They trade in children and women, don’t they?
The 2005 Trafficking in Persons report issued by the State Department last week should have made every one of our leaders, turbaned divines, retired crusading generals like Hamid Gul “Ribbbentrop” and some of the more preachy Urdu newspaper columnists to sit up. It failed to do any such thing. Since most of these gentlemen rarely read anything except what they have themselves written, chances are they did not read what brief reports of its contents appeared here and there.
The MMA bearded brigade, whose great nemesis Ahmed Bashir is sadly no longer alive to give them the tongue lashing they deserve, one does not expect to do anything about the report’s findings either. In the MMA’s book, anything that comes from the House of the Great Satan is to be dismissed as yet another attack on Islam. Be that as it may, here is a bit of what is really going on in the land of Enlightened Moderation-to-be, the Islamic Republic, little of which is either Islamic or Republican.
The entry on Pakistan begins thus, “Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons. Women and girls from Bangladesh, India, Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are trafficked to Pakistan for commercial sexual exploitation and bonded labour. Girls and women from rural areas are trafficked within the country to urban centres for commercial and sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude. Women trafficked from East Asian countries and Bangladesh to the Middle East often transit through Pakistan for bonded labour and domestic servitude. Boys are trafficked to Persian Gulf states for use as camel jockeys. Children are trafficked internally for forced begging and bonded labour.”
The review says the Government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making “significant efforts” to do so. Certain steps have been taken and an anti-trafficking unit has been formed as part of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). For those who have forgotten, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who set it up. Several public awareness campaigns have also been run.
Religious parties which keep screaming about uryani and fahashi and disfiguring billboards that show women, have done nothing about this scandalous and shameful situation. Their ire is directed at Indian TV channels and movie houses running those so-called blue movies, one of which, some years ago, was called The Nurses of Faisalabad. It was reassuring to know that Faisalabad not only had nurses, but nurses whose talents went beyond administering to the medical needs of patients.
Some steps have been taken by the government, such as the establishment of 267 detention centres but much, much more needs to be done. What the effort needs is an Edhi but in the person of Ansar Burney, chairman of the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust, there is a worthy second. The State Department review lists him among 11 of the world’s “Heroes acting to end modern-day slavery”. I think we should all be proud of this man.
This is how the report takes note of him: “A noted Pakistani human rights activist, Ansar Burney has worked relentlessly to bring to light the plight of thousands of South Asian and African children trafficked to Arabian Gulf countries for exploitation as camel jockeys. These abused children, some as young as two years of age, are purposely malnourished to keep them lightweight and denied education. As a result of Mr Burney’s efforts, the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) established its first-ever shelter for rescued children and repatriated 43 through the shelter. He is quick to point out, however, that much more needs to be done to rescue, rehabilitate and repatriate thousands of trafficked children throughout the Gulf region.”
While what efforts the Government of Pakistan has made have been given credit by the annual review, it also needs to be stressed what the Government of Pakistan has not done. It has not signed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. It has signed but not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Again, it has signed but not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Armed Conflict, neither has it signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Isn’t it time for our elected representatives to stop thumping desks and staging walkouts to do the right thing, even if such not be their habit or inclination!
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent