By Khurram Mehmood

An Afghan man, an alleged ringleader of a human trafficking racket, was arrested and put in jail in Quetta after 46 dead bodies had been found crammed in a truck container in 2009 involving a failed human trafficking bid. Image: Getty Images

The issue of mass migrations from the troubled lands to the settled seems never-ending in the near future. So the voluntary smuggling to the greener pastures from the poor places.

But the trafficking for sex trade and slavery is getting even worse with each passing day.

From Pakistan’s perspective, where poverty, joblessness, unavailability of basic necessities and no check on a law is much higher, almost every other person is readily available to move in any of the developed countries on any condition, no matter how costly or painful it is.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), over 1,000 criminal networks in the country generated about $927 million through human trafficking and migrant smuggling in 2013.

Experts certify Pakistan as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.

United Arab Emirate’s sex market is the main destination for poor young Pakistani girls who are ditched by local and international agents, who traffic them offering jobs in beauty salons or houses as maids but put them in dance bars and brothels.

Also in the Middle East countries, Pakistan’s cheap and illiterate labour is exploited. They are taken there on the fake work agreements and put on slavery once they arrive at their destinations.

In Pakistan itself, bonded labour and sex trade are still major problems, which need urgent remedies. Not only local children, women and men are exploited for these ills but the country serves as a major market for the sex workers from the Central Asian and some South Asian states.

Plus, the country is an important route for Afghan immigrants who accompanied by thousands of Pakistani men cross into Iran from Balochistan’s Taftan border and then go to Europe via Turkey and Azerbaijan, illegally.

Given this alarming situation, Pakistan’s government, civil society, media and the opinion-makers need to launch a collective effort to curb this menace and free the victims from the shackles of traffickers.

But despite the rising concern at the international level, the government of Pakistan has so far succeeded to do only a little to fight trafficking in human beings.

Main reasons for authorities’ inability to launch a crackdown against the groups involved in human smuggling and trafficking are lack of understanding, poor mechanism, a will to take on the culprits and in some cases complicity of the officials who are assigned to curb it.

The issue has also been largely ignored by Pakistani media, which has so far failed to cover the subject from the humanitarian angle and follows it only up to the level of official announcements. That is limited to tracking some known travel agents and registering the victims’ complaints.

This leaves the stakeholders and policymakers to be sensitised about the graveness of the situation.

Tamme de Leur, a senior journalist and an activist from Netherlands who extensively covered the subject of sex trafficking in his country and Europe, has identified twelve elements, which define the trafficking in human being and efforts to fight it out.

These areas include law enforcement, human rights, gender issues, migration, politics, economics, technology, corporate law, health care, multidisciplinary approach, education and media.

Leur told a workshop of Pakistani journalists, recently organised by the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), that these twelve components are interconnected to prevent trafficking in a human being and their mutual cooperation can play a pivotal role.

But in Pakistan’s case, a working relationship between the stakeholders hardly exists. Their individual efforts are so little to fight the human trafficking or even make people aware of the problem.

The Law Enforcement Agencies (LAEs) are untrained, incapable, inefficient and completely unwilling to launch a decisive crackdown against this organized crime. In many cases they are complacent.

The authorities and media both are unmoved to give preference to human rights against other issues making the basic rights of victims of trafficking irrelevant.

They are also insensitive about the involvement of gender and its risks in this crime. Nor they have made any serious effort to create some awareness regarding migrations, and role of politics, economy, technology, corporate law, health care, multidisciplinary approach, education and media to fight it out.

Leur thinks that sensitisation is very important to address the issue but stresses that media must be careful about the security of the victims and the journalists themselves, given the fear of backlash by the powerful gangs involved in the crime.

For him, the original identity of a trafficking victim —especially a sex trafficking victim— should never be compromised and a journalist should take care of personal protection of the subjects of his story on trafficking because it can further ruin the life of a sufferer.

However, in countries like Pakistan, in many cases, the victims get benefitted by exposing their identities as authorities start moving to solve their cases and get them justice under media’s spotlight.

This is also an agony for those who were targeted by the traffickers.

“Nevertheless, journalists should avoid sensationalism while highlighting the plight of victims, particularly child victims of sex trafficking,” says Olga Ceaglei, a Moldovan journalist, who exposed several rings of child sex abuse in Europe.

She also advocates for inter-country cooperation between journalists to unearth the stories related to sex trafficking and child abuse.

Both Leur and Ceaglei and also their colleague, Elena Krsmanovic, a criminologist who has studied the way the media covers the topic of trafficking in persons, agree that terminology in reporting of trafficking is very important.
“The wording and titles in a story of a trafficking victim should not make him/her accused.”