PAKISTAN: Legalising prostitution — the Wisdom of the UN?!

According to a research, modern day trafficking, aka slavery is a $32 billion annual industry and according to the U.N. about 2.5 million people around the world are ensnared in the web of human trafficking at any given time.  The usual victims of atrocious crimes of sexual and gender based violence, including rape against women & girls (young, adolescents and teen) are poor, uneducated, rural and trafficked ones.

Men and boys are also trafficked but they are mostly used as camel jockeys (particularly young and thin ones) and for hard labour.  Though slavery seems history it still exists and not all slaves are trafficked but those who are trafficked are undeniably slaves and for women, young and minor girls it is sex slavery.

This one of the top most lucrative and visibly invisible form of   illegal slavery within national or across international borders is for the intent of imposed sex work that in turn includes bare essentials like commercial pornography, physical abuse and prostitution. Each year, an estimated 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders—though additional numbers of women and girls are trafficked within countries.

The Department of State, in its report last year, stated that 29 countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Taiwan, were listed as Tier 1 countries whose governments fully comply with Trafficking Victims Protection Act -TVPA’s minimum standards. The office included 21 countries as Tier 3, which included Iran, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Zambia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards.

Most of South Asian states are source, transit and destination regions for persons subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. This does not take into account Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka that are source and modern anti-trafficking laws and structures in South Asia are redundant and are merely theoretical instruments that in most scenarios remain either biased or undue. According to a news report published in the Express Tribune (Pakistan) on 24, February 2014, the country may join the group of some 44 countries already on the ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ as human trafficking is rising in the country at an alarming level – the number of most-wanted human traffickers in the country has jumped from 89 to 141 in the last four years.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the greatest numbers of traffickers are from Asia, followed by Central and Southeastern Europe, and Western Europe. Crime groups involved in the sex trafficking of women and girls are also often involved in the transnational trafficking of drugs and firearms, and frequently use violence as a means of carrying out their activities. Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are among the countries that are the greatest sources of trafficked persons. The UNODC cites Thailand, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and the United States as common destination countries of trafficked women and girls.

There is acclaimed evidence on the complicatedness of the trafficked sufferers who not only live through a range of phases of disgrace and physical and psychological persecution but are also often deprived of food and sleep. Mostly they are unable to move about freely, and are tormented in the flesh. In order to keep women enslaved, victims are told their families and their children will be harmed or murdered if they (the women) try to escape or tell anyone about their situation. They undergo another stratum of psychological ordeal and emptiness because they rarely understand the culture and language of the country into which they have been trafficked, “Often, before servicing clients, women are forcibly raped by the traffickers themselves, in order to initiate the cycle of abuse and degradation. Some women are drugged in order to prevent them from escaping. Once “broken in,” sex trafficked victims can service up to 30 men a day, and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy” different research reports have repeatedly authenticated.

Though there is no direct link between the spread of HIV and sex “work’ but for obvious reason prostitutes/Commercial Sex Workers (CSW)/trafficked CSW are more vulnerable to HIV.  What is the solution then? Stop Human Trafficking? Eradicate poverty? Establish gender Equality? Penalize traffickers and slavers? No. The brilliant response is to Legalize Prostitution because Sex is a Trade and Sex workers must not be criminalized. Yes, believe it or not right now this is the solution from none other than the UN.  According to leaked material (March 2014) from a UN Women agency there are calls for prostitution to be legalised. This has outraged women who have been trafficked into prostitution and who have escaped.  According to multiple web sources there was a panel on this at the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week. The survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution spoke to an overflowing crowd at the UN’s annual conference on women. The panel on “Prostitution or Sex Work,” organized by The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), was held as diplomats negotiated whether to describe prostitution as “sex work.” The term “sex work” originated by US-based pimps in order to normalize prostitution. While many use the term to avoid offending prostituted women, mainstreaming the phrase only benefits pimps and panderers, panelists said. Prostitution is not work, they argued – it is paid rape, and using the term hurts efforts to stop it. UN agencies recently released reports telling countries to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution to reduce HIV/AIDS and promote human rights. A UN Development Program (UNDP) report on HIV and the Law and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific, a UNDP, UN Population Fund and UNAIDS-backed report, calls for decriminalizing prostitution-reported Ms. Lisa Correnti.

I can safely claim that legalization of sex workers can make headlines in the news but does not offer respect, self esteem and honour to sex workers. While roaming in the Red Light District Amsterdam, I  have seen through the eyes of my heart the pain and anger on the  faces of those “tax paying legal sex workers” (the majority are not Dutch by the way-they are trafficked ) some of them were so young and some of them were so old. What a decay of human civilization (some self styled liberals may see it as an epic of tolerance).

The nexus of public health issues including HIV transmission and sex trafficking need focused attention in terms of empathy, research and socially acceptable solution without eulogizing paid sex and putting more women and girls into one of the most hurtful and horrid realities known as sex slavery and trafficking.

Ps: I want to quote Ms.Nasreen Azher, former member of the National commission on the status of Women, a renowned and highly respected woman rights activist of Pakistan who while responding to my email on this issue to some important human rights, child rights and women rights network in Pakistan wrote “I agree Rakhshanda. That the UN is even considering legalizing prostitution is outrageous. It shows how the market is ruling the world and corrupting human values and causing human suffering. The pimps, exploiters and, of course, the traffickers, as well as  those who buy sexual services should be penalized.  Thanks for sharing. Regards.Nasreen”

About the Author: By Dr.Rakhshinda Perveen, a public health specialist , HIV & GBV Researcher and human rights activist. She has also served as gender advisor in South Asia and dealt with trafficking in women and children. She can be reached at;