*This report is part of AGHS Legal Aid Cell’s campaign ‘Report SGBV – Break the Silence’.

June 24, 2023

By Asra Haque


In an exclusive interview with Voicepk.net, 2023 TIP Hero Zaheer Ahmed called on concerned and coordinated efforts from all stakeholders to eliminate human trafficking and human smuggling in Pakistan.
Zaheer Ahmed is a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the Police Services and served as a director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling circle from 2019 to 2022.
On June 15, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented Ahmed with the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Hero Award in recognition of his services in curbing human trafficking in Pakistan.
The US Embassy and Consulates in Pakistan noted that his efforts in aiding the government to implement the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018, as well as conducting capacity-building workshops and training programmes were instrumental in Pakistan’s promotion from TIP Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 2 in 2022.
“This award is for Pakistan, it reflects the international recognition of the efforts Pakistan has put in against human trafficking.”
On the matter of available statistics on human trafficking, Ahmed held that great care needs to be taken when compiling these numbers as Pakistan tends to lump all forms of exploitation under trafficking.
“Not every violation of a human right comes under the definition of human trafficking or human smuggling,” he stated, adding that trafficking is usually defined where an individual suffers restrictions on movement, is given insufficient pay for more labour and/or is being sexually exploited. As such, most trafficking victims tend to be women, children and young men.
Ahmed stated that women and children, by virtue of their very position in Pakistani society, make them extremely vulnerable to trafficking.
“In many cases of forced labour, you would find the family members – the elders, the parents, the brothers and sisters – who are forcing their children and females to go on the road and [beg],” he explained.
He further said that women and children often face barriers to education, because of which they lack awareness and are therefore more vulnerable to economic exploitation.
“I would say poverty is the biggest vulnerability that females and young males [face], because of which they are lured [by] advertisements of ‘attractive’ employment opportunities,” he said. But when they get to their place of employment, they are instead confined to be forced into labour or prostitution.
Ahmed said that there was a marked difference in the state’s response to trafficking prior to and after the introduction of the anti-trafficking law, the biggest indicator of which is the TIP Hero award.
“[The international community] has recognized that Pakistan has done significantly well,” he said.
He explained that after promulgating the anti-trafficking Act, the FIA developed a national action strategy under which different measures were taken to crack down on the offence. This included different capacity-building programmes, the constitution of federal and provincial anti-trafficking committees, as well as the establishment of standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the working of these committees as well as how to identify, extract and rehabilitate victims.
“Quite a lot has been done and quite a lot still needs to be done. There is always room for improvement.”
He insists that continuous improvements in the SOPs are required as the nature of the offence keeps changing.
“This system needs to be updated on a regular basis, rather than on a case-by-case basis. Coordination must be improved, as it is key to [tackling] this offence.”
Ahmed also stated that when it comes to reporting trafficking situations, the willpower and intention of the victim to escape exploitation are crucial, and that there are many avenues for reporting a case.
“Firstly, the victims have to decide if they want to get out…” he said. “Secondly, they can report their situation to a local police station, to the media or through helpline numbers. They can also call a friend or family member to tell them they are being exploited so the authorities can act.”
He explained that the anti-trafficking law has specific provisions for the safety and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, which the government must secure.
“[The government] is mandated to ensure that the victims are residing in a safe place [or when] when they appear before the court. In many cases, under the law, the victims can be allowed to record their [statements] online so that their safety or their identity is not compromised.”
He added that through the coordinated efforts of CSOs, child bureaus, women welfare departments, police and the FIA, the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of human trafficking is also being ensured. However, as the law is relatively new, Ahmed posited, it will take some time for all stakeholders to ensure satisfactory and effective rehabilitation of victims.
“But the laws and institutions are in place. The FIA, police and CSOs have worked enough to create awareness amongst the institutions to take the issue of victim safety and rehabilitation seriously.”
With regard to the tragic incident, in which around 350 Pakistani migrants as well as hundreds of others drowned off the Greek coast when their boat capsized, Ahmed expressed deep regret and offered condolences to the victims’ families. However, he also held that it is imperative to recognize that the incident was a matter of human smuggling and not trafficking.
“There is a difference between trafficking and smuggling. Unless we understand that particular difference, it would not be easy to respond to these offences,” he explained. “99 per cent of the time, human trafficking takes place within Pakistan… Since the victims of this incident were crossing the border of one country to another, it becomes a case of human smuggling.”
However, he further added that once people are smuggled to another country, they are exposed to the risk of being trafficked.
“Human trafficking is basically the exploitation of the right to freedom of movement, to adequate pay in comparison to working hours, and also the freedom to not be sexually exploited. So when you end up in a particular country, you are under the control of the authorities or even gangs over there, and they have every chance to exploit you for forced labour or prostitution.”
On police SOPs for responding to trafficking situations, Ahmed said that the police have been trained and are still being trained on how to arrest traffickers while safely taking victims into custody.
“We have made SOPs to implement and operationalize the law as well, and in those SOPs, there are clear instructions for the police,” he said.
He also held that by working together one can make a difference against human trafficking and smuggling.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here