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Children sold to traffickers on the rise in Sindh, Pakistan

After the flooding disasters of 2010 and 2011, many poor families in the Sindh province of Pakistan have become so desperate they are selling their children to traffickers.

According to a new report from IRIN, numbers of reported cases of human trafficking has seen a sharp increase this year. In just the first two months of 2012, Madadgaar Helpline, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) set up to help women and child victims of abuse and trafficking, recorded 190 cases in the province. This compared to 288 cases across the whole of 2011. The chairperson of the NGO told IRIN “poverty forces people to give away their children”.

Families receive payments from the traffickers, who promise jobs for women and children in the cities. Most of the jobs are little more than slave labour. Children are often hired to act as domestic servants, where they are expected to be available round the clock to clean houses, fetch groceries and do other chores. For many households, using children is an extremely cheap way of having servants. Under the constitution, minors have protection, but few cases are brought before the courts. One social worker commented “how do you curb human trafficking and bondage when some of the most influential figures – even those in the women’s ministry, human rights and child protection committees – have young children as servants?”

According to the US State Department’s 2011 Trafficking report, bonded labour forms the greatest human trafficking problem in Pakistan. Women and children in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab can be put to work in the brick- and carpet-making industries, mining, garments and leather industries or in agricultural sectors. Where children have been separated from their parents, it’s extremely rare for them to have the opportunity of attending lessons. In a recent study conducted into the brick kiln industry by the Centre for the Improvement of Working Conditions & Environment, over two-thirds of children between the ages of 10 and 14 who were working in the brick sector, were not attending school and could not read or write.

Children are not only deprived of an education and a chance to improve their position in life, they also face physical and mental abuse. If the children try to run away, it is common for employers to make false claims of theft against them. Speaking to IRIN, an official at the Ministry of Human Rights admitted that widespread poverty was forcing families to give away their children and that even where youngsters as young a five were being employed, authorities were generally unwilling to pursue the matter. As long as this is the case and with families increasingly forced to take desperate measures to survive, the problem will remain. A spokesperson for Madadgaar put the blame firmly onto Pakistani society, saying “as long as there is a feudal system in the country, we will have human trafficking and child labour”.

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