Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 - Country Narratives - Pakistan

PAKISTAN: Tier 2 Watch List

Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The country’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labor, in which an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment is exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for generations. Bonded labor is concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces, but also takes place in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, in agriculture and brick-making, and, to a lesser extent, in fisheries, mining, and carpet-making. Some feudal landlords and brick kiln owners are affiliated with political parties or hold government positions and use their influence to protect their involvement in bonded labor. In some cases, when bonded laborers attempt to escape or seek legal redress, police return them to their traffickers, who hold laborers and their families in private jails. Children are bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped and placed in organized begging rings, domestic servitude, small shops, brick kilns, and prostitution. Begging ringmasters sometimes maim children to earn more money. NGOs report boys are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking around hotels, truck stops, bus stations, and shrines. Illegal labor agents charge high recruitment fees to parents for giving work to their children, some of whom are subjected to forced labor and forced into prostitution. Trafficking experts describe a structured system for exploiting women and girls in prostitution, including physical markets in which victims are offered for sale. Reports indicate police accept bribes to ignore prostitution in general, some of which may include sex trafficking. Women and girls are also sold into forced marriages; in some cases their new “husbands” prostitute them in Iran or Afghanistan. In other cases, including some organized by extra-judicial courts, girls are used as chattel to settle debts or disputes. Non-state militant groups 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. Pakistan’s large number of internally displaced persons, due to natural disasters and domestic military operations, are vulnerable to trafficking.

Many Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to the Gulf states and Europe for low-skilled employment—such as domestic service, driving, and construction work; some become victims of labor trafficking. False job offers 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. Some Pakistani children and adults with disabilities are forced to beg in Iran. Pakistan is a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor—particularly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Women and girls 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. In May 2014, the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) established a research and analysis center responsible for collecting and analyzing data and trends related to human trafficking and smuggling. The FIA and police also began to use standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of trafficking victims to protective services, although it is unclear how widely the procedures were disseminated. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Pakistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year. The government showed insufficient political will and capacity to address trafficking fully, as evidenced by ineffective law enforcement efforts, official complicity, penalization of victims, and the continued conflation of migrant smuggling and human trafficking by many government officials.


Vigorously investigate and prosecute, respecting due process, suspected trafficking offenders and officials complicit 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, and laborers in brick kilns and agriculture; ensure victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; issue policies and provide trainings to government officials that clearly distinguish between human trafficking and human smuggling; 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; 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 maintained minimal law enforcement efforts against trafficking. 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 Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) prohibits bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Experts noted fines and other penalties for bonded labor offenses are generally insufficient to deter unscrupulous employers, including wealthy landowners. Under a devolution process begun 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, prohibiting bonded labor. The anti-trafficking bill, drafted in 2013 to address the gaps in PACHTO, remained pending in ministerial committees.

The government reported data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions under the penal code; however, it is unclear how many trafficking cases or traffickers were prosecuted during the reporting period, as the government’s data reported how many prosecutions were brought under each provision of the penal code and a case brought under several provisions would, therefore, be counted multiple times. Furthermore, law enforcement officials continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling and may report statistics conflating the two crimes. The government reported 70 investigations and 50 prosecutions under PACHTO in 2014, compared with 138 investigations and prosecutions in 2013. The government reported 17 convictions under PACHTO during the reporting period; sentences ranged from 5,000 Pakistani rupees (PKR), (approximately $50), to 30,000 PKR ($300). Officials have not yet secured any convictions under the 1992 BLSA; an international organization confirmed land owners exploited bonded laborers with impunity. International organizations conducted capacity-building workshops and victim assistance trainings at law enforcement academies and police stations; the government provided in-kind contributions towards the trainings. The Interagency Task Force held quarterly 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.

Official complicity in trafficking remained a significant problem. Some feudal landlords and brick kiln owners were affiliated with political parties or held official positions and used their influence to protect their involvement in bonded labor. In January 2015, the Supreme Court heard the petition of a criminal case filed in 1996 against two landowners, including a former Member of the Provincial Assembly, who reportedly used thousands of forced agricultural laborers in Digri and Sanghar, Sindh. The labor group responsible for the original court petition claimed landowners used their influence in the Provincial Assembly to intimidate bonded laborers and their supporters; the case remains ongoing. 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, although it did document 141 human “trafficking” networks operating inside Pakistan and provided details about the complicity of immigration officials at airports in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Other reports indicate police accepted bribes to ignore prostitution in general, some of which may have included sex trafficking. Police reportedly acted against trafficking when pressured by media and activists; there were cases when officers were indifferent to practices that included or contributed to 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.


The government made minimal efforts to protect and assist victims. The FIA and police began to use standard operating procedures for the identification of trafficking victims and their subsequent referral to protective services; however, it is unclear how widely the procedures were disseminated and practiced. An international organization reported the district vigilance committees set up under the BLSA “had not performed their functions of identifying” bonded laborers. Police were reluctant to assist NGOs in rescue attempts, often tipping off landowners and punishing victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Sex trafficking victims were charged with moral crimes such as adultery and, in some cases, returned to their traffickers. Undocumented foreign nationals and Pakistanis returning from abroad who had crossed the border illegally were detained and charged for immigration violations without screening to determine whether they had been subjected to human trafficking.

Civil society continued to provide most victim services. Under the government’s devolution process, which started in 2010, social service delivery and related governmental functions were devolved from the central government to provincial jurisdictions, which often did not have the financial resources and technical capacity to carry them out. Government-run “women’s shelters” were available to women in difficult circumstances, including trafficking victims; NGOs noted that some of these facilities operated under prison-like conditions. Observers advised there were only a few shelters designated for trafficking victims, which were ill-equipped to deal with victims’ social, economic, and psychological needs. Shelters were available to bonded laborers; however, they generally catered only to women and children, offering little support to men. Bonded laborers who were rescued but lacked identification documents were unable to access government services, including healthcare and food stipends, and sometimes returned to brick kilns or farms and assumed more debt. The government reported it provided protection to victims to encourage their cooperation in investigations; however, it is unclear how often protection was available or adequate. Victims expressed reluctance to testify against their traffickers due to threats of violence against them and their families. The Ministry of Interior granted extensions for foreign victims to stay in the country until a decision was reached on the victims’ repatriation by the Federal Review Board of the Supreme Court.


The government made moderate efforts to prevent trafficking. In May 2014, the FIA established a research and analysis center in Islamabad with four staff responsible for collecting and analyzing data and trends related to human trafficking and smuggling. During the reporting period, the center published two quarterly newsletters with statistics and information on the government’s efforts to combat trafficking and smuggling. In 2014, the government drafted, but did not finalize, a national action plan. Law enforcement and social welfare departments partnered with NGOs and international organizations to raise awareness of trafficking through seminars, discussions, and other public events. Observers asserted the government did not take sufficient steps to inform emigrants about trafficking, even though a significant number of emigrants become victims of trafficking. Many of the district vigilance committees mandated by law and charged with curbing bonded labor continued to be inactive or ineffectual. In partnership with NGOs, the Sindh and Punjab provincial governments issued identification documents to bonded laborers and their families, which allowed them to access government benefits and reduced the probability of re-victimization. In 2014, the FIA, in partnership with an international organization, established a helpline and an email address for trafficking victims, while it continued to operate an existing helpline in its headquarters. The government reduced the demand for commercial sex acts by arresting clients and proprietors of brothels and other establishments; however, police also arrested potential sex trafficking victims. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government provided anti-trafficking training to military observers, unit commanders, and contingency commanders prior to their deployment on peacekeeping missions. Pakistan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.