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Globalisation and the trafficking of women and children - The menace of human trafficking

Thursday, May 4 , 2000 -- Muharram 28, 1421 A.H.

By Tazeen Javed

THERE is no denying the fact that global human trafficking has now become more lucrative than that of, say, arms and drugs. Human trafficking does not take place in isolation. It is directly related to the social and economic realities of a society that are a consequence of liberalization and free market economy. Globalization has severed the traditional socio-economic fabric, and has made women and children vulnerable. They are increasingly becoming a commodity to be sold in the 'world Market'.

Free market forces are responsible for urbanization and the disintegration of rural communities, which are leading towards even more poverty of the already destitute. The other factors which contribute towards the increase in flesh-trade are attitudes towards women and questions of dowry, polygamy, marital problems, desertion etc., Industrialization, development of road links, desirability of easy life promoted by consumerism, large families and contracting economical resources leading children to be viewed as marketable commodities, illicit sexual relations and women ostracized on score of chastity, lack of education and the prevalence of feudal culture.

The status of women and children in relation to property rights, institutionalization of exploitative practices, lack of awareness about legal protection and rights, and discriminatory laws are some of the legal factors which contribute towards the acceleration of human trafficking.

Along with them, over- population, lack of documentation, unemployment, disintegration of rural support systems and the ever-increasing numbers of young dependents further hasten the process.

While loud proclamations are made of the sanctity of human rights and the dignity of human beings, flesh-trade remains rampant, which is a negation of all the pious declarations of development and equality. With the recent re-emergence of organized worldwide syndicates, human beings in general, and women and children in particular, are bought and sold to cater to a variety of needs: sex slavery, prostitution, legal and illegal labour and marriages, bonded labour, camel jockeys, baby farms, adoption and entertainment. Some incidences of organ trade have also been reported, especially from India.

In the context of Pakistan, the problem of human trade and trafficking is multidimensional in nature, as it needs to be addressed on various fronts.

First of all, it is the destination point for those being trafficked in from Bangladesh, Burma, Afghanistan and Central Asia; secondly, a transit point for those brought in from Far East Asia and Bangladesh to be taken elsewhere; and additionally, it is a recruiting ground for those who are internally (inter-provincially) trafficked, or sent to Afghanistan and the Gulf.

The victims of trafficking are either lured by better job prospects, or kidnapped against their wishes. In some cases, women and children are sold by their parents, guardians and husbands. Sometimes girls are sold after fake marriages, or deceived into illegal cross-border migration. Domestic servant Abida Begum was sold by her Rajshahi-based parents in 1989 when she was 15 years old. She was smuggled from Bangladesh through India to Pakistan. In Karachi, she was sold to a taxi driver, who took her to Quetta where they got married. She cooked and cleaned for a household of eight, and was frequently beaten up by her husband. She left her house when her father-in- law started molesting her in her husband's absence. In the meantime, she had two children. She hitch hiked from Quetta to Karachi and lived on streets for 13 months. When asked if she wants to be repatriated, she rejected the idea, saying: "They have sold me once and would do so again. I will never go back."

Pakistan, as a country, has not been able to provide a remotely satisfactory standard of living to its people. According to some estimates, 1.1 million people are added to the labour market each year. With the limited absorption capacity of the labour market, more than half of these new entrants are unable to find jobs. The induction of trafficked workforce into an already saturated market further deteriorates the situation.

The main hindrances in the elimination of the problem are lack of sufficient information on the issue, lack of awareness at community level, lack of adequate legal protection, absence of shelter and rehabilitation programmes, lack of political commitment on the part of governments, and the lack of proper law enforcement due to which the crime itself often remains invisible.

Traffickers, recruiters and agents on the other hand, have clear links with politicians and influential people in the trade, as well as with various institutions such as police, customs, border forces, overseas recruiters, travel agents, transport agents, religious institutions, hospitals and clinics, adoption agencies and baby-farms. It must be continually emphasized that they - and not the victims - should bear the brunt of legislation and penal action.

When women and children are either trafficked into an area, or recovered and settled down in the cities, there are instances which may result in friction in the already volatile circumstances of Pakistan. According to observations and studies, the locals at times resent the 'aliens' because of the perception that the locals lose out on various accounts, such as the loss of local employment, illegal encroachments, increase in slum areas, failure of public health programmes, health hazards (aliens are also considered responsible for introducing diseases such as AIDS), flight of foreign exchange, unplanned increase, and free use of utilities like electricity and water, burden on public transport system and criminal behaviour.

Trafficking is a regional concern that needs to be faced on a priority basis. A much needed draft convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children has been prepared by a coalition of different NGOs, political parties, academicians, activists, lawyers and scholars at the SAARC level. The purpose of this convention is to promote

cooperation among the states of the region so that they may deal with various aspects of the problem, and may prevent the use of women and children in international prostitution networks. The convention was scheduled to be signed at the SAARC Head of the States meeting late last year, but the meeting itself was cancelled on Indian insistence. In order to resolve this problem at the regional level, there is a need to appoint a special reporter for trafficking at the SAARC level.

Recovery procedures also need to be institutionalized. A study needs to be carried out on the current ground situation, identifying catchment areas, midway stops as well as destination points. A process of social and economic reconstruction should also be encouraged in marginalized areas through ongoing programmes such as literacy, child-care, poverty alleviation, health, reproductive health, watershed management, improved agriculture technology, forestry etc. All marriages should be registered to prevent child marriages. Governments must ensure the convergence of most development programmes which generate employment opportunities locally. This will reduce migration to urban areas.

Consequently, there will be a check on the demand for prostitution in the urban areas as well as the supply from the areas where traffickers recruit their victims. Emphasis on basic education and land reforms to alleviate poverty should be obligatory. As reliance upon traditional law enforcers will not be adequate, community participation needs to be maximized, as part of neighbourhood watches, volunteer corps, alliance between villagers, religious leaders, doctors, child-youth-adult groups, women's groups, local leaders, parliamentarians, media and NGOs. Electronic and print media should be sensitized to this issue.

Sensitizing the judiciary and other authorities is another area which has not been given due attention. Research in this area shows that all those trafficked women and children who come to the attention of the authorities have been fortunate enough to escape their captors and abusers, or discovered after the police raids. They are often subjected to criminal laws or alien laws whereas the clients and agents involved walk unscathed and need to fear no social boycott. The victims of the trade alone face ostracism by society as are usually manifested by society's denial of alternative modes of employment once their background is known.

According to the SAARC draft convention, state parties shall provide for the punishment of the traffickers involved in the business, directly or indirectly. We, as a regional community, have to bear the responsibility of defeating the very foundation of the problem by adopting and implementing various declarations drafted made by international organizations. At the individual level, each country may pass the required legislation or upgrade or revamp the ones already existing.

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