Human Trafficking in Pakistan Part 2 – Modus Operandi

Human trafficking is big business! It’s the third largest revenue generator from an illegal source, after drugs and guns and hidden operations have been found in every continent and the most surprising locations. Methods boil down to old fashioned organised crime, corruption, psychological and mental intimidation.

In Pakistan, while organised crime is strongly linked to trafficking, it is not the sole igniter of the crime as tribal practices such as Swara as well as inter-generational forms of prostitution and bonded labour take place and can be encompassed in the internationally recognised definition.

However, where organised criminal networks are present, the recruitment practices involved are important to consider. Recruitment usually takes place by agents i.e. middlemen (or more often women) who will lure victims through force (drugging/ kidnapping); or coercion via promises of fake opportunities or boyfriends who trick young girls in to running away with them. Sometimes a fee is extorted from the family of the victim as they think it will result in higher rewards when they reach their destination. Women are often used to engage trust as agents need to be able to establish themselves quickly within communities.

The operation of trafficking, particularly across borders, requires some contacts within official Government departments and law enforcement. Officials will arrange for fake travel documents, access across borders and early release on arrest. Law enforcement can also assist in asserting control over the victim.  For example, trafficked women in Karachi, even if they find themselves free from their confinement, have no protection. The police will demand ‘bhatta’ in exchange for their protection. They are often victimised under the Hudood Ordinances and Foreigners Act 1946, have no access to attorneys (although the traffickers have no problem in getting access to them).  Police could help victims in attaining prosecutions against their aggressors of rape liable to tazir under various components of the Hudood Ordinances, by questioning trafficked victims as witnesses against the agents; but this is never done.

Mehthods of restraint can be severe. One example is that trafficked women are confined to dens while being monitored by pimps. They are kept in crowded rooms and deprived of proper food and clothing, made to do chores and beaten if they do not comply. They are kept as such until they receive a buyer. Once sold the buyer marries the woman to legalise her enslavement. The buyer then either sells her on, makes her work in a brothel or as a labourer in the fields and the house.

The current legislative framework can also act as deterrent to going to the authorities. Threats of arrest under the Foreigners Act 1946 and Hudood Ordinances prevent women in Pakistan from reporting their ordeal.

The most known route and most highly reported on is the route from Baluchistan, particularly from Taftan and Mandi to Iran, that goes on to Turkey, Greece, Italy and other mainland European destinations. The route from Karachi to the Gwadar coast is also known as a haven for human trafficking.  Transportation may be by land or air and carry on by sea from the Gwadar, Karachi, Ormara, Pasni or Jiwani coast.

Air routes are the most expensive and most preferred methods of transporting people in Punjab.   Air routes may be used for the first stage of a journey such as to transport clients from Pakistan to Dubai. The second stage is then to transport the clients from Dubai with the aid of fake documents to South African states where human traffickers receive their clients. Clients are then provided with documents for transit stay or taken away from the immigration lounges. FIA officials are directly involved in this mode of trafficking. However, whether this is just a smuggling route or a trafficking route as well cannot be determined. It is an expensive route and clients could be charged circa 1,000,000 Rupees.

Less attention has been placed on the trafficking that comes in to Pakistan from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma. Economic and political refugees may find themselves in Bangladesh and using the same coercive methods can find themselves trafficked to Pakistan. West Pakistan retains a large Bengali inhabitation in particular and they can be easily absorbed into the paras of this area. They arrive in Karachi via Calcutta or Delhi by land. Nepalese are bought and then sold in India. Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, and Burmese women may also be trafficked through Pakistan en route to the Gulf or Greece.

Porous borders in Afghanistan allow frequent trafficking to occur between it and Pakistan. Many girls are trafficked from refugee camps and end up in sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Read full report

Part 3 will share real cases



  1. its really disturbing and sad how people can be so heartless to the plights of other humans just to satisfy their own personal interest and gain


  2. I agree Mayogirl, it is and inherently some humans are selfish. But I think also that people are acting out of situations of desperation themselves. The conditions of society and the rule of law are partly to blame here.


  3. this is a terrible thing and I’m glad your giving it such good coverage! We need to put an end to human trafficking ASAP. Those thugs should hang for it.


    1. Thanks, I agree, punishments should be much harsher but you’ll see from furure posts that perpetrators barely get 2-3 years when most legislation deem the offence serious enough to warrant 14 to life!


  4. Dear Sofia, Awesome work. I stumbled upon your wordpress for my research on the topic. I am, Saadia, a Pakistani human-rights based journalist, currently am doing a series on Pakistani human trafficking issue and would like to use some information from your report. Please tell me if it’s ok with you, I will credit your name/source in the article. Looking forward to hearing, all the best, S
    p.s: you can also review my wordpress if it helps you make a decision to accept my request.


    1. No problem what so ever and look forward to reading it if it becomes available online. Looks like we have interests in common so will keenly follow.


      1. Thank you very much for the cooperation, while reading it I realized that we have a lot in common. I’m very impressed with your blog, some day we should collaborate. The series will be up and running from tomorrow.


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