These days the common man’s feelings towards the Chinese seem to be oscillating between suspicion and dislike. China: the thief who stole our daughters. China: the neighbor that raped our women. Keep out the Chinese. CPEC is colonization. The Chinese have invaded our homes. Sex slavery has created sparks and the Chinese government will try to ensure the fire doesn’t start. But these Chinese traffickers are not the only ones selling Pakistani women as sex slaves.
The recent revelation of a Chinese human trafficking gang operating in Pakistan has- for the moment- shed light on a grave issue buried deep beneath our socio-cultural norms. Xin Xianhai, the gang’s leader, arrived to our Islamic Republic in connection with the execution of a power project in Haveli Bahadar Shah, Jhang. Aided by locals looking to make a profit, the gang quickly established a successful network for smuggling Pakistani Christian girls to China.
Local aides were tasked with finding suitable targets i.e. Christian girls from low income neighborhoods desperately hoping for a better life elsewhere. Once the marriage was fixed, they received between Rs.50,000 to Rs.70,000 for their efforts. Upon arriving in China the young Pakistani brides were used as sex slaves. Since the parents were given several thousand dollars as a ‘gift’, it was time to recover the money. These women would be used for multiple hours multiple times a day by multiple men. And if the brides refused to solicit themselves they were brutally tortured.
A few of the young girls by some miracle managed to make it back to Pakistan and exposed those behind this heinous crime. So far at least 27 Chinese nationals and several of their local accomplices have been arrested by FIA. However, in contradiction with statements made by the FIA, the Chinese Embassy has claimed that investigation into the matter by Chinese authorities lead to no evidence of forced prostitution. The Chinese government insists on distancing itself as a nation from crimes committed by a few individuals holding Chinese nationalities. China’s approach is a wise one. With CPEC still in the fetal stage, they cannot afford media momentum painting a negative image of their nation in Pakistan.
Within the borders of Pakistan young girls and women are frequently forced into prostitution by the citizens of our own Islamic Republic. On 6thApril 2019, a father in DI Khan was arrested for selling his teenage daughter to a 60 year old man for Rs.140,000. The girl in a statement told the police that the man used to rape her every day. In June 2014, the Dubai Court of First Instance jailed Pakistani parents of a 16 year old who brought their daughter to Dubai and sold her virginity for Dhs16,000. The girl testified before the court that her parents forced her into prostitution to ‘become rich quickly’.
There are many more women suffering familiar fates across Pakistan. According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, the Pakistani government reported investigating 6,376 alleged sex traffickers and prosecuting 6,232 during the said year. Of these cases, 95 percent of the investigations and prosecutions and 93 percent of the convictions took place in Punjab. Not all of the sex traffickers were Chinese. The report also highlights the issue of women and young girls from Pakistan often being smuggled into Iran and Afghanistan as sex slaves. Moreover, women in Pakistan are duped into well-paying low skill employment opportunities in the Gulf States and forced into prostitution upon their arrival. However, the exact numbers are difficult fathom due to the elusive nature of the crime.
Forced prostitution and human trafficking for sexual slavery has been prevalent in Pakistan for many years. As a nation we simply choose to look the other way. The practice of sex slavery is a crime too vile to face. To hear women who have escaped forced prostitution recall their torturous days is difficult to bear. But bear we must. We must turn our faces towards this crime and acknowledge its presence in our society. Knowledge is power; having awareness of a prevalent issue can make a person more careful and hence less susceptible.
However, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan saying the words ‘sex slavery’ out loud is akin to being obscene. The dirty words will never be heard inside the walls of a ‘decent’- albeit low income- household, unless of course they are being spoken by a news anchor exposing a horrific tale of sex trafficking. Since it’s on television, the crime is seen as part of another world all together: a dirty world, a dark world, far away from the family’s tiny sitting room.
The elders will shake their heads in sympathy. The television will be turned off. Nothing will ever be said about the issue; ‘honorable’ young women must never hear the dirty words ‘sex slavery’. But reality contradicts the belief that ‘good’ girls with ‘good intentions’ don’t end up getting caught in such situations. Poverty invites all sorts of evils in disguise. And women in particular need to be aware of this.
The government must publicize the very real and prevalent danger of falling prey to sex traffickers: run ads detailing warning signs, have NGOS enter low income areas and counsel families. The words ‘sex slavery’ are considered taboo even in upper class homes. This taboo must be removed. Definitions of decorum, modesty and honor should not rest upon refusing to acknowledge the presence of this horrific crime. Maintaining this notion of ‘decency’ is putting our women at risk. And it’s not worth it.