Recommendations to address Child Trafficking

Legislative and Policy Reforms

  • Agreement needs to be reached on the definition of the word ‘child’ itself in order to clarify which age groups are targeted by the relevant legislation and policies and to ensure that the full protection of children is not compromised due to inconsistencies on this point between different legal instruments. Although PTPA defines children as persons under the age of eighteen, which is in line with international standards. However, the problem remains as many of the offences covered by the PTPA overlap with the provisions of other laws such as the PPC, some labour laws and constitutional provisions and there are inconsistencies between these laws as to who is considered a child. These inconsistencies lead to confusion in cases of child trafficking as it is usually equated with forced or bonded labour. Depending on the age of the children in the different laws, a child may be considered both a victim and not a victim of child trafficking at the same time, leading to anomalous results.
  • The definition of ‘trafficking in persons’ under the PTPA needs to be broadened to include all means and purposes of trafficking as listed in the definition of the Palermo Protocol, so that all forms and types of trafficking are covered by the definition. Furthermore, this will help to harmonise the definition in our national law with the definition of the crime under international law.
  • To avoid the confusion caused by the application of multiple laws to the offence of trafficking in persons, a non-obstante clause should be included in the PTPA to give it precedence over all other conflicting and overlapping laws to ensure its application to trafficking cases. This non-obstante clause is also necessary because Section 6 of the PTPA prohibits victim liability for the offence of human trafficking. However, because it does not take precedence over other laws dealing with the same subject, it does not protect victims from being held liable under other laws dealing with the same subject. For example, a person who was a victim of drug trafficking in order to transport drugs could still technically be prosecuted and convicted under the Control of Narcotic Substances Act 1997 for offences that can carry the death penalty. An even better way out of this situation would be to consolidate all child trafficking laws into a single Act. All relevant but overlapping general and specific laws on child trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation and organ trafficking and related offences need to be harmonised and consolidated to better tackle the problem.
  • In order to improve the protection of victims of human trafficking, the provision on compensation to victims under Section 13 of the PTPA should be revised to ensure that the victim is compensated regardless of the apprehension, identification, prosecution or conviction of the perpetrator. As most victims of human trafficking are poor and underprivileged, victims should receive more support. In cases where the perpetrator has not yet apprehended or identified, compensation should be paid from public funds.
  • Section 3 of the PTPA provides for a penalty of imprisonment or fine or both for trafficking in persons. However, given the heinous nature of the crime of human trafficking, a fine should not be provided in lieu of imprisonment as the gravity of the offence requires severe penalties to create a strong deterrent. Therefore, this section needs to be revised and only imprisonment or custodial sentences combined with fines should be provided for.
  • Since most cases of child domestic labour qualify as child trafficking cases, it is important to criminalise child domestic labour by making it a cognizable, non-compoundable, and non-bailable offence so that the powerful cannot evade justice and the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Institutional Reforms to Address Child Trafficking

  • There is an urgent need to establish a tightly structured and fully functioning National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to link victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling with service delivery organisations providing shelter, psychosocial services, legal support, and other facilities.
  • Under different provincial legislative enactments on children’s rights, various child protection institutions or units are made whose function is to immediately respond to any child protection issue including any possible case of child abuse and provide immediate protection and assistance to the children in need. The existing child protection organisations need to be well-staffed and well-funded with trained child protection officers having well-established linkages with hospitals, councillors, shelter homes, police, and magistrates.
  • Criminal records of the trafficking offenders should be integrated with NADRA to track their criminal history.
  • Due to high influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, there are still a lot of children who are not registered with our national databases which makes them invisible and further susceptible to trafficking and child abuse. Therefore, the Ministry of Interior should direct the relevant stakeholders to devise a policy to bring such children within the registration system.
  • There are children who are addicted to drugs and are rescued by the Anti-Narcotics Force. However, there are no drug rehabilitation centres for such children to be referred to. Therefore, drug rehabilitation centres for such children are the need of the hour and should be set up.
  • Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) need to be sensitised to child trafficking issues and trained in specialised technical investigation skills to keep pace with the evolving methods used by traffickers and organised crime groups, especially in communication and money transfer. Given the complexities of modern trafficking facilitated by technology, LEAs require integrated capacity building sessions focusing on digitisation, technology, and updated knowledge. Police and FIA should receive training on the legal framework, victim referral, and victim-centred investigations to effectively combat trafficking. Familiarity with trafficking indicators is essential for police to apply the appropriate charges under the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTPA) and increase its enforcement. Insufficient awareness of the PTPA impedes its application and contributes to low case registration. Adequate allocation of resources to LEAs is critical for ensuring effective prosecution and deterring offenders.
  • The judiciary should receive training on child trafficking, including informative sessions focusing on internal trafficking issues to increase judges’ understanding of the issue. Additionally, training should emphasise the judiciary’s role in the application of PTPA and guiding lawyers to utilise the appropriate law instead of resorting to provisions of other general laws when presenting cases related to trafficking.
  • Victims of trafficking and smuggling frequently retract their initial statements against the perpetrators in court, leading to bail and eventual acquittal. While the PTPA includes provisions for victim and witness protection, effective implementation requires devising strategies to provide victims with sufficient security post-incident. Furthermore, enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary through training is essential to ensure that victims can provide statements free from coercion or external influence.
  • The government has yet to develop standardised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for identifying, assisting, and referring victims in cases of child trafficking and smuggling. It is imperative that these SOPs be established and implemented nationwide, ensuring consistency across all stakeholders involved in addressing child trafficking and smuggling cases.
  • At an international level, there is a clear need for increased cross-border collaboration between relevant Pakistani LEAs and the governments of major destination countries for trafficking. Furthermore, cross-border exchange of information and ideas, adoption of best practices, and coordinated efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes is needed. Coordination at national, provincial, and district level among police, border security, intelligence, and investigation agencies is also very important to curb the practice of trafficking.

Data and Research

  • Mechanisms should be developed and implemented for regularly collecting consistent and detailed public data on all forms of exploitation, which is broken down by age, gender and other relevant characteristics in order to design evidence-based policies.
  • Comprehensive and thorough research needs to be carried out to identify the root causes of human trafficking in order to prevent this crime and develop targeted social and legal approaches to combat it.

Victim Support Services and Offender’s Rehabilitation

  • Support services should be provided to the children who are either at risk of child labour and trafficking or have been rescued as required by multiple child protection laws including but are not limited to: i. safe shelter ii. psycho-social support iii. legal assistance iv. educational support v. medical support
  • Sufficient funding must be allocated for service delivery and support services, while fostering robust collaboration among organisations and departments involved in providing these services. All provincial governments should ensure the enforcement of case-management and referral support system by child protection agencies to safeguard children from trafficking, cruelty, and abuse.

Providing Safe Environment and Ensuring Child Participation

  • Children should be empowered to become active citizens and integral members of a democratic society. To achieve this, mechanisms for child participation at both local and national levels must be established, enabling them to engage in decision-making processes effectively.
  • Children should be involved in judicial proceedings in a child-friendly manner, allowing them to express their views when decisions impact their lives (e.g. custody cases).

Economic Empowerment

  • Measures should be taken to increase the level of social protection and create employment opportunities for all. Because if adequate employment opportunities are created for adults, this will automatically lead to a reduction in cases where children are forced into child labour.
  • Social protection programs should be integrated with school attendance initiatives, providing economic incentives to parents to encourage their children’s school enrolment, often known as conditional cash transfers.

Providing Education and Life Skills

  • Ensuring the implementation of Article 25A is crucial. Schools can significantly contribute to the early identification of children vulnerable to trafficking and related issues by establishing attendance-based monitoring systems. This way, instances of missing children and cases of child abuse and neglect can be detected at an early stage when a child stops attending school.
  • Efforts should be made to enhance children’s access to vocational training programs within schools, as these initiatives can equip them with practical skills and prepare them for various career paths, thereby promoting their overall development and future success.
  • An Action Plan needs to be developed to support children who have dropped out of school with a focus on ensuring their reintegration into the education system or providing alternative pathways such as literacy programmes and vocational education and training programmes enabling them to acquire the necessary skills for a decent livelihood.

Capacity Building, Training and Awareness Raising

  • Information on human trafficking should be included in the curricula of law enforcement agencies and judicial academies.
  • Public awareness of the risks of human trafficking and the methods for identifying and reporting suspected cases must be increased through comprehensive campaigns. These efforts can include school programmes, social media campaigns and community outreach initiatives. Broadcasting a public service message across all media can effectively inform the public about the nature of human trafficking, its prevalence and the populations at risk. It is important to communicate this awareness in local languages to ensure that it is understood by all individuals.
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