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Saving Shahida

By: Bina Shah

In Pakistan, there is no law that exists to specifically prevent the sexual trafficking of girls and women. This, despite the fact that according to the Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation, more than one million Bangladeshi women and more than 200,000 Burmese women have been trafficked to Karachi alone, and that Pakistan serves as “a source, transit, and destination country” for trafficking in prostitution (according to a report in 2010 by the US Department of State). The numbers for Pakistani women being trafficked in Pakistan are much higher than this. And yet, while the Pakistan Penal Code contains laws to prohibit slavery, forced labour and child prostitution, in reality, there’s nothing that really prevents women and girls from being sold as sex slaves within the country.

I found these terrible facts out while reading about sexual slavery in connection with a case that’s been ongoing for the last two years, but is finally going to court on September 17 in Malir. In 2010, Shahida (not her real name), a 19-year-old girl from a small village in Punjab, was spotted by an older woman called Anila in a Karachi school where Shahida worked and Anila’s child was a student. Within weeks, Anila had wooed Shahida and her family with sweet talk, convincing them to let Shahida work for her instead of the school. But what followed when Shahida spent a month in Anila’s house is the stuff of nightmares.

Shahida was locked in a room and repeatedly raped by men that Anila procured with the help of her brother, a known pimp. She was plied with alcohol and tranquillizers, told that if she told anyone or tried to run away, her family would be killed. She even overheard Anila attempting to arrange for her to be sold to unknown buyers in Dubai. When Shahida’s family inquired about her whereabouts (Anila had not paid her salary for several months by now), Anila quickly got rid of Shahida by selling her to three men for Rs200,000.

Shahida’s family went to the police, who warned them to leave things well alone. They told Shahida’s parents that Anila reported the girl had stolen from her and demanded money from them. The FIR was finally registered, but Anila continued to threaten Shahida’s family with violence. A year passed, with Shahida continuing to be held against her will and raped by the three men who had bought her and others who paid to be able to do the same thing to her. The involvement of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee resulted in some movement forward in the case and the men who had held Shahida captive finally let her go. Drugged and traumatised, she made her way back to her family in Punjab in February 2012.

But the nightmare doesn’t end here. The police, in cahoots with Anila and her network, pressured Shahida’s famiy to drop the case, but they refused. They were shamed in their village and her parents were urged to kill her in order to regain their honour. Meanwhile, the police continued to harass Shahida’s family to the point where Shahida’s brother eventually committed suicide.

War Against Rape (WAR) stepped in to give legal assistance to Shahida and her family, and PANAH, an organisation in Karachi, provided Shahida with safe shelter, while Adal Trust, a small charity in Islamabad, has been providing Shahida’s famiy with financial assistance for the last seven months. This gave Shahida and her mother the courage to fight the case in court. But the case has been adjourned three times previously; it is obvious that the connection between the trafficking mafia and the police and other influential, connected people has caused the case to be blocked every step of the way, hardly a surprising state of affairs given that the trafficking of girls and women is a multibillion rupee business in Pakistan.

A social media campaign via email and Facebook to show support for Shahida and her ordeal has been started by Farida Moten, Shahida’s WAR lawyer, and Shahbano Aliani, who works with the Thardeep Rural Development Programme. Aliani writes, “I know Shahida personally. She has endured incredible hardship, tragedy and brutalisation, but has an indomitable spirit that inspires me to support her struggle.” Do we have what it takes as a society and as responsible citizens to save Shahida? The next court hearing will take place at the district and magistrate court, Malir on September 17 at 9:00 am. We will have to wait until then to find out.

The Express Tribune

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