ISLAMABAD - Pakistan hopes to enact two federal laws this year to boost its fight against human trafficking and avoid possible downgrading on a US Trafficking in Persons report and consequent funding restrictions, a senior interior ministry official said yesterday.

The Ministry of Interior is working on two draft laws, the Bill to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children and the Bill to Prevent and Combat the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

The two proposed bills, pending with the government since 2013, would be tabled for the first time in the parliament in February or March, and will offer more protection to different types of trafficking victims such as child labour as well as increase punishments to more parties involved in this illicit trade.

“The Ministry of Interior annually submits its report on the country’s efforts to anti-trafficking (to the US) at the end of March or April and we want that these two proposed bills to be passed by the parliament before the submission of the report,” said the senior interior ministry official who is involved with drafting the bills.

Pakistan has one of the world’s highest numbers of human trafficking, which includes sexual slavery, forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation. The 2015 US report says Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.

According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, there are an estimated two million people in modern slavery in Pakistan.

A recent report prepared by the Ministry of Interior as well as FIA and submitted before the parliament in October 2015, said that a total of 4,522 persons have been exposed and were victims of human trafficking from 2002 to 2015 while 1,313 culprits were punished.

However, the lawmakers have cast doubt on these figures, saying the number of trafficking victims were probably much higher.

The country was placed on a Tier 2 Watch list by the US State Department in 2015 for a second consecutive year for what the US report said was its failure to show sufficient political will and capacity to fully tackle trafficking including ineffective law enforcement efforts, conflation of migrant smuggling and human trafficking by government officials and penalization of victims.

The US State Department places each country in its annual report onto one of four tiers, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The placement is based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the country’s problem.

According to the State Department, if a country has been on a Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years, and has not shown sufficient efforts to comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, then it will be automatically downgraded to a Tier 3 ranking, which carries the risk of curbs on non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.

Closing Legal Gaps

Although Pakistan has national laws that ban transnational human trafficking, there is no comprehensive law at the federal level to combat all types of trafficking and smuggling, the ministry official told The Nation.

As it stands, the existing laws to tackle trafficking are in bits and pieces including the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (PACHTO) 2002 and some sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The proposed law on anti-trafficking would prohibit and penalize all forms of human trafficking and address the gaps in PACHTO, he said adding that internal trafficking, child labour and bonded labour were being made part of it as earlier there was no law at the federal level in this regard.

The draft anti-trafficking bill proposes punishments not only for traffickers but also for the facilitators and all those complicit in the crime, such as travel agents who book tickets for the victims in external trafficking. Similarly, the draft anti-smuggling bill will enable investigation agencies to not only look at the nature of crime but also examine the commercial relationship between the smugglers and the migrants and propose punishments for both.

The draft laws do not include strengthening investigation procedures of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the relevant agency charged with tackling human trafficking. Nor do they address alleged complicity of FIA officials in the crime of trafficking and smuggling, which has been a major area of concern for the US and other government and non-government organizations.

However, the official said these two laws would have a serious positive impact on the country’s anti-trafficking efforts.