The government significantly decreased sex trafficking investigations and prosecutions, although labor trafficking prosecutions and convictions increased. Pakistani laws criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2018 PTPA criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to one million Pakistani rupees (PKR) ($6,460), or both, for trafficking offenses involving an adult male victim, and penalties of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to one million PKR ($6,460), or both, for those involving adult female or child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with regard to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued to use other sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that criminalized some forms of human trafficking. For example, Section 371A and 371B criminalized the buying and selling of a person for prostitution and prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and fines. Section 374 criminalized unlawful compulsory labor and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Section 366A criminalized procuration of a “minor girl under 18” and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Section 370 criminalized buying or disposing of any person as a slave and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine, and Section 371 criminalized habitual dealing in slaves and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment and a fine if the imprisonment was less than 10 years. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. The federal Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) criminalized bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both; these penalties were sufficiently stringent. Most of the provincial governments have adopted their own labor laws, including anti-bonded labor laws, under a devolution process that began in 2010, and federal laws apply until provinces enact corresponding laws.
The 2018 PTPA was in force as the government worked with an international organization to draft implementing rules. Punjab investigated five cases under the 2018 PTPA involving 85 suspects, prosecuted an unknown number of cases and suspects, and convicted 14 traffickers. While it reported imposing fines upon some of the convicted traffickers, it did not report if it sentenced any to imprisonment. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) authorities initiated one investigation into four suspects under the 2018 PTPA, which was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government reported data on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions under the PPC by province and special administrative area. Overall, law enforcements and judiciaries investigated 916 sex trafficking cases and initiated prosecutions in 567 cases, and convicted 131 sex traffickers—significant decreases from 2,367 sex trafficking investigations, 2,212 prosecutions, and an unreported number of convictions in the previous reporting period. The vast majority of sex trafficking investigations and all but one conviction took place in Punjab under Section 371A of the PPC for “Selling person for purposes of prostitution etc.” The government did not report sentences for the convictions. Sindh achieved two sex trafficking convictions. Azad Jammu and Kashmir was the only province that did not conduct at least one sex trafficking investigation. Punjab continued to make the vast majority of law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking; of the national statistics on sex trafficking, Punjab reported 85 percent of the investigations, 81 percent of prosecutions, and 98 percent of convictions.
The government’s law enforcement action on labor trafficking, especially bonded labor, remained inadequate. Despite the adoption of the BLSA, bonded labor persisted, largely due to ineffective enforcement of the law and powerful local officials as perpetrators. Punjab was the only province to investigate, prosecute, or convict traffickers under the BLSA. Punjab authorities investigated 77 cases of bonded labor, prosecuted 20 cases, and convicted 16 traffickers, an increase from 23 investigations, 22 prosecutions, and three convictions in the previous reporting period but still a significant decrease from 197 investigations, 182 prosecutions, and 37 convictions in 2017. The Punjab Child Protection and Welfare Board (CPWB) additionally filed 616 First Information Reports (FIRs) under the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour from Brick Kilns Act. An international organization stated authorities did not adequately enforce the BLSA primarily due to police inaction on complaints and lower court judges’ lack of understanding of the law. Moreover, in many provinces, including Sindh, the Department of Labor (DOL) handled bonded labor cases and could at most administer financial penalties. Punjab initiated one investigation and prosecution for forced labor under PPC Section 374, unlawful compulsory labor. Although the 2018 PHTA encompassed PPC Section 369A for trafficking in human beings, Sindh authorities also reported one investigation under 369A. Additionally, Sindh authorities initiated four investigations and three prosecutions under PPC Section 371 for habitual dealing in slaves, similar to previous reporting periods. While Sindh police removed at least 677 bonded laborers from the location of their exploitation during the reporting period, it did not initiate criminal investigations. Despite police and prosecutors’ responsibility to pursue cases, authorities reported they did not do so because victims could not afford to pay for investigations and prosecutions. The government also reported data on several penal code sections that criminalized labor trafficking and other non-trafficking crimes but did not disaggregate the data to specify which cases under these sections were for labor trafficking versus non-trafficking offenses.
Sindh courts only intervened sporadically on trafficking cases to remove victims from perpetrators but did not criminally prosecute alleged traffickers for bonded labor offenses. While Sindh passed legislation criminalizing bonded labor in 2015, it did not draft civil or criminal procedures to facilitate its implementation. While the BLSA mandated the creation of District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) in each province to ensure implementation of the BLSA, including reporting and filing cases, the government relied on bonded labor victims to have knowledge of the BLSA, proactively leave their landowners, and file their own cases in the court. Even when bonded laborers did so, the courts either did not act on such claims or handled them administratively. As a result, trafficking victims who came forward often faced retaliation from their exploitative employers.
The Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) remained the government’s lead reporting and coordinating entity on human trafficking. The agency focused on transnational offenses, while provincial police generally investigated internal human trafficking cases. While FIA and provincial police coordinated on an ad hoc basis, overall collaboration remained weak and complicated law enforcement efforts and data collection. FIA investigated human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases through its 24 anti-trafficking law enforcement joint task forces at the federal, provincial, and local levels. FIA officials, including all newly inducted officers, received regular training on countering trafficking in persons, including differentiating between human trafficking and migrant smuggling; however, some officials continued to conflate the crimes. Foreign governments and international organizations funded trafficking-specific trainings for police, investigators, prosecutors, and FIA officials, and government agencies contributed in-kind support to some of the trainings. FIA had satellite offices at three embassies abroad; its Oman office referred eight human trafficking cases for investigation. NGOs noted provincial police were reluctant to file FIRs—required to launch criminal investigations—into many crimes, including trafficking. Furthermore, overburdened prosecutors and judges, who frequently lacked adequate training, contributed to lengthy trafficking trials and low conviction rates. The government maintained bilateral law enforcement cooperation mechanisms with multiple countries, participated in eight international human trafficking or migrant smuggling investigations, and extradited one sex trafficker to the United Kingdom.
Official complicity in trafficking remained a significant concern, impeding anti-trafficking efforts during the reporting period. Despite sustained reports, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions into officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses, a decrease from the previous year. During the reporting period, officials and media reported a Pakistani-Chinese organized crime ring sent more than 620 Pakistani women to China from 2018-2019 for ostensibly legitimate marriages, but the “husbands” physically and sexually abused many of the women, including forcing some into commercial sex. While officials initially began an investigation into multiple Chinese suspects, it later acquitted all 31 suspects. NGOs and media reported powerful government officials ordered the acquittals and transferred some officials who had attempted to continue pursuing human trafficking charges. Moreover, while victims and media consistently reported Chinese and Pakistani traffickers operated the scheme together, the government did not report investigating any Pakistani suspects. In July 2019, a 14-year-old domestic worker reported substantial indicators of trafficking by her employer, a parliamentarian in Punjab, including sexual abuse and torture. While police registered the charges, they did not arrest the parliamentarian, allegedly because the provincial government did not allow them to do so. The parliamentarian continued to pressure the victim to drop the charges. In January 2020, the Supreme Court set aside the extended three-year sentence imposed on a judge and his wife for cruelty to a child for subjecting a 10-year-old girl to torture and domestic servitude—the government’s first reported conviction of an official complicit in trafficking-related offenses in 10 years—and reinstated the initial sentence of one year’s imprisonment. In October 2018, police removed a 10-year-old domestic worker from the house of a Pakistani army major after allegations of torture and domestic servitude and arrested the army major’s husband. The government did not report whether the case against the employers continued or whether it began investigating an assistant sub-inspector of police, whom it had initially suspended for failing to file a police report in the case.
The government did not report any efforts to address local government officials’ reportedly endemic perpetuation of bonded labor, which created a culture of impunity for offenders. Feudal landlords and brick kiln owners used their political connections to facilitate their use of forced labor. In some cases, when bonded laborers attempted to escape or seek legal redress, police refused to file a case and returned bonded laborers to their traffickers. NGOs continued to report perpetrators of bonded labor successfully filed fraudulent charges against victims leading to their arrest and imprisonment, at times in collusion with police. Some police reportedly assisted employers in kidnapping bonded laborers that authorities or NGOs had previously removed from exploitation. Police were reluctant to investigate cases of potential bonded labor when wealthy and influential individuals, such as local politicians, were the alleged perpetrators. Some police reportedly acted against trafficking only when pressured by media and activists. Observers alleged police accepted bribes to ignore prostitution crimes, some of which may have included sex trafficking, and border officials might have facilitated human trafficking. Contacts also reported police refused to register cases of child sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, unless victims paid a bribe. Some garment factories paid monthly bribes to labor department officials to avoid inspections, some factories in Sindh prevented government officials from conducting inspections, and Punjab province—which had 70 percent of the country’s textile factories and many cases of forced and bonded labor—banned labor inspectors from visiting any factory in September 2019.