Trafficking of women is a fast growing crime

Naghma Shaikh

Trafficking in people for prostitution and forced labour is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity and the overwhelming majority of victims are women and children. More than 700,000 people are believed to be trafficked each year worldwide. Trafficking is now considered the third largest source of profit for organised crime, behind only drugs and weapons, generating billions of dollars annually.

Trafficking affects virtually every country around the world. The largest number of victims come from Asia, with over 225,000 victims each year from Southeast Asia and over 150,000 fromSouth Asia.

The former Soviet Unionis now believed to be the largest new source of trafficking with over 100,000 trafficked each year from that region alone. An additional 75,000 or more are trafficked from Central and Eastern Europe. Over 100,000 come from Latin America and the Caribbean, and over 50,000 victims are from Africa. Most of the victims are sent to Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe and North America.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has defined trafficking as “all acts involved in capture and acquisition of persons for trade and transport with the intent to sell, exchange or use for any illegal purposes”.

The International Organization for Immigration (IOM) offers a useful definition for the trafficking of women which is: “women are trafficked when they pay a ‘facilitator’ to cross a border voluntarily, but illegally”.

Governments portray trafficked women as voluntary, illegal economic migrants deserving of punishment. However, the stories that trafficked women tell indicate that these women are neither mere passive victims nor traditional ‘economic migrants’. Trafficked women are perhaps best described as active labour migrants who become victims in the process.

They remain scared of the authorities, and rightfully so. They are given far lower waged jobs and are often susceptible to moral, social and other crimes due to their extremely inferior status in Pakistan. Their children are singled out as targets of child labour and child abuse.

Pakistan is a source, transit point and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labour and prostitution. Boys and girls are bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped to work in organised, illegal begging rings, domestic servitude, prostitution, and in agriculture in bonded labour. Girls and women are also sold into forced marriages; in some cases their new ‘husbands’ move them across Pakistani borders and force them into anything they want to.

Some reported actual ‘slave’ markets in Pakistanwhere girls and women are bought and sold.

Women are being sold across parts of Pakistan like animals. The better the ‘condition’ the woman is in the higher the price she will fetch. The buyers of these unfortunate women fix their prices. They take advantage of the situation and humiliate, molest and harass them women in public as if they were animals in a market.

The sold women are then kept in private prisons or taken to other parts of Pakistan and abroad for re-sale to be used for prostitution, drug smuggling and slave labour.

Once an owner becomes bored with his possession or the woman loses her usefulness, he sells her on to someone else. Many girls, some underage, give birth to children who are also sold in the markets.

The women are trafficked from neighbouring India and from the extreme poverty ridden areas of Interior Sindh and Southern Punjab. Women of Bangladeshi origin are also trafficked to Pakistan through India.

Such activities are carried out on both sides of the border of India and Pakistan by influential landlords and politicians with the full knowledge and protection of the local police and authorities. The women being bought or sold are those who are either abducted, those who are brought with the false promise of a better life and those whose families owe money to these landlords and are taken due to their inability to repay the loan.

The trafficking of women has been on the rise since the creation of Pakistan. During the partition, thousands of women were kidnapped on both sides of the borders of India and Pakistan. The kidnapped women were later sold or were forced into prostitution. Later the creation of Bangladesh was another opportunity to traffic in thousands of women.

During times of wars, floods and any other natural disasters there is always a rise in trafficking as the level of poverty increases.

Some shocking moments are also seen when a step-father sells the daughters of his new wife; or a step-mother sells the daughters of her husband. The women and girls are then used for forced marriages with older men and prostitution and more horrifically, removal of organs. Women are also traded between tribal groups to settle disputes or as payment for debts.

With no fear of prosecution, and under the protection of their bodyguards and the police, women sellers have destroyed the lives of thousands of girls. According to Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan, there is more trafficking of women within the country than there is out the country.

Pakistan prohibits all forms of transnational trafficking in persons through its Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance; the ordinance’s prescribed penalties range from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment. The government uses Sections 17 through 23 of the Emigration Ordinance to prosecute internal cases of trafficking. In addition, the Bonded Labor System Abolition Act prohibits bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. Prescribed penalties for all above offenses are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other grave crimes. Moreover, internally trafficked women could access 25 federal government-run ‘Women’s Centers’ or 276 provincial government-run ‘Darul Aman’ centers offering medical treatment, vocational training, and legal assistance to abused women and children. The Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis is also providing assistance to repatriated Pakistani trafficking victims, such as medical, legal, and financial assistance.

Ms. Naghma Shaikh is a research student at the University of Karachi. She may be contacted at: