The government maintained overall law enforcement efforts; it decreased sex trafficking investigations and convictions, although slightly increased labor trafficking prosecutions and convictions. Various Pakistani laws criminalized sex and labor trafficking. The 2018 PTPA criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 1 million Pakistani rupees (PKR) ($6,260), or both for trafficking offenses involving an adult male victim, and penalties of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 1 million PKR ($6,260), or both for those involving adult female or child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with regard to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued to use other sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that criminalized some forms of human trafficking. For example, Section 371A and 371B criminalized the buying and selling of a person for prostitution and prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and fines. Section 374 criminalized unlawful compulsory labor and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Section 366A criminalized procuration of a “minor girl under 18” and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Section 370 criminalized buying or disposing of any person as a slave and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine, and Section 371 criminalized habitual dealing in slaves and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment and a fine if the imprisonment was less than 10 years. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. The federal Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) criminalized bonded labor, with prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both; these penalties were sufficiently stringent. The provincial governments have adopted their own labor laws, including anti-bonded labor laws, under a devolution process that began in 2010, and federal laws apply until provinces enact corresponding laws.
Punjab investigated 15 cases under the PTPA and prosecuted 14 cases involving 19 defendants but did not report the conviction of any traffickers under the law during the reporting period, compared with five investigations involving 85 suspects, an unknown number of prosecutions, and 14 convictions the previous year. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) initiated six investigations and six prosecutions involving eight defendants under the PTPA, which were ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government reported data on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions under the PPC by province and special administrative area. Overall, law enforcements and judiciaries investigated 800 sex trafficking cases and initiated prosecutions in 756 cases and convicted 91 sex traffickers—compared with 916 sex trafficking investigations, 567 prosecutions, and 131 convictions in the previous reporting period. The vast majority of sex trafficking investigations and convictions took place in Punjab, where more than half of Pakistan’s population resides. The majority of the cases were tried under PPC Section 371A for the buying and selling of a person for prostitution. The government did not report sentences for the convictions. Punjab continued to comprise the vast majority of law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking; of the national statistics on sex trafficking, Punjab reported 90 percent of the investigations and prosecutions, as well as all of the convictions.
The government’s law enforcement action on labor trafficking, especially bonded labor, remained inadequate. Despite the existence of the BLSA, bonded labor persisted, largely due to ineffective enforcement of the law and powerful local officials as perpetrators. Punjab was the only province to investigate, prosecute, or convict traffickers under the BLSA. Punjab authorities investigated 192 cases of bonded labor, prosecuted 174 cases, and convicted 20 traffickers, an increase from 77 investigations, 20 prosecutions, and 16 convictions in the previous reporting period. The Punjab Department of Labor (DOL) additionally filed 461 First Information Reports (FIRs) under the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labor from Brick Kilns Act, leading to 174 arrests. An international organization stated authorities did not adequately enforce the BLSA primarily due to police inaction on complaints and lower court judges’ lack of understanding of the law. Moreover, in many provinces, including Sindh, the DOL handled bonded labor cases and could at most administer financial penalties. Punjab did not initiate any investigations for forced labor under PPC Section 374, unlawful compulsory labor. Sindh authorities initiated 26 investigations and 25 prosecutions under PPC Section 371 for habitual dealing in slaves, a significant increase from four investigations and three prosecutions in the previous reporting period. While Sindh police removed at least 3,084 bonded laborers from the location of their exploitation during the reporting period, it did not initiate criminal investigations. Despite police and prosecutors’ responsibility to pursue cases, some authorities reported they did not do so because victims could not afford to pay for investigations and prosecutions. The government also reported data on several penal code sections that criminalized labor trafficking and other non-trafficking crimes but did not disaggregate the data to specify which cases under these sections were for labor trafficking versus non-trafficking offenses.
Sindh courts intervened sporadically on trafficking cases to remove victims from perpetrators but did not criminally prosecute alleged traffickers for bonded labor offenses. While Sindh passed legislation criminalizing bonded labor in 2015, it continued to lack civil or criminal procedures to facilitate its implementation. While the BLSA mandated the creation of District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) in each province to ensure implementation of the BLSA, including reporting and filing cases, the government relied on often illiterate bonded labor victims to have knowledge of the BLSA, proactively leave their landowners, and file their own cases in the court. Even when bonded laborers did so, the courts either did not act on such claims or handled them administratively. As a result, trafficking victims who came forward often faced retaliation from their exploitative employers.
The Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) remained the government’s lead reporting and coordinating entity on human trafficking. The agency focused on transnational offenses, while provincial police generally investigated internal human trafficking cases. While FIA and provincial police coordinated on an ad hoc basis, overall collaboration remained weak and complicated law enforcement efforts and data collection. FIA investigated human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases through its 24 anti-trafficking law enforcement joint task forces at the federal, provincial, and local levels. FIA officials, including all newly inducted officers, received regular training on countering trafficking, including differentiating between human trafficking and migrant smuggling, although official statistics did not always distinguish between the crimes. Through increased training, FIA top officials worked during the reporting period to instill this understanding at the operational level, build capacity, and increase interagency coordination. Foreign governments and international organizations funded trafficking-specific trainings for police, investigators, prosecutors, and FIA officials; and government agencies contributed in-kind support to some of the trainings. FIA operated satellite offices at three embassies abroad in Greece, Iran, and Oman and collaborated with each government on possible trafficking cases. In Oman, FIA assisted with the repatriation of possible victims and corresponding arrests in Pakistan of alleged traffickers associated with a case of two women exploited in Dubai. NGOs noted provincial police were reluctant to file FIRs—required to launch criminal investigations—into many crimes, including trafficking. Furthermore, overburdened prosecutors and judges, who frequently lacked adequate training, contributed to lengthy trafficking trials and low conviction rates, a problem endemic throughout the justice system. The government maintained bilateral law enforcement cooperation mechanisms with multiple countries, as well as working closely with INTERPOL.
Official complicity in trafficking remained a significant concern, impeding anti-trafficking efforts during the reporting period. Despite sustained reports, for a second year the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions into officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. However, the government reported it disciplined two Punjab and seven Islamabad FIA officials suspected of complicity in trafficking in persons for alleged human trafficking violations, including the permanent removal of one official. The government did not report initiating criminal investigations in these cases. During the reporting period, the government provided material support to non-state armed groups that recruited and used child soldiers. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting individuals for child soldiering offenses. In July 2019, a 14-year-old child domestic worker reported substantial indicators of trafficking by her employer, a parliamentarian in Punjab, including sexual abuse and torture. While police registered the charges, they did not arrest the parliamentarian, allegedly because the provincial government did not allow them to do so. The government did not report taking any action on the case during the reporting period. In October 2018, police removed a 10-year-old domestic worker from the house of a Pakistani army major after allegations of torture and domestic servitude and arrested the army major’s husband. The government did not report whether the case against the employers continued or whether it began investigating an assistant sub-inspector of police, whom it had initially suspended for failing to file a police report in the case.
The government did not report any efforts to address local government officials’ reportedly endemic perpetuation of bonded labor, which created a culture of impunity for offenders. Feudal landlords and brick kiln owners used their political connections to facilitate their use of forced labor. In some cases, when bonded laborers attempted to escape or seek legal redress, police refused to file a case and returned bonded laborers to their traffickers. NGOs continued to report some police colluded with farm and brick kiln owners to create fake criminal cases against victims who attempted to escape from situations of bonded labor. Some police reportedly assisted employers in kidnapping bonded laborers that authorities or NGOs had previously removed from exploitation. Police were reluctant to investigate cases of potential bonded labor when wealthy and influential individuals, such as local politicians, were the alleged perpetrators. Some police reportedly acted against trafficking cases only when pressured by media and activists. Observers alleged police accepted bribes to ignore prostitution crimes, some of which may have included sex trafficking, and border officials might have facilitated human trafficking. NGOs also reported police refused to register cases of child sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, unless victims paid a bribe. Some garment factories reportedly paid monthly bribes to DOL officials to avoid inspections, some factories in Sindh prevented government officials from conducting inspections.