Sunday July 03, 2022

3.19 million Pakistanis victim of modern slavery

March 25, 2019

Islamabad : There are some international days that are observed with extraordinary enthusiasm at public and private level in Pakistan but one notices criminal silence on certain international days despite urgent need of action by the government and civil society. One such day is ‘International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade’ that is commemorated all around the world on March 25.

UN marks the day to honour those who suffered and died at the hands of the transatlantic slavery system. In the transatlantic slave trade (15th to 19th centuries), between 12 to 15 million men, women and children were trafficked from Africa to the Western Hemisphere for the purposes of forced labour. According to latest figures published by the UN’s International Labour Organisation and Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 40.3 million people, more than three times the transatlantic slave trade, are living in some form of modern slavery today including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.

Among the 10 countries that comprise 60 per cent of all the people living in modern slavery, Pakistan is ranked 7th but not much can be seen in terms of seriousness to deal with the situation. Other nine countries include China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, the Philippines and Russia.

As defined by Anti-Slavery International, a person is considered enslaved if they are forced to work against their will; are owned or controlled by an exploiter or “employer”; have limited freedom of movement; or are dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as property. According to Global Slavery Index, 16.8 persons per 1000 population live in this condition in Pakistan. India is home to the largest number of slaves globally, with 8 million, followed by China 3.86 million, Pakistan 3.19 million, North Korea 2.64 million, Nigeria 1.39 million, Iran 1.29 million, Indonesia 1.22 million, the Democratic Republic of the Congo 1 million, Russia 794,000 and the Philippines 784,000.

According to an article by Eweline U Ochab published in Forbes magazine, other than forced labour and forced marriages, global trafficking of persons for the purpose of forced organ removal is another form of modern slavery. There is only limited information available on this kind of slavery but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 per cent of global transplant activity is constituted by the illegal organ trade. Some of the countries with reported illegal organ trade activities include China, India, Pakistan, Kosovo, and the Philippines. Besides that, 2018 Global Slavery Index identified that “Developed countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK receive organs from most of the world’s developing countries, including India, China, the Philippines, and Pakistan.”

In a presentation given to National Assembly Standing Committee on July 22, 2016, Dr Mirza Nagi Zafar from Sindh Institute of Urology and Transmission (SIUT) said that people from various countries come to Pakistan for organ transplants. They pay Rs4million to Rs10 million for an organ, including kidneys and livers, but the person who sells his organs is only paid a nominal amount. He said the business is common mostly in Punjab where there are some villages in which half its residents have sold their kidneys. He said some people have even been taken to China and other countries to have sections of their livers taken out for transplants but they died because the procedure is very complicated.

According to Dr Mirza Nagi Zafar, Pakistan is signatory to the Declaration of Istanbul (DOL) for protecting the poor and vulnerable from transplant tourism and to address the wider problem of international trafficking of human organs and tissue. He said that cases have been reported from the DOL member alleging that illegal kidney transplants are carried out in several cities of Punjab including Rawalpindi and Lahore. In some cases, the medical condition of the recipients of the transplanted kidney became life threatening when they reach their home country. He said that Kuwait authorities reported that during 2016 they have received 11 cases of illegal transplants performed in Pakistan.

In 2016, a police raid in Rawalpindi found 24 ‘donors’ waiting for their surgeries. In 2017, a raid on a bungalow in Lahore uncovered an organ trafficking network. As per media reports, at the time of the raid, an Omani national, a ‘transplant tourist’, was being operated on.

Despite these facts and reported incidents, the misery and agony attached to different forms of modern slavery was never given the attention it deserves. There are laws dealing with human trafficking and criminalization of organ trade but enforcement and sensitivity towards these issues are yet to be seen.