It is unfortunate that Pakistan has been downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List by the US in the 20th edition of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for this year. The Tier 2 Watch List is for “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards”. The report acknowledges that Pakistan has considerable efforts in combating human trafficking, which includes both sex trafficking and labour trafficking. However, as evidenced by the relatively low number of prosecutions and convictions, the efforts are not proportional to the significance of the challenge at hand.

Historically, Pakistan has not done a very good job of providing concrete evidence of enhanced efforts, which is a fundamental requirement for a favourable rating in the report. To combat the menace of trafficking, it is crucial to ensure cooperation between several agencies, at both the federal and provincial level. Complicit government officials also need to be identified and punished. Although laws have been passed against bonded labour, the phenomenon persists, especially the province of Sindh. This is not possible without officials deliberately turning a blind eye towards blatant violations.

Victim assistance is another area where Pakistan has been found lacking. Recovered victims of sex trafficking often require extensive rehabilitation, which must be provided at all costs. Pakistani embassies abroad have a role to play in providing relief to distressed labour. Data should be accumulated to identify where such labour works and what is the best way to reach such workers. Perhaps most importantly, the underlying causes of poverty and lack of employment opportunities need to be addressed. It is these terrible conditions that leave people vulnerable for exploitation at the hands of criminal elements. The long-term policy must remain eradication of poverty, which is the most potent solution for such ills. Pakistan should enhance its efforts against trafficking within the country as well as abroad.