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Human trafficking in the quake's aftermath
By Mohammad Shehzad
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October 16, 2005
Although the October 8 earthquake is a great human tragedy, for the human traffickers it is a perfect 'business opportunity'. The mafia has become active creatively. Human smugglers are collecting information about children and women who have lost their parents and spouses respectively. They visit various relief camps, pretend to be the close relatives of such victims and claim their custody. 

I was witness to one such scene. "I don't know them. They are not my relatives. Please don't send me with them." This was Ayesha Bibi, a 16-year old girl at the Rawalpindi General Hospital. Two men -- Shafiq and Karim -- wanted to take her with them. According to them, Ayesha was their niece. 

"She is mentally retarded. She would often not recognise her real mother who has died in the rubble in Muzaffarabad. We are her uncles and have come to help her," claimed Karim. 

When asked how they came to know about Ayesha, they said they had seen her on TV. The hospital, faced with a desperate bed shortage, discharged her to the man without verification. 

A lot of people want to adopt orphan children. Some of them out of genuine reason, but a majority of them are looking for domestic helpers, particularly, babysitters.

"I wish I could adopt a teenage girl. She could look after my newborn baby and live with me. I will provide her reasonably good food, clothing and shelter. I would be grateful if you could help me in this regard." This was a so-called social worker in my circle of contacts who had contacted me on my satellite phone when she got to know that I was going to Muzaffarabad to cover the earthquake. 

When I reminded the lady that she had no shame and instead of helping wretched people, she was exploiting their plight, she brazenly said: "I am helping them in one way. By adopting a girl and providing her the job of babysitter, I will save her from becoming a prostitute!" 

The lady was probably not wrong because the mafia of pimps has reached the remotest villages of Pakistani Kashmir to buy girls for their brothels. A number of abysmally poor families are selling off their girls to such pimps who pretend to be noble people who help humanity by marrying poor and needy women. 

In Muzaffarabad, a very pretty young woman who had lost her husband and three children in the earthquake was open to marrying any reasonable man of any age who could look after her. 

"I am willing to give my 28-year-old widowed daughter-in-law into wedlock with anyone who could provide her protection," says 65-year old Zakir Ali, a retired schoolteacher. 

The women trade under the cover of marriage is not a bizarre phenomenon in Pakistan. A friend of mine fell in love with someone and asked his widower father -- a retired army colonel -- to arrange his marriage. The father imposed a condition on the son ie he [the son] would have to arrange a bride for him [the father] first. The son went to Swat (a city in North West Frontier Province where brides are sold) and bought his 'step-mother' by paying 25,000 rupees. The father married the girl and then arranged his son's marriage! 

Army doctors are in ideal positions to use their clout to get anyone children for adoption. 

At the Field Hospital in Bagh, I overheard an army doctor telling his elder brother over the phone that he should not worry.

He should wait for a week and during this period he would find him a girl for adoption. The doctor had given his brother a week's time to ensure that no relative claims the custody of the potential child that he had in mind for adoption. 

According to the international law, only infants can be adopted -- not grown up children. 

Islam encourages men to marry needy women. A Muslim man can have four wives at a time. Unfortunately, Islam is abused and used as a cover by many of us for our wicked deeds.

Only God knows the intentions of the human beings -- prima facie 'adoption' and 'marriage' seem to be two great covers for human trafficking!

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