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NEWS - Rights-South Asia: White Sla
- Subject: NEWS - Rights-South Asia: White Sla
- From: BurmaJapan@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 30 Dec 1997 15:12:00
Rights-South Asia: White Slavery Still a Thriving Trade
Inter Press Service
KARACHI, (Dec. 29) IPS - They are
kidnapped, "married" off to agents by
unsuspecting parents, or enticed by
prospects of a better life -- but these
Bangladeshi and Burmese women end up
in the brothels of Pakistan.
After making the perilous journey, often on
foot across India, they would probably be
luckier if sold into domestic slavery along
with their children. But more likely, they
are forced into abject prostitution by
The numbers involved in the trafficking of
this human cargo are staggering: between
100 to 150 women are estimated to enter
Pakistan illegally very day. Few ever
return to their homes in remote
poverty-stricken areas which are the
favorite hunting ground of the 'dalals' or
Karachi-based advocate Zia Ahmed
Awan, who is with the Lawyers for Human
Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA), estimates
that there are over 200,000 undocumented
Bangladeshi women in Pakistan, including
some 2,000 in jails and shelters across the
A Sindh police report in 1993 found that
Bangladeshis comprise 80 percent, and
Burmese 14 percent, of Karachi's
undocumented immigrants. The report
indicates that border police and other law
enforcement agencies are well aware of
the trafficking through entry points into
Pakistan like Lahore, Kasur, Bahawalpur,
Chhor and Badin.
"Yet no constructive, affirmative steps are
taken by law enforcement agencies to
prosecute traffickers and stop the
exploitation of women and children at the
hands of both police, agents and other
individuals," Awan said.
Big money is involved in the trafficking of
humans. In 1988, posing as a potential
client, this correspondent found that the
going price for a Bengali or Burmese
woman was between 1,500 to 2,500 U.S.
dollars -- depending on age, looks, docility
The price has remained steady, as has the
momentum of the "trade", thanks to the
connivance of those tasked to prevent it.
For each child or woman sold, the police
is reported to claim a 15 to 20 percent
In 1991, a reporter from the "Jang"
newspaper, posing as a buyer, was
assured that the police would not interfere
and would even escort him back home
with his purchase. "Where do you want to
go? Rawalpindi, Gujrat, Lahore...
Wherever you go, it is my responsibility.
The police will not say anything," the
reporter was told.
Media exposure has made the dalals
slightly more wary, prompting them to
closely check the credentials of "clients".
The risks may even have contributed to a
slight hike in prices. But the trade
continues unabated and as openly as
Every once in a while, the police make
token raids into the dens and brothels of
Karachi's notorious 'Bengali paras', or
slums. If arrests are made, they are,
ironically, of women and children, and
never the agents who brought them there.
"The victims are further victimized by the
police and the legal system, which treat
them as criminals," said Zia Awan. The
women are booked under Pakistan's
controversial 'Hudood Ordinances',
promulgated in 1981 by the late military
dictator Gen Zia ul Haq.
The Zina Ordinance, which comes under
the supposedly Islamic Hudood
Ordinance, makes adultery or sex outside
marriage a crime against the state. And
because the women and girls recovered
are usually prostitutes, they are often
charged with Zina.
Sometimes, they are booked under the
Passport Act. Either way, they have to
spend long periods in prison. If released
on bail, often through the efforts of lawyers
like Awan, they are sent to
government-run shelters for women such
as the Darul Aman.
Privately-run homes such as that of the
philanthropist Abdus Sattar Edhi "Apna
Ghar" also exist, but are equally
depressing and regimented.
"Some of the women in prison have to stay
there way past expiry of their sentences
because of the problems in repatriating
them," said lawyer Nausheen Ahmed. "For
illegal immigration, the sentence is four
years, but many women end up serving
three or four years extra, either waiting for
trial or to clear immigration formalities,"
"A major problem arises from the fact that
the Bangladeshi government does not
want to get involved," she explained. "It
does not accept these undocumented
people as citizens, since they have no
legally recognized proof of citizenship."
Many are totally unlettered and unable to
provide addresses back home. For those
who are able to give such details,
repatriation is hampered by government
apathy and difficulty in tracing the
addresses in remote rural areas.
"This is basically an economic problem,"
commented the Chief Justice of the Sindh
High Court, Justice Wajiuddin Ahmed, at
a regional seminar on the issue, organized
here last week by the LHRLA in
collaboration with the U.N. Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization
Justice Wajiuddin noted the problem was
related to the overall status of women in
male-dominated South Asia, where
women are often perceived as
commodities or male property.
"As a Pakistani citizen, I am not worried
about the numbers of women that arrive
here -- there should be free movement
and a free mixture of people," said the
Chief Justice. "What is worrying is their
plight, the difficulties they face, and how
they are treated."
Justice Wajiuddin also noted the
unfortunate role played by the police.
"How many traffickers are caught and
punished? "This trade will not end unless
police and border officials do their duty
instead of parading as thugs in police
Participants at the workshop sought a
more humane approach to curbing the
problem of trafficking, calling for a change
in law and terminology in order to
de-criminalise undocumented rather than
"illegal" migrants, and affected persons
rather than "victims".
"We can't achieve anything unless the
governments accept that it is their primary
responsibility to stop the exploitation of
women and children, and act upon this
realization," said Mohini Giri, the dynamic
director of the Women's Commission,
headed by the Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court of India.
"NGOs must act as a pressure group to
make the government take this action,"
she said. "What is needed is salvation
from sexual exploitation, a transformation
of attitudes, a change in laws, and quick
measures of rehabilitation and