The desire for greener pastures, amid increasing hunger and poverty in parts of the world, continues to throw more and more people into the trap of callous human traffickers. This desperate desire to change fortunes condemns many into forced labour or sex slavery unless otherwise caught and jailed by border forces or hit by their bullets to lose their lives. Human trafficking poses a serious challenge to the governments across the world, and is thus focused upon more and more globally with tougher controls. The trade, however, continues to thrive. As of 2018, profits from human trafficking were about $150 billion a year ranking it as one of the most profitable transnational crimes, according to an international study.
Faced with continued harsh economic conditions, Pakistanis are also among the victims of human-trafficking. No local statistics are available though, Pakistanis do feature in media reports about people dying in a refrigerated lorry meant to cross into a European country or people caught or killed while crossing an international border. Local media reports also suggest that well-networked human-trafficking rings operate within the country to manipulate innocent people and lure them into what is not just illegal, but also painful and life-threatening.
Thus the approval of a bill by a parliamentary committee, recommending death or life imprisonment for human traffickers, is a much-needed measure. PTI’s Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak — the mover of the bill titled Trafficking of Persons (Prevention and Rehabilitation) Bill 2019 — says that the current sentence, which is seven years in jail, cannot serve as deterrence to the heinous crime. She has rightly pointed out that people are not just trafficked out of the country, they are also trafficked within the country from one province to another, and those involved go unpunished due to weak legislation.
Worrying IMF report
Another worrying report on the economy appeared recently, cautioning that the IMF still believes Pakistan remains at risk of being placed on the FATF ‘blacklist’. Being blacklisted would have severe implications on capital inflows, including foreign investment. It would also slow progress in refinancing loans from major bilateral creditors. The report’s critique of Pakistan’s anti-money laundering deficiencies, including in addressing terror financing, presents a security concern. Pakistan only has until March 2020 to become compliant with FATF conditions on terrorism financing investigations and targeted financial sanctions, according to the IMF. Given the fact that the government lacks a majority in the upper house, there is a strong possibility that legislation to meet these conditions may not be passed in time.
The IMF report also mentioned that there will be a significant increase in electricity prices from next month, in addition to the reintroduction of debt-servicing surcharges in power bills. The tax would be used to pay circular debt servicing costs, which has crossed Rs100 billion per year. The report also admits that the quality of fiscal adjustments under the IMF programme was not high in the first quarter of this fiscal year. First-quarter budget targets were only met by blocking Rs40 billion in payments to BISP beneficiaries and slashing health and education spending by Rs92 billion across Pakistan at federal and provincial levels.
Weak economic growth figures mean that such cuts to essential government services will continue. The IMF has set an economic growth rate target of 2.4% for the current fiscal year. It had to review this figure after setting it earlier this year. Although it remains unchanged, it does cast a shadow over the federal government’s already modest target of 3.5%. Even the ‘good news’ is worrying. Growth is expected to “strengthen” to around 3% in the next fiscal year as policies take hold and confidence and investment strengthen. Concerns also remain over social conditions, poverty, inflation, and rising debt. The new year hasn’t even started, and it already feels like a bad one.
Remembering the Quaid