but also takes place in the Balochistan and Khyber Paktunkhwa provinces, in agriculture and brick-making and to a lesser extent in the mining, carpet-making, and fishing industries. In some cases, when bonded laborers attempt to escape or seek legal redress, police return them to the landowners and brick kiln owners who then hold laborers and their families, including children, in chains in private jails. Boys and girls as young as five years old are bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped and placed in organized begging rings, domestic servitude, small shops and factories, and prostitution, according to child rights experts; NGOs report that boys are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly around hotels, truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. Illegal labor agents charge high recruitment fees to parents for giving work to their children, who are subsequently subjected to forced labor and sometimes forced into prostitution. Trafficking experts describe a structured system for forcing women and girls into prostitution, including the presence of physical markets in which victims are offered for sale. Women and girls are also sold into forced marriages; in some cases their new “husbands” move them across Pakistan’s land borders and force them into prostitution in Iran or Afghanistan, and in other cases, sometimes organized by extra-judicial courts, the transaction is used to settle debts or disputes. Non-state militant groups kidnap children or coerce parents into giving away children as young as nine with fraudulent promises or threats and then force the children to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These militants often sexually and physically abuse the children and use psychological coercion to convince the children that the acts the children commit are justified.
Many Pakistani women and men migrate voluntarily to the Gulf states, Iran, Turkey, South Africa, Uganda, Maldives, Greece, and other European countries for low-skilled employment such as domestic work, driving, or construction work; once abroad, some become victims of labor trafficking. False job offers and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labor agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters increase Pakistani laborers’ vulnerabilities to debt bondage. Pakistani workers abroad face restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical and sexual abuse. Traffickers use violence, psychological coercion, and isolation, often seizing travel and identification documents as a means to coerce Pakistani women and girls into prostitution. There are reports of child sex trafficking between Iran and Pakistan, and of Pakistani children and adults with disabilities who are forced to beg in Iran. Pakistan is a destination for men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Iran, and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh, who are subjected to forced labor and prostitution. Afghan refugees and religious and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. In 2012, six Pakistani victims were subjected to human trafficking in Malawi.
The Government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government still showed insufficient political will and capacity to address trafficking fully, as evidenced by ineffective law enforcement measures, the punishment of trafficking victims, and limited efforts in trafficking prevention. Government officials’ complicity in human trafficking was a persistent, serious problem.
Recommendations for Pakistan: Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected human trafficking offenders, respecting due process, as well as government officials suspected of complicity in trafficking; in partnership with international organizations, develop an anti-trafficking law that prohibits and penalizes all forms of human trafficking; in partnership with civil society groups, work to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including street children, people in prostitution, Afghan refugees, and laborers in brick kilns and agriculture; work to ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; clearly distinguish between human trafficking and human smuggling in trainings, policies, and programs; strengthen the capacity of provincial governments to address human trafficking, including bonded labor, through training, raising awareness, providing funding, and encouraging the adoption of provincial-level anti-trafficking action plans; undertake awareness campaigns on human trafficking in local languages, targeted to parents who sell their children, particularly in the Punjab province; improve efforts to collect, analyze, and accurately report counter-trafficking data; and accede to the UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Pakistan continued to prosecute human trafficking offenses over the last year. The government does not prohibit and penalize all forms of trafficking. Several sections in the penal code criminalize some forms of human trafficking, such as slavery, selling a child for prostitution, and unlawful compulsory labor, prescribing punishments for these offenses that range from fines to life imprisonment. Transnational trafficking in persons offenses, as well as some non-trafficking crimes—such as people smuggling and fraudulent adoption—are prohibited through the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002 (PACHTO), which prescribes penalties of seven to 14 years’ imprisonment. Prescribed penalties for the penal code and PACHTO offenses are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) prohibits bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Pakistani officials have yet to secure a conviction under this law. Under the devolution process that started in 2010, federal laws apply to provinces until corresponding provincial laws are enacted; as of the reporting period, only Punjab has adopted such a law.
The government did not report disaggregated data on trafficking convictions under the penal code. It is unclear how many traffickers were prosecuted during the reporting period, because the government’s data does not reflect the number of prosecutions; instead, it reports how many prosecutions were brought under each provision of the penal code, without indicating whether specific cases were prosecuted under several provisions. The government reported that penal code provisions were used approximately 80 times to prosecute trafficking cases from April 2012 to March 2013, compared with 55 times in 2011. Government officials continued to conflate human smuggling and human trafficking, and the Federal Investigative Agency’s (FIA) anti-trafficking units dealt with undocumented migration and smuggling, in addition to human trafficking. During 2012, the government reported that it convicted trafficking offenders under PACHTO; however, since PACHTO also prohibits non-trafficking offenses and some government officials conflated trafficking and smuggling, the actual number of convicted trafficking offenders is unknown. Many police and prosecutors did not pursue trafficking cases or simply did not prioritize anti-trafficking activities. The FIA reported it continued to train officials on transnational trafficking issues at the FIA academy, but experts noted these trainings conflated trafficking with human smuggling.
Government employees’ complicity in human trafficking remained a significant problem. Some feudal landlords were affiliated with political parties or were officials themselves and used their social, economic, and political influence to protect their involvement in bonded labor; a 2012 ILO report asserted that those who use bonded labor have been able to do so with impunity. Additionally, some police received bribes to ignore human trafficking activities from brothel owners, landowners, and factory owners who subjected Pakistanis to forced labor or forced prostitution. Some reports asserted that low-level officials in the FIA anti-trafficking unit, including police, did not register cases against trafficking offenders in exchange for bribes. Other reports noted that some FIA officials solicited bribes from deported Pakistani citizens who arrived in Pakistani airports to avoid having charges filed against them; some of these citizens may have been trafficking victims. The Government of Pakistan did not report any convictions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The Government of Pakistan did not make progress in the protection of victims of human trafficking during the reporting period. Pakistani authorities did not have systematic methods for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and referring them to protective services.
NGOs reported that government officials often detained, fined, or jailed trafficking victims. For example, rural police were inclined to return “runaway” bonded laborers to brick kiln and landowners on the grounds that they tried to avoid repayment of debts. Undocumented foreign nationals were detained and charged under the penal code regardless of whether they had been subjected to human trafficking. Authorities detained returning Pakistani adults and boys, some of whom were trafficking victims, for having left the country illegally. Victims of sex trafficking were often charged with crimes, while their traffickers remained free. Various government-run jail-like facilities that did not allow women to leave without a male relative or a court order, commonly called “women’s shelters,” were available to female trafficking victims; there were not only reports of abuse and severe lack of freedom of movement in these centers, but also allegations that staff and police sold some women unclaimed by their families to men under the guise of marriage. Some child trafficking victims received shelter or other protective services through broad child protection programs and centers offered by provincial governments, although there was no information on how many victims were assisted. A news report described the rescue of 165 bonded laborers by police per the directive of local courts; however, in responding to the traffickers’ grievances of outstanding loans, the courts permitted the traffickers to file civil suits against the bonded laborers in order to recover funds, and the disposition of these civil suits is unknown. Civil society groups report that government rescues of trafficking victims are not accompanied by efforts to protect victims, leading to the victims’ re-trafficking. The Punjab provincial government continued implementation of its project launched in 2008 to eliminate bonded labor in brick kilns, which included helping an unknown number of bonded laborers obtain identity cards and interest-free loans. The Pakistani military continued to run a rehabilitation program in Swat for children who had been exploited by extremist groups; there was no information on how many trafficking victims were assisted by this program during the reporting period. There was also no information on whether the government encouraged victims of trafficking to participate in investigations against their traffickers. The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
The Pakistani government made only limited efforts to prevent human trafficking during the year. The FIA reportedly placed anti-trafficking posters at airports and border crossings to raise awareness of transnational trafficking. Many of the district vigilance committees charged with curbing bonded labor and mandated by law continued to be either inactive or ineffectual. Under the government’s devolution process, which started in 2010, labor regulation and other civil matters, as well as social service delivery, were devolved from the central government to provincial jurisdictions, which often did not have the financial resources and technical capacity to carry them out; this hampered the government’s overall efforts to effectively address forced labor and to provide protective services to trafficking victims. There was no information on whether Pakistani forces deployed to UN peacekeeping missions received training on combating human trafficking prior to their deployment abroad. The government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by arresting some clients of prostitution were mitigated by the government’s punishing of females in prostitution without ensuring that they were not victims of trafficking. Pakistan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.