PESHAWAR: Looking back at the short span of time when forced into prostitution is no less a terrifying dream for 25-year old Asma*.
Hailing from lower-middle class, few years back the life for her family got further worsened when kidney failure confined her father to the bed. Taking advantage of the situation, two locals — Qari Niamat and Hameed Khan — from a village adjacent to hers in Chitral — a far-flung district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which also shares boundary with Afghanistan’s Nuristan province — started convincing her father to accept the proposal of an Azad Kashmir-based rich man Chaudhry Anwar for her daughter.
In return, Asma says, they offered that the would-be bridegroom would bear the cost of her father’s treatment. As her father was indecisive, the duo also insisted Asma to marry him, promising her a much better lifestyle. “How could I accept the proposal of a man whom I never met,” Asma says while talking to the Peshawar Today.
In January 2016, Asma had to accompany her ailing father to Peshawar for a medical check-up. Both the men once again approached her with the same proposal at a hotel in Peshawar she was staying in with her father. Later in the night, they came with the would-be groom so that she could meet him and reach a decision whether to tie the nuptial knot with him. “I strongly rejected the proposal and all of them left the room.”
Asma alleges that few days later, the two men came to her room and offered her juice and she fell unconscious after taking it. “When I regained consciousness I found myself in Azad Kashmir in the captivity of person who proposed me through the duo.” She adds that the abovementioned agents sold her to Anwar at Rs. 600,000, “who repeatedly subjected me to forced sex during six-month captivity.”
Later, he planned to sell me further in a gulf country and he started work on preparing my passport and visa documents, she says. But, Asma says, she was fortunate enough to escape from Anwar’s captivity. One of the servants of his captor helped her make her escape possible.
After making a comeback to her native Chitral, she moved a local court against the alleged captor and his facilitators. The court in Chitral issued an order, asking the police station concerned in Peshawar to lodge first information report against six persons reportedly involved in her “kidnapping and rape.”
However all the accused were granted bail. They took the plea that Anwar contracted nikah with Asma and was willing to take his wife back to his home. Asma accuses Anwar of producing fake nikah documents before the court. The case is pending before the court.
Chaudhry Anwar, on the other hand, took the plea before the court that he solemnized nikah with Asma in Peshawar, fulfilling all the legal requirements. He admits that he paid a handsome amount of money to the family of Asma through the middle men for marriage as “financial help.”
When contacted, a police official in Chitral says the middle men whom Asma nominated in her FIR were also in the suspected list of police for being involved in a number of such cases.
Pakistan is both origin and destination for women trafficking: USAID
Like Asma, thousands of young girls are trafficked on the false hopes of marriage and a better standard of living.
A United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) report on human trafficking states that Pakistan is both origin and destination for women trafficking.
Asifa* is a young girl from the same district who was faced with almost the same situation. A family from Punjab approached her father through local agents, asking him the hand of his daughter. After some meetings, her father agreed and she was shifted to city in southern Punjab with her spouse. Being a resident of a very backward area, living in a big city was a long-cherished dream coming true.
The new turn in the life of young Asifa was very pleasant and she was very happy. But the reality of his in-laws started unfolding after one month. “One day my husband invited his relatives and friends on dinner and asked me to entertain them by dancing before them and having sex with them,” she recalls.
Then it became a routine and at times she had to have sex with a number of “customers.” A few months later she was asked to go outside home and find customers by herself while standing on roadside. The practice continued for almost three years. Finally, she decided to call it a day and escaped to her native village in Chitral. During all this time, she never apprised her family back in Chitral of the miserable and humiliating life she was living in Punjab.
Lack of proper anti-trafficking laws responsible for burgeoning cases of women trafficking
“(When I came back) I discussed the whole story with my mother who advised me to keep silence as involving police or civil society organizations would highlight the case and ultimately damage the reputation of their family.”
Civil society organizations (CSOs) focusing on women rights are of the opinion that the growth of human trafficking cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is alarming. They say young girls from remote districts of the northwestern province are trafficked to other parts of the country.
A research jointly conducted by the USAID and Aurat Foundation, a CSO working on women rights, holds lack of proper anti-trafficking laws responsible for burgeoning cases of women trafficking.
The report states that Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) does not deal with the cases of human trafficking within the country. Rather, it is the mandate of the police to deal such cases under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
FIA Director for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mirwais Niaz tells the Peshawar Today that the laws on human trafficking are not applicable on the cases relating to trafficking within Pakistan. This is why the exact data of internal human trafficking cannot be compiled.
FIA operates within the domain provided by the special laws such as Emigration Ordinance 1979, Passport Act, 1974, Foreigners Act 1947 and Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002, he says.
“FIA’s specific anti-trafficking law, the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002 addresses all kinds of human trafficking, but only focusing on trafficking in and out of the country. It does not cover intra-country trafficking.”
While talking to the Peshawar Today, Saima Munir of the Aurat Foundation says that police take internal trafficking cases as kidnapping and abduction under the PPC. She adds that the entrenched patriarchal mindset of gender inequality is the major reason behind exploitation of women. “Until and unless the society gives due rights to the women, their exploitation will not end.”
Sharing data with the Peshawar Today, Dawt-e-Azimat-e-Chitral (DAC) chairman Javed Iqbal says that since 1996 they have received over a thousand complaints of trafficking. DAC is a Chitral-based non-governmental organization working on human trafficking. “Presently, 15 [woman trafficking] cases are pending with the district courts in Chitral.”
A member of the Khyber Pakhtunkwha Assembly from the treasury benches, Shaukat Yousafzai, when contacted for his version, admits that trafficking of women is going on in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“Young girls from far-flung districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are trafficked to other parts of the country.”
He, nevertheless, adds that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has assigned the Women Parliamentary Caucus — a conglomeration of the women legislators at the Khyber Patkhunkhwa Assembly both from treasury and opposition benches — to draft a bill, dealing with intra-country women trafficking.
A member of Women Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), Amina Sardar, confirms that WPC is working on a bill to introduce a law for prevention, control, and pro-habitation of internal trafficking, envisaging strict punishments.
*Names of both the victims have been changed to protect their identities.