Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. A large percentage of trafficking that occurs within the country, particularly of children, is due in part to Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation and weak economy. Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts monopolized the Pakistani government’s resources and attention. The country’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labor, in which landowners, traffickers, or recruiters exploit an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment, ultimately entrapping other family members and sometimes persisting for generations. Experts estimate that two to four million people are subjected to bonded labor in Pakistan at any given time. Bonded labor is concentrated in the Sindh and Punjab provinces, but also takes place in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, in agriculture and brick-making and, to a lesser extent, in the mining and carpet-making industries. In some cases, when bonded laborers attempt to escape or seek legal redress, police return them to their traffickers, who then hold laborers and their families in private jails.
Children as young as 5-years-old are bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped and placed in organized begging rings, domestic servitude, small shops, brick kilns, and prostitution. Some children are intentionally injured by their traffickers: in September 2013, Pakistani police arrested 27 people in Punjab province for kidnapping and mutilating eight children between the ages of five and 10 for forced begging. In February 2014, a poultry farmer discarded two bruised and bloodied boys ages 7 and 9 on the side of a road in Punjab province after they complained of unpaid wages. NGOs report that boys are vulnerable to sex trafficking around hotels, truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. Parents allow illegal labor agents to find work for their children, who are subsequently subjected to exploitative conditions, forced labor, and prostitution. Trafficking experts describe a structured system for forcing women and girls into prostitution, including physical markets in which victims are offered for sale. In June 2013, Pakistani media documented the attempted sale of a 12-year-old girl in a Karachi market. 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. In other cases, sometimes organized by extra-judicial courts, girls are used as chattel to settle debts or disputes. Non-state militants kidnap children, buy them from destitute parents, or coerce parents with threats or fraudulent promises into giving their children away; these armed groups force children to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, often through psychological coercion or sexual and physical abuse.
Many Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to the Gulf states, Iran, Turkey, South Africa, Uganda, Maldives, Australia, Greece, Spain, and other European countries for low-skilled employment; once abroad, some become victims of labor trafficking. Experts report that Pakistani men are subjected to forced labor in the EU, and Pakistani women are subjected to sex trafficking in the Gulf states. False job offers, especially for women and girls in the United Arab Emirates, and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labor agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters entrap Pakistanis into sex trafficking and bonded labor. Social media and internet cafes are used for recruiting and blackmailing girls for sex trafficking. There are reports of children subjected to sex trafficking between Iran and Pakistan, and of Pakistani children and adults with disabilities forced to beg in Iran. Pakistan is a destination country for men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tanzania, and Bangladesh subjected to forced labor. Women from Afghanistan, China, Russia, Nepal, Iran, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking in Pakistan. Refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Burma, as well as religious and ethnic minorities, such as Hazaras, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking in Pakistan.
The Government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to focus on trafficking as a transnational phenomenon, conflating trafficking and smuggling which are separate crimes under international law. While the Pakistani government has a draft anti-trafficking bill that would address gaps in its legislative framework, it did not introduce it in the National Assembly or Senate. The government reportedly rescued 1,871 bonded labor victims in 2013 and worked with international organizations on several training initiatives, but did not show progress in convicting trafficking offenders; therefore, Pakistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. In the 22 years since the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) was enacted, Pakistani officials have yet to secure a conviction under the law. The government also regularly arrested victims, including child sex trafficking victims, for crimes they were compelled to commit as a result of trafficking, including prostitution. The Pakistani government’s efforts to fight trafficking were impaired by systemic corruption. During the reporting period, Pakistani media highlighted the Federal Investigative Agency’s (FIA) involvement in human trafficking, causing experts to question the FIA’s commitment to combating this crime. The absence of federal laws to address internal human trafficking and the poor implementation of existing laws also hampered Pakistan’s anti-trafficking efforts. Government officials continued to demonstrate a lack of political will, acting to address trafficking only when pressured to do so by media and activists.
Recommendations for Pakistan:
Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected human trafficking offenders, respecting due process, as well as government officials suspected of complicity in trafficking; pass an anti-trafficking law that prohibits and penalizes all forms of human trafficking, including internal 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; conduct an official survey of bonded laborers in each province in coordination with experts from international organizations; 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; require domestic workers and their employees to establish written, enforceable contracts in a language workers understand as a first step in incorporating domestic workers into the formal labor market and improving protection against exploitation; add transparency to the “peshgi” system of cash advances, which often leads to extended periods of bonded labor; improve efforts to collect, analyze, and accurately report anti-trafficking data, distinct from data on smuggling; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Pakistan failed to demonstrate adequate law enforcement efforts against trafficking; efforts to eliminate internal trafficking were hampered by the absence of federal laws to address internal trafficking, the poor or non-existent implementation of existing laws, and widespread corruption. The government does not prohibit and penalize all forms of trafficking. Several sections of 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 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 (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 BLSA prohibits bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Experts noted that fines and other penalties for bonded labor offenses are generally insufficient to deter unscrupulous employers or wealthy landowners. Under a 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. While the Pakistani government cooperated with an international organization to draft a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill to address the gaps in PACHTO, the legislation was not introduced in the National Assembly or Senate.
The government did not report disaggregated data on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, or convictions under the penal code. It is unclear how many trafficking cases or traffickers were prosecuted during the reporting period because the government’s data did not reflect the number of prosecutions; instead, it reported how many prosecutions were brought under each provision of the penal code, without indicating whether specific cases were counted multiple times under several provisions. Furthermore, law enforcement officials continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling, with trafficking victims frequently prosecuted for immigration violations. The government reported that the penal code provisions were used approximately 138 times to prosecute trafficking cases in 2013, compared with 80 times in 2012. Trafficking-related crimes such as forced labor and child prostitution were not a law enforcement priority. Pakistani officials have yet to secure a conviction under the BLSA since this law came into effect in 1992. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Report of the Committee of Experts noted that land owners exploited bonded laborers with impunity. Observers noted that Pakistan’s implementation of existing anti-trafficking laws was generally poor and that there was not a sustained effort by the government to find and prosecute traffickers, especially those involved in the exploitation of bonded laborers. Police reportedly acted only when pressured by media and activists, and were indifferent to many harmful practices that included or contributed to human trafficking, such as the forced marriage of girls to settle disputes, commercial sexual exploitation of boys, and widespread debt bondage in the agricultural and brick kiln industries. Because of law enforcement inaction, wealthy landowners continued to exploit sharecroppers and brick kiln workers with impunity. In November 2013, landowners kidnapped and threatened the brother of an anti-bonded labor activist; authorities took no law enforcement action against the landowner. In February 2014, observers reported that police in Sindh province were reluctant to rescue a family held in bondage by a landowner, due to his influence. Government employees’ complicity in trafficking remained a significant problem. During the reporting period, Pakistani media highlighted the FIA’s involvement in human trafficking and the complicity of other government officials. In July 2013, the FIA arrested three of its own officials and removed an assistant director for complicity in a falsified documents scheme at the Islamabad airport. The combination of corruption and a reduction of approximately 25 percent of staff severely reduced FIA’s capacity to combat trafficking. In February 2014, the FIA published a report on the most notorious human traffickers in the country, which included names of several politicians; the report’s utility was limited due to its conflation of smuggling and trafficking, however, it did document that there were 141 human “trafficking” networks operating inside Pakistan and provided details about the complicity of immigration officials at airports in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. In January 2014, police arrested a member of the Balochistan Assembly for allegedly enslaving laborers, including three children, and police officers in a private jail. The provincial legislator reportedly sent threatening messages to the presiding judge. The Balochistan Chief Minister commented that the case was nothing more than an administrative matter. In February 2014, authorities in Islamabad allegedly protected a suspected trafficker from an Interpol warrant.
The Government of Pakistan partnered with an international organization to develop a human trafficking curriculum for law enforcement agencies, which will eventually extend to provincial governments, focusing on investigation techniques, prosecutions, and data collection; the training was implemented only as a pilot program in 2013. The Interagency Task Force held several meetings to increase information sharing among Pakistan’s various law enforcement groups in an effort to improve the tracking of migrant smugglers, including human traffickers.
The Government of Pakistan failed to protect victims of human trafficking during the reporting period. Police were reluctant to assist NGOs in rescue attempts, often tipping off landowners, and punished victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Police conducted raids at massage parlors, beauty salons, and other establishments used as fronts for forced prostitution, but often treated sex trafficking victims as criminals, claiming that they were willful participants. For example, in February 2014, the FIA arrested 12 women and two men from Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan for immigration violations; some, if not all, of the people were potentially subjected to trafficking. Pakistani authorities did not have systematic methods for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and referring them to protective services. An FIA official acknowledged that the absence of victim centers, the lack of cross-border intelligence, and low public awareness hindered protection efforts. Pakistan’s civil society continued to take the lead on victim protection, as the Pakistani government did not provide adequate protection and assistance services for trafficking victims. Officials admitted that there was no safe place to house deportees, and that hampered law enforcement’s efforts to investigate human trafficking cases. Observers explained that there were only a few shelters designated for human trafficking victims and commented that many were ill-equipped to deal with the victims’ myriad of social, economic, and psychological needs. 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. While there were shelters available to bonded laborers, they generally catered to women and children, offering no support to male victims.
The ILO Report of the Committee of Experts noted that the district vigilance committees set up under the BLSA “had not performed their functions of identifying” bonded laborers. The Government of Pakistan did not report data on the number of trafficking victims identified and referred to shelters during the reporting period. An NGO report estimated that Pakistani police rescued 1,871 bonded laborers—425 women, 944 men, and 32 children—in 2013. Activists claimed that after bonded laborers were freed, they received little support from the government to restart their lives, and actually returned to the brick kilns or farms due to lack of alternative employment opportunities.
Victims expressed reluctance to testify against their exploiters due to threats of violence against them and their families. In October 2013, Pakistani media reported the forced marriage of a 14-year-old girl whose family took her kidnapper to court, only for the judge to dismiss charges when she claimed, under threat of violence, that the marriage was consensual. Her exploiter had also forced her to engage in prostitution with several men, including police officers and a police chief. Observers also noted the absence of written contracts between many domestic workers and their employers; the lack of contracts left domestic workers even more vulnerable to trafficking. Undocumented foreign nationals were detained and charged under the penal code without screening to determine whether they had been subjected to human trafficking. Authorities detained returning Pakistani adults and children, 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.
The Pakistani government made limited efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Observers asserted that the government did not take sufficient steps to inform Pakistani emigrants about trafficking even though a significant number become victims. 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, 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. In Punjab province, the government distributed interest-free loans to 6,104 borrowers as part of the “Elimination of bonded labour in brick kilns” project. The FIA operated a hotline for trafficking victims. The government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts were offset by the government’s prosecution of females in prostitution without ensuring that they were not victims of trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training to sensitize troops prior to their deployment on peacekeeping missions. Pakistan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.