Gaps and challenges to address Child Trafficking in Pakistan

Lack of Awareness and Understanding

Child trafficking in Pakistan often thrives in environments where there is a lack of awareness and understanding about the issue. Communities may not recognize the various forms of trafficking, which can include sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced marriage, organ trafficking, and exploitation for criminal activities such as drug smuggling or begging. This lack of understanding makes it difficult to identify victims and provide them with the necessary support and protection.

Complexity of Qualifying Trafficking

The various forms of exploitation involved in trafficking make it challenging to qualify and address the problem effectively. For example, in cases of forced labor or bonded labor, victims may be coerced into work under deceptive or abusive conditions, but they or their families may not recognize this as trafficking. Similarly, in cases of forced marriage, cultural norms may obscure the fact that the individual is being trafficked for exploitation.

Lack of Recognition as a Crime

In some cases of trafficking, particularly those involving forced labor or forced marriage, victims and their families may not even be aware that they are being subjected to a crime. Socio-economic pressures, cultural norms, and lack of education may lead them to accept exploitative situations as unavoidable or even as opportunities for advancement. This lack of recognition further perpetuates the cycle of trafficking and exploitation.

Gender Dynamics and Patriarchal Norms

Gender dynamics and patriarchal norms in Pakistan often intersect with trafficking, making it particularly challenging to address. Girls are disproportionately affected by trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and domestic servitude, while boys are often targeted for forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and brick kilns. Patriarchal norms may also prevent victims, particularly women and girls, from speaking out or seeking help due to fear of retribution or social stigma.

Role of Informal Networks

Trafficking in Pakistan is often facilitated by informal networks of recruiters, brokers, and middlemen who exploit vulnerable individuals and communities. These networks operate covertly and take advantage of social connections, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and dismantle trafficking operations. Additionally, victims may be reluctant to report traffickers out of fear of retaliation or due to perceived loyalty to those who facilitated their exploitation.

Social Stigma and Cultural Factors

Deep-rooted cultural norms and stigmas surrounding poverty, gender, and caste contribute to the perpetuation of child trafficking. These norms often prevent victims from seeking help or reporting incidents due to fear of social ostracization or retaliation.

Inadequate Access to Education

Limited access to quality education is a significant challenge in Pakistan, particularly in rural and marginalized communities. Factors such as poverty, lack of infrastructure, gender discrimination, and cultural barriers contribute to low school enrollment and high dropout rates, especially among girls. Without education, children are more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Education not only provides children with knowledge and skills but also serves as a protective factor against trafficking by empowering them to recognize and resist exploitation. Poverty is a key barrier to education in Pakistan. Families facing economic hardship may prioritize immediate needs such as food and shelter over education expenses.

Inadequate Social Services

The availability and accessibility of social services, including healthcare, legal aid, counseling, and rehabilitation programs, are limited in many parts of Pakistan. This is especially true in rural and remote areas where infrastructure and resources are scarce. The absence of support services leaves victims of trafficking without the necessary assistance and protection they need to recover from their ordeal and reintegrate into society.

Lack of Proper Identification Documents and Birth Registration

Many children lack proper identification documents, such as birth certificates, which are essential for accessing education, healthcare, and other social services. Without official identification, children are at risk of being excluded from school enrollment, healthcare services, and legal protection. Moreover, undocumented children are more susceptible to exploitation and trafficking, for example child marriage as traffickers exploit their lack of legal identity to evade detection.

Economic Factors Driving Demand

The demand for cheap labor in Pakistan is driven by economic factors such as cost-cutting measures by employers, and the desire to maximize profits. In sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and domestic work, there is a constant need for labor at low wages to remain competitive. This demand creates opportunities for exploitation, as employers seek to minimize labor costs by hiring vulnerable and marginalized groups, including children.

Vulnerability of Children to Exploitation

Children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in labor-intensive industries due to their perceived expendability, lower wage expectations, and lack of bargaining power. Traffickers exploit this vulnerability by deceiving, coercing, or forcing children into exploitative work situations, often under hazardous conditions and for long hours. Children engaged in labor are deprived of their right to education, leisure, and a safe environment, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and vulnerability.

Informal Economy and Lack of Regulation

Much of the labor exploitation in Pakistan occurs within the informal economy, where labor standards and regulations are either poorly enforced or not applicable. This creates a breeding ground for exploitation, as employers operate with impunity and workers, including children, have little recourse for seeking redress for labor rights violations. Inadequate monitoring and enforcement of labor laws contribute to the perpetuation of exploitative practices and hinder efforts to combat child trafficking.

Supply Chain Dynamics

The complex and often opaque nature of supply chains further exacerbates the problem of labor exploitation and child trafficking. In sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing, products often pass through multiple stages of production involving subcontractors and suppliers, making it difficult to trace the origin of goods and monitor working conditions. Lack of transparency and accountability in supply chains allows traffickers to exploit loopholes and evade detection, perpetuating the cycle of exploitation.

Role of Middlemen and Recruiters

Traffickers often rely on middlemen and recruiters to facilitate the trafficking of children into exploitative labor situations. These intermediaries operate within local communities, exploiting social networks and economic vulnerabilities to recruit children and transport them to worksites. Middlemen may deceive families with false promises of lucrative employment opportunities or use coercion and intimidation to compel children to work. In some cases, family members may even be complicit in the trafficking of children, either knowingly or unknowingly, due to economic pressures or lack of awareness about the risks involved.

Inadequate Definitions and Scope

The definitions of trafficking and related offenses in Pakistani law is not fully align with international standards, such as those outlined in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Ambiguities in the law result in underreporting and misclassification of trafficking incidents.

Complex Legal Framework and Criminal Justice System 

Although Pakistan has  a special law addressing trafficking, the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018 and includes higher punishments for trafficking children. Yet,  the legal framework remains fragmented and complex, and different laws lead to confusion among law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges. This fragmentation hampers effective enforcement and prosecution of trafficking cases and allows traffickers to exploit loopholes in the legal system.

Inadequate Resources and Capacity

Limited resources and capacity within law enforcement agencies further hinder efforts to combat child trafficking in Pakistan. Police departments lack the necessary infrastructure, equipment, and training to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. Prosecutors  also lack specialized knowledge and expertise in handling child trafficking cases, leading to challenges in securing convictions.

Ineffective Coordination and Collaboration

Weak coordination and collaboration among law enforcement agencies, government departments, and civil society organizations  hamper efforts to combat trafficking in Pakistan. There is often a lack of information-sharing and coordination between agencies responsible for prevention, investigation, prosecution, and victim assistance,  undermining the overall effectiveness of anti-trafficking initiatives.

Limited Access to Shelter and Support Services

There is a shortage of dedicated shelters and support services for trafficking victims. While some government-run shelters and NGO-operated facilities exist, they are underfunded, overcrowded, and unable to meet the diverse needs of trafficking survivors. Many victims, particularly those from marginalized communities, lack access to safe accommodation, medical care, counseling, legal assistance, and vocational training upon rescue, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse.

Lack of Legal Support and Redress

Trafficking victims in Pakistan also encounter significant barriers to accessing justice and obtaining redress for the harms they have suffered. Many victims lack knowledge about their rights and legal options, while others face obstacles such as language barriers, lack of legal documentation, and limited access to legal aid and representation. As a result, victims struggle to navigate the legal system, pursue criminal charges against traffickers, or seek compensation for their losses, leaving them without recourse and perpetuating a cycle of impunity. Many trafficking survivors in Pakistan experience profound psychological trauma as a result of their exploitation, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation. However, access to mental health care and psychosocial support services is limited, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

Risk of Re-Trafficking and Exploitation

Without adequate protection and support services, trafficking victims in Pakistan are at risk of being re-trafficked or exploited again. Economic hardship, lack of viable alternatives, and social marginalization increase the vulnerability of trafficking survivors to falling back into exploitative situations.


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