Reported by Aaliya Harir
CHITRAL: A seminar on ‘Prevention of Women Trafficking in Chitral’ was organised by Pakistan – U.S Alumni Network (PUAN) in partnership with a local NGO Osama Shaheed Warriach Academy and Government Girls Degree College (GGDC), Danin. Held at GGDC, the seminar brought together experts and stakeholders to share their knowledge, experiences, and research to enable a deeper understanding of the approaches needed to prevent women trafficking and secure the welfare of survivors.
According to one study, 74% of marriages of Chitrali women with people from other districts of the country, turn out to be fraudulent. Chitrali women are trafficked for several purposes such as domestic servitude, bonded labour, selling of organs, prostitution, and to act as a surrogate for infertile couple. The victims of trafficking face stigmatisation and are rejected both by their own families and the society in case of their return, making them more vulnerable to the abuse and trauma.
Presiding the occasion, Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Molana Hidayat ur Rehman said that in 2022, members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly has moved a resolution. He said that the resolution upholds the sanctity of the institution of marriage and how this institution has been exploited by outsiders as well as local middlemen in Chitral. MPA also said that members of the parliament have requested the provincial government to ensure that district administration takes due diligence in such matters and conduct background check and inquiry with the support of police before down-country marriages are to take place.
District Police Officer Mr. Nasir Mehmood Khan, Chief Guest of the event, said that there is a system in place with the Chitral police, through which verification of prospective bride-seekers from down country is being carried out from the last seven years. In the year 2022, Chitral police carried out verifications of 76 such cases to facilitate local families. He asked audience to create awareness for utilisation of the verification mechanism and assured that the process of verification process will be simplified and sped up in future. He also stressed the need for a special legislation to deal with the issue of women trafficking in Chitral. He mentioned the gender desks available in Chitral police stations for facilitating women.
Principal Government Girls Degree College Ms. Musarrat Jabeen held that education and awareness raising are key to changing lives of Chitrali girls. The transition of girls from educational institutions to the workforce and decision making requires not only fundamental education and training but also sensitisation of all stakeholders in community. With quality education, girls will be empowered to say NO to such marriages.
The alarming rise in women trafficking in Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the last ten years has been a cause for attention and the core of discourse legitimising the need for effective engagement strategies, but there is a dearth of research or policy interventions to address the issue. Trafficking of Chitrali women through the modus operandi of marriage has been going on for several years by professional human traffickers who take advantage of the poverty, ignorance and weaker social fabric of the area.
District Social Welfare Officer, Ms. Nusrat Jabeen said that the political economy of marriages in Chitral fulfil the principles of trafficking. Marriage has become a pretext for such criminal conduct, therefore, there is a need for acknowledgement and exploration of marriage as a form of human trafficking. She also mentioned the facilities available at the district level which can be accessed by women.
Regional Program Manager, Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), Mr. Akhtar Ali stressed the need to reach out to women from far flung and rural communities in Chitral who are at the risk of being trafficked due to reasons such as poverty. There is a need to empower women economically and socially and include them in decision making at the household and community level so that they can take charge of their own lives.
Aliya Harir, host of the event, from Pakistan – U.S Alumni Network (PUAN) said that, with marriage deeply embedded into the religious and cultural fabric of Chitrali society, looking at marriage as a site of trafficking becomes a complex subject. In the context of Chitral, the institution of marriage is entangled with the tradition of bride-price and brings about conditions that are exploitative. There is need for further scientific and empirical research to understand the deep-rooted scope of the problem of trafficking, to supplement the efforts of the institutions in its prevention.
Other experts from civil society also shared their input including Advocate Mr. Niaz Ahmad Niazi, Mr. Peer Mukhtar from Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Huqooq-e-Chitral, Mr. Shabir Ahmad from Anjuman Dawat-e-Azeemat, Mr. Fida Rehman from Osama Shaheed Warriach Academy, and Sharif Hussain from Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Chitral. The seminar was attended by around 300 female students of intermediate and graduate studies, faculty members and representatives of civil society. At the end of the seminar, interlocutors and attendees shared their recommendations on building synergies between government departments.