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Nineteen-year-old Sajida, along with her 18-month-old daughter Rida, was allegedly sold

Nineteen-year-old Sajida, along with her 18-month-old daughter Rida, was recently [allegedly] sold and trafficked by her lawfully wedded husband, Tariq. She currently resides at a shelter home in Karachi, has refused to go back home, and is waiting for the call of some of her relatives, who she says are the only people she can trust.

Sajida is a resident of Gujranwala, Punjab. She was sold into an arranged marriage by her family when she was 15 years old. Sajida and Rida, both victims of intra-country human trafficking, were recovered from Nawabshah with the help of a local NGO, Madadgaar Helpline. They have been staying at a shelter home in Karachi since December 18, 2007.

Sajida only speaks Punjabi. She told a group of reporters at the Madadgaar office on Friday that her relationship with her husband, Tariq, was strained, and the couple argued frequently. “Maybe this is why he decided to sell me off to some unknown men,” Sajida said.

Tariq is a driver by profession. He tricked his wife into visiting the Dargah Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, where he left her stranded. She was picked up by some men, who raped her until she managed to escape the next day with the help of a peasant.

“Considering our disturbed relationship, I was surprised when my husband asked me to visit Sehwan Shareef. He even hired a car for the purpose. One of his friends, Aslam joined us later on our way to Sindh, and gave Tariq Rs 100,000,” Sajida said. When she questioned her husband about the money he said that it wasn’t his, and that he had to forward it to someone else. On reaching Sehwan Shareef, Tariq told Sajida to visit the shrine and say her prayers while he waited outside.

When Sajida returned, she found neither her husband, nor Aslam, not the car. “When I inquired about them from two men standing there, they said they knew which way my husband had gone, and offered to take me there,” Sajida said. “Instead, they took me to a small hut in what looked like a jungle, tied me to a charpai (bed) and threw my daughter aside. One of the men then proceeded to rape me throughout the night,” Sajida said, adding that she fainted later.

She regained consciousness around 06:00 a.m. the next day, and found the men sleeping. Sajida picked her daughter up and managed to escape. She ran into a peasant, Gulbahar, who heard her story, promised to help her, and took her to his house. “Gulbahar promised to send me back to Gujranwala but he didn’t seem to be doing anything and deliberately delayed the matter as I continued to stay with his family for five days. After this, I was afraid that Gulbahar might try to traffic me to, so I decided to seek help from a milkman who visited the house daily,” Sajida said.

The milkman called up the Madadgaar office, but since the NGO does not work in interior Sindh, officials contacted Gulbahar instead, and asked him to send Sajida to Karachi. Gulbahar refused on the grounds that he did not have the money to do so.

“We later offered to pay for the fare, but Gulbahar refused to cooperate. Then after two days of conversations on the telephone, Gulbahar said that he was sending Sajida to Lahore,” a Madadgaar official, Musarrat, said. This unexpected move aroused the suspicion of NGO officials, who sought the help of the Nawabshah Social Welfare Department. They also contacted the Hyderabad DIG Police and the Nawabshah DPO, and asked them to recover Sajida from Gulbahar’s residence immediately and hand her over to the Madadgaar office in Karachi so that her family could be located. The Nawabshah police tried to resist the move, but government officials and the NGO refused to give in.

Sajida was later brought to Karachi and kept at a shelter home, while a public service advertisement was issued by Madadgaar Helpline. Three people contacted the NGO, and claimed that they were Sajida’s relatives. “We asked them a few questions about Sajida for verification but they were unable to respond so we refused to send Sajida with them. They continued to call us and finally told one of our officials to ‘reach a compromise’ and sell Sajida to them,” Musarrat said.

The NGO suspected that the men were from another group of internal traffickers, and sought the help of officials at the Frere Police Station. Officials there managed to detain three of the suspected traffickers on January 2, 2008. “When we showed photographs of the three detained men to Sajida, she did not recognise any of them,” Madadgaar chief, Advocate Zia Awan, said.

Investigation Officer, Riaz Mughal, was handling the case under the instructions of SHO Farhat Kamal, but the police were unable to find any proof against the three detainees, and later set them free, Advocate Awan said.

The NGO is, however, making an effort to locate Sajida’s family, while she waits for one of her relatives, Saleem, to contact her. She says that he is the only person that she can trust at the moment.

Sajida’s case, Advocate Awan said, is proof of the vulnerability of women in the rural and urban parts of the country who continue to be exploited at the hands of traffickers but have no one to report to.

Lessons learnt from Sajida’s case

– “Several internal traffickers try to exploit women who they hear about through public service advertisements.

– “Apart from being trafficked across borders, women are trafficked within the country as well.

– “Due to the absence of a separate regulation on internal trafficking, this crime goes unreported and the culprits are tried under the Criminal Procedure Code, while the victims are tried under the Hudood Ordinance.

– “The government should recognise internal trafficking as a separate crime, and place it under a separate category.

– “Apart from the FIA, which deals with trafficking as an international crime, the jurisdiction of dealing with internal trafficking should be given to the local police.”
Source: The News