LAHORE: Human trafficking is rising in Pakistan to an alarming level. More than 10, 000 people are trafficked annually from Pakistan into Gulf countries, UAE, Turkey, Europe and South Africa, official statistics show.
According to Trafficking in Person (TIP) 2014 report of US State Department Office that monitors and combats Trafficking in Persons released on December 28 2014, “The Government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for elimination of trafficking; however, it is making efforts to do so. But these efforts to fight trafficking are impaired by systematic corruption”.
The report further says, “The government does not prohibit and penalize all forms of trafficking. The combination of corruption and reduction of approximately 25 percent staff severely reduced Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) capacity to combat trafficking. Moreover, the false job offers especially for girls and women in United Arab Emirates and high recruitment fee charged by illegal labor agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters entrap Pakistanis into sex trafficking and bonded labor.”
During a telephonic interview with News Lens Pakistan, former Director General of FIA Zafar Malik held the government responsible for the rise in human trafficking. “The government keeps on changing the Director Generals of the agency instead of reforming it. The donor countries like Japan and Australia are assisting the FIA to upgrade the system but our own government is least interested. ”
Zafar said the corruption in FIA could be countered by lucrative salary package for employees and a system of check and balance within the agency. “The poor Pakistanis are trafficked into Gulf countries, Dubai, Turkey, Middle East, European and African countries through Iran’s Taftan Border and Afghanistan routes through containers. The traffickers use land and air routes for smuggling people on forged documents and this activity have been going on for years.”
Professor of Sociology at MAO College Lahore Masood Mirza said poverty was the major reason behind rise in human trafficking. Talking to News Lens Pakistan, he said, “Poverty has increased as job market has sunk. Overall social unrest has increased due to illiteracy, poverty, terrorism, power and gas load shedding.”
“Social frustration has increased to such an extent that people want to leave this country for good job and make a better future abroad. So they contact human smuggler and they in return exploit social frustration of individuals”, Mirza added.
In 2014, FIA arrested only 25 wanted human traffickers out of total 141. The fourth edition of FIA’s Red Book, a publication bound in red that maintains record of wanted human traffickers, the number of wanted human traffickers rose to 141 in 2013-2014 against 95 in 2012 that also includes politicians.
According to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2014 published in The News on September 20 2014, more than half of Pakistan ‘s population faces multi-dimensional poverty, placing Pakistan at 146 out of total 187 countries.
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, a human trafficking victim, Amna Bibi said an agent Muhammad Akram who according to her had lived in the US for long period and had settled in Pakistan for some years fleeced her. “Akram had opened an office of visa consultancy in Cavalry Ground area of Lahore. I met Akram with the help of his friend. Akram got $ 50,000 from me and promised a decent job for me in South Africa at a departmental store. I was promised $1,500 monthly job there,” she added.
Orphan Amna who works at a factory and had sold her mother’s home for the agent fee said, “Akram arranged visa and everything but when I landed in South Africa, Akram did not respond to my calls and disappeared from his Cavalry Ground office. I had to return back hopeless and helpless.”
“I tried to get money back from Akram through his friend who was guarantor but to no avail. I visited FIA Lahore office many times and complained but nothing was done. Finally, I met FIA Lahore Director Dr Usman Anwar who ordered officials to file charge sheet against Akram and trace him within seven days,” Amna added.
“After a period of two months, FIA arrested Akram and I got my money $ 5,0000 back from Akram through FIA after almost three years”. Amna reluctantly admitted that she bribed the FIA officer who arrested Akram on Director Usman’s order and released Akram on getting three times more bribe from him.
According to Amna, Akram who is doing cosmetics business in Lahore now a days had deceived many people in his area and had sent a number of poor people to Dubai, South Africa, Australia, Europe and Canada on forged documents.
Privileged officer of Specialized Police group (PSP) Tariq Malik, served in Anti-Human Smuggling Section of FIA as Director and is currently serving in Islamabad police, blamed the government for not taking human smuggling issue seriously. “The government had promised to amend Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PACHTO) 2002 for making it a vibrant and comprehensive law as per international requirements. But 2014 has passed and no amendment has been made as yet. ”
Referring to TIP 2014 report of US State Department which lowered Pakistan ranking since the FIA failed to arrest most wanted human traffickers in 2014, Tariq said the government neither introduced any law nor any changes were made in the existing laws for many years.
“Many human traffickers are politically patronized like owner of Future Concern Associate Asim Malik, his wife Zubia Rubab Malik and former Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Syed Asif Hashmi. The FIA is unable to do anything substantial against them,” Tariq told News Lens Pakistan.
According to Tariq, human trafficking began in 1970s in Pakistan that forced the government to establish FIA in 1975 to check these crimes.
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, FIA Lahore Deputy Director Khawaja Hammad said the agency has busted many human trafficking rackets since Anti-Human Smuggling Cell is actively pursuing such cases on special directions of Director Dr Usman Anwar’s orders. “The agency has zero-tolerance against human smuggling and a special drive has been launched to arrest most wanted traffickers.”