Maha, a young woman, from Jacobabad, Sindh was forced into a marriage by her family in exchange for money from the groom’s family. It was only after her marriage that Maha learnt that she would not be allowed to visit or return to her family, and neither did her family showcase any concern in her whereabouts and wellbeing. Maha was “taken to Quetta where she discovered that her in-laws earned their living through professional begging – a sordid and deceptive line of work that leaves people vulnerable to abuse.” Due to Maha’s illiteracy and lack of financial resources that did not allow her to escape her circumstances, she too was coerced into becoming a beggar.
Maha’s experience is a prime example of human trafficking. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides an extensive definition of human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” The victims of human trafficking can include “men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds”, and “traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.” Human trafficking also does not only happen across international borders; intra-regional and domestic trafficking is also a major mode of human trafficking. Therefore, it is clear that human trafficking is an immensely exploitative system that takes advantage of unsuspecting and often marginalised people, and due to the insidious nature of these trafficking networks, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of human trafficking that occurs across the world.
‘A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons’ was the “first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking” that was carried out by UNODC, and it gathered data from 155 countries. The assessment found that many governments neglect reporting or prosecuting human trafficking cases, and two out of five countries covered by the UNODC Report had never had a single conviction for the crime. Statistically, “the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation,” with women and girls being the primary victim of this form of trafficking. The second most common form constituted of forced labour (18%). Out of the global pool of human trafficking victims, approximately 20% of them are children. While Reports such as UNODC’s report assist in shedding light on global trafficking networks and markets, there is still not an in depth and nuanced outlook into the breadth and severity of human trafficking. On an individual state level, there are many countries that display neglect in adequately addressing and tackling the issue of human trafficking.
Pakistan in particular is also plagued with an ongoing problem of trafficking. The US Department of State places the country on their Tier 2 Watch List due to the government not demonstrating an overall increase in efforts for eliminating trafficking. Previously, Pakistan operated on the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002, which acted as the “principal and most authoritative instrument to prevent trafficking in persons.” Since then, Pakistan has passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act in 2018 (“PTPA”). It applies on a federal level as its scope extends to the whole of Pakistan, and it aims to “prevent and combat trafficking in persons especially women and children.” In January 2021, “the Cabinet approved implementation rules for the 2018 PTPA,” and it most prominently “outlined protection procedures, including trafficking indicators for identification and services to victims.” It also provided NGOs with minimum standard rules when it comes to providing for victims. Moreover, the country had also prepared a new five-year national action plan to combat trafficking and smuggling. However, these measures need to be continued and sustained over time. The government, though it overall maintained its law enforcement efforts, there was a decrease in sex trafficking investigations and convictions. On a provincial level, Punjab is the only province that continues to report a majority (90%) of all law enforcement efforts of investigations and prosecutions alongside with all convictions against sex trafficking. This indicates a lack of resources allocated to other provinces for combatting human trafficking, and hence lower yields in prosecution and conviction rates.
Hence, in order to keep a track of the country’s progress in its efforts against trafficking, Pakistan’s “laws, regulations and other measures relating to trafficking” should be routinely “assessed against the mandatory and optional requirements contained in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.”This Protocol is a key instrument as it is the “first global legally binding instrument with an agreed upon definition on trafficking in persons”, and it provides a framework for countries to model their domestic criminal offences after, alongside with promoting “efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting” trafficking cases.
It is crucial to address and combat human trafficking at the domestic level, because at its core it is amongst the severest violation of fundamental human rights. It restricts its victims from freedom of movement and choice, subjects them to coercive conditions, and opens them up to financial, physical and sexual abuse. Human trafficking can also manifest uniquely in different countries, and in Pakistan one of the most pervasive mode of domestic trafficking occurs in the form of bonded labour, particularly in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. Industries such as brick kilns, carpet-making, fishing, mining and agriculture have high rates of bonded human labour compromising of men, women, and children, who are forced to work on little to no wages as they are trapped inside an exploitative and hereditary cycle of debt to their employers.
On an international scale, Pakistani men and women are trafficked to the Gulf States, Iran and Greece willingly under the guise of fraudulent employment opportunities, where they are ultimately met with forced servitude, debt bondage, physical and sexual violence amongst other violations. Women and girls particularly face a unique threat as they are sold off from Pakistan to the Middle East for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Additionally, Pakistan is also utilized as both a destination and transit point for international trafficking networks. This is why it is of fundamental importance for countries like Pakistan to identify the means through which trafficking occurs in its region, and work towards implementing existing laws and strengthening the preventative measures of human trafficking along with keenly prosecuting its perpetrators.
 Dr Farhan Navid Yousaf, ‘Modern Slavery: Trafficking in Women and Girls in Pakistan’ (2022) HRCP page 15 <https://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2022-Modern-slavery-1.pdf> accessed 6 July 2022
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, ‘Human Trafficking’ (UNODC) <https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/human-trafficking.html> accessed 3 July 2022
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, ‘UNODC Report on Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form of Slavery’ (UNODC) <https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/global-report-on-trafficking-in-persons.html> accessed July 5 2022
 US Department of State, ‘2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Pakistan’ <https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/pakistan/> accessed July 5 2022 (hereafter referred to as “US Department of State Report”)
 UNODC Country Office Pakistan, Trafficking in Persons
in Pakistan: A Review of National Laws and Treaty Compliance (October 2011) page 9
 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018
 US Department of State Report
 UNODC Country Office Pakistan, Trafficking in Persons
in Pakistan: A Review of National Laws and Treaty Compliance (October 2011)
 Ibid. at 11