Unemployment and extreme poverty in various countries have made many millions of men, women, and children vulnerable to trafficking and smuggling. Spurred by the twin crises of rising inflation and unemployment, scores of Pakistanis are crossing national borders through illegal routes. They are eventually victimized by people who exploit their poverty and helplessness. Due to the prevalent economic strain in the country, people fleeing across borders are regarded as ‘economic migrants.’ The enormity of the issue is exemplified in the fact that thousands of Pakistanis are at present imprisoned in various countries on charges of violation of immigration laws, and tampering with travel documents.
Labor scarcity, aging populations, and economic opportunities in destination countries are considered to pull factors for legal and illegal migration. Smugglers and traffickers are exploiting such opportunities in the existing international system that leave people susceptible to enslavement and violence. Many of the criminals work hand in glove with networks located in Iran and Turkey. They entice young people towards fanciful dreams and trap them to pay a heavy price which in contemporary parlance is dubbed as Modern Slavery.
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Understanding the matter better
Alarmingly, a trend of girls trafficked from Pakistan to China, through fake nuptial knots, has also emerged. Many stories about the trafficking of brides, forced prostitution and organ harvesting have proliferated in the recent past. Fictitious Chinese grooms and matchmaking agencies lure teenage girls into marriage, employment, and stay and deceitfully transport them to the black market of sex and organ transplant in China.
Emphatically, the concepts of smuggling and trafficking have to be clearly distinguished in print and electronic media. The press reports, articles, and interviews must be very categorical to sensitize the public on the issue rightly. The training for journalists and academia on the difference between trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants can also be beneficial. The concepts of “human smuggling” and “human trafficking” are distinct from each other. The key difference between the two is freedom of choice. The first, unlike trafficking, does not involve the element of coercion, and it is always transnational; in other words, it requires a person willingly enter into an agreement to gain illegal entry into a foreign country.
Whereas, trafficking aims to exploit the victims sexually or physically. It involves conscription, transfer, and reception. In the case of smuggling, migrants themselves or their parents/guardians willingly enter into a formal or informal agreement, which means there is a component of consent. The former essentially involves cross-border movement while the latter may take place within national boundaries as well.
FIA is the lead agency dealing with external human trafficking and migrant smuggling issues, while the provincial departments deal with internal trafficking. FIA has made significant progress on a range of important activities including the development of a Strategic National Action Plan (2021-2025), approval of Rules for trafficking and migrant smuggling laws, the establishment of provincial anti-trafficking committees, development of SOPs for victim support and referral mechanism, capacity building activities, improved performance of Anti Human Trafficking Circle (AHTCs), coordination with Police and relevant stakeholders, and HTMS activities in FIA Link Offices. It is busting trafficking rings and new scams one after the other.
The Agency also operationalized the Victim Reception and Facilitation Centre (VRFC) in Taftan in 2021. There is a 24/7 helpline (111-345-786) to facilitate the victims. The US State Department released its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in 2022 wherein Pakistan has been excluded from the watchlist.
It is busting trafficking rings and new scams one after the other. The Agency also operationalized the Victim Reception and Facilitation Centre (VRFC) in Taftan in 2021. There is a 24/7 helpline (111-345-786) to facilitate the victims. The US State Department released its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in 2022 wherein Pakistan has been excluded from the watchlist.
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However, there is a strong need of sensitizing people and projecting awareness of media as well. Large national multi-media campaigns, the use of celebrities, newspaper articles, social media, radio discussions, SMS campaigns, drama/theatre, diaspora organizations, etc. can be useful in this regard. The best example is the Blue Heart Campaign #AquiEstoy against human trafficking. The campaign was successfully launched in Mexico and eventually attracted the attention of millions of people across the globe. The campaign illustrated some forms of human trafficking and highlighted the groups vulnerable to this crime.
There are also some Pakistani dramas viz. Daldal (The Swamp), Dil Na Umeed tou Naheen (The heart is not hopeless) and Damsa (White Silk) feature the perils of trafficking and smuggling. We need more of such serials to increase the level of awareness reaching the masses.
The way forward
There is growing interactivity between trafficking in persons, drug-related crimes, and terrorist activities in Pakistan. The existence of trafficking routes can be correlated to terrorism and drug routes, as they can easily be used to move illegal drugs and proceeds of crime without any traceable footprint. Of note, insensitivity among the masses, lack of cohesion among the various law enforcement agencies, and absence of reliable data have largely posed barriers to arresting the problem effectively. Poverty elimination and literacy for poorer communities, where trafficking happens with parental consent, can also help tackle the problem.
The begging mafias involved in internal trafficking must also be disbanded immediately. The menace of HTMS can only be curbed through a coordinated response as no single agency has the wherewithal or the capacity to permanently halt the ill practices of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. The government has notified federal, provincial, and district-level committees to enhance the coordination and synergy amongst all the stakeholders.
There must be a central database to perform data analysis and to share information regularly with law enforcement agencies. FIA, Provincial Police, Police Training Colleges, Social Welfare Department, Labor Department, Child Protection Bureau, and Academia can closely coordinate for capacity building and information sharing on HTMS. The relevant stakeholders have to comprehend the scope and size of this problem, contributing factors, and current response so that more effective initiatives can be taken to end such vicious forms of human exploitation.
Written by Mr. Masood Ahmed
The writer is an Assistant Director at Federal Investigation Agency and is also a Certified Master Trainer at FIA Academy, Islamabad.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.