Global Human Rights Defence

Shedding light on the depths of human trafficking in Asia

Even after long-lasting efforts by the international community as well as single states, human trafficking remains one of the most urgent issues of today´s world. Most cases take place clandestinely and occur in the Global South. Therefore, the topic is not very present in Western media and general public debate, and exact data is difficult to acquire. However, the atrocities and injustices committed deserve attention and immediate action. This article provides an overview of the extent of the issue in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the three countries with the highest numbers of human trafficking cases detected worldwide. Furthermore, the different legal frameworks adopted to combat the problem by these countries will be introduced.

Introduction to Human Trafficking 

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. It takes place in different capacities and exploits them in different situations. 

Human trafficking can be described through several definitions. All definitions revolve around exploitation, labour, harm, and financial shortcomings. The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines ‘’Trafficking in persons’’ as  ‘’the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation”

This paper will discuss human trafficking in Asia and more specifically in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These countries have the highest rate of human trafficking in the world and are ranked among the top traffickers in Asia (BIPPS, 2011). 

Human trafficking in Asia 

Human trafficking is one of the most significant social problems of the global south. Having said that, human trafficking is an issue with a worldwide scope, and one may argue that it is fueled by the never-ending cycle of poverty. In South Asia, trafficking has also been defined as “the moving, selling or buying of women and children for prostitution within and outside a country for monetary or other considerations with or without the consent of the person subjected to trafficking” by the Bangladesh Institute of peace and security studies (BIPPS, 2011). 

Lenient laws and corruption can also be seen as factors that allow human trafficking to persist. According to a policy brief by World Vision, out of the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked every year, about 250,000 are estimated to be from South-East Asia and 150,000 from South Asia. 

Another reason why the demand for human trafficking is still high is the lack of economic opportunities. These trafficked individuals are used in various spheres such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, child begging or the removal of their organs. Factors such as lack of access to education; armed conflict; domestic violence, child abandonment, and various discriminatory practices continue to increase the supply of trafficked individuals (NIOC).


Human trafficking in India takes place in many forms including, but not limited to sexual exploitation, begging, prostitution etc. A majority of the trafficked individuals belong to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes. In 2019, the largest number of human trafficking cases were registered in Maharashtra. Several rules and regulations have been set up by the state and central government to tackle the human trafficking situation in the subcontinent (MEA, Govt of India). 

Trafficking of Human Beings or Persons is prohibited under the Constitution of India under Article 23 (1). The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) is the main legislation for the prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 provides comprehensive measures to counter human trafficking, including trafficking of children for exploitation in any form, including physical exploitation or any form of sexual exploitation, slavery, servitude, or the forced removal of organs. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, came into effect on November 14, 2012. It protects children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It provides precise definitions for different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, and sexual harassment (MEA, Govt of India).

There are other specific enacted legislation related to the trafficking of individuals. Moreover, state governments have also enacted specific legislation to deal with the issue. Additionally, Anti-Trafficking Nodal Cell was set up in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). MHA conducts coordination meetings with the Nodal Officers of Anti Human Trafficking Units nominated in all States/UTs periodically (MEA, Govt of India).

India has ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC) which has, as one of its Protocols, Prevention, Suppression and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons, particularly Women and Children. India has also ratified the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. India has also collaborated with neighbouring countries to control trafficking. For instance, a memorandum of understanding was signed to establish bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh on human trafficking (MEA, Govt of India). 

Despite all these regulations, India still struggles with controlling human trafficking within its borders.  


As in India, human trafficking takes place in several forms in Pakistan as well. The most common forms include sexual exploitation and bonded labour. The highest number of trafficking victims belongs to different vulnerable groups including women, girls, young boys and children (The Borgen Project, 2021)

Pakistan first took measures to combat human trafficking at the national level back in 2002. Since then, the Pakistani government has been working to pass more and more legislation to effectively resolve the problem. In 2018, Pakistan passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act. The PTPA calls for prison sentences ranging from 2 to 10 years for labour and sex trafficking violations and fines(The Borgen Project, 2021). 

In combatting human trafficking the government of Pakistan also makes use of certain sections of the Pakistan penal code, such as article 371A and article 371B which criminalized the buying and selling of a person for prostitution. Article 374 of the penal code refers to the criminalization of unlawful compulsory labour. The penal code also addresses the criminalization of exposure of seduction to children, child pornography, the offence of cruelty to children, and the offence of sexual abuse against children (The Borgen Project, 2021).  

Pakistan signed the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2000. There has been a lot of legislation in recent years guaranteeing legal protections to children and augmenting the powers of the state to punish perpetrators. This includes the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Child Protection Act 2018.


With the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, identifying trafficked victims has become harder than ever. Lockdowns and curfews have further increased human trafficking in so many respects (UNDOC).

Human trafficking, in the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, in Bangladesh have increased in comparison to 10 years ago . Human trafficking in Bangladesh is as prevalent as it is due to a large number of factors such as its large population, chronic poverty, ongoing natural disaster and rural-urban migration due to unemployment, increased insecurity of the girls, lack of shelter in disaster periods, gender inequality etc (The Borgen Project, 2020). 

Bangladesh has enacted several domestic legislation in their combat against human trafficking such as the Prevention of Cruelty against Women and Children Act 2000, which addresses the prohibition of the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Not to forget is that their penal code under articles 372 and 373 also prohibits the selling and buying of children.

In Bangladesh, the majority of trafficked individuals are Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, due to the large influx of Rohingya migrants in 2017. Bangladesh, with the assistance of USAID, is making progress in suing traffickers and making resources for victims more available (The Borgen Project, 2020).  

In 2007,  the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is reached out to strengthen Bangladesh’s ability to fight trafficking on a legal and financial level, with the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking .  

And in 2018 the UN and European Union initiated a joint project called The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants – Bangladesh (GLO.ACT – Bangladesh)’’.


Common factors such as poverty, large population, gender inequality etc. have led to increased human trafficking in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Nevertheless, it must be noted that all three countries have put in persisted efforts to tackle human trafficking within and across their borders. Unfortunately, despite the persistent efforts in practice, there has been a slow and little progress in policy development in the field of human trafficking in South Asia. Nevertheless, there is a hope that the combined efforts of communities, non-governmental organizations, private companies, international organizations, and public institutions, will help, in the long run, to tackle human trafficking on a global level. 


Combatting Human Trafficking in Pakistan (2021). The Borgen Project. doi:

Counter trafficking in persons (2021). USAID. doi:

Dearnley, R. Prevention, Prosection and Protection – Human Trafficking. The United Nations. doi:

Human Trafficking. Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. doi:

Human Trafficking: A security concern for Bangladesh (2011). BIPPS, 9, pp. 1 – 16. doi:

Human smuggling and trafficking in Pakistan. NIOC Pakistan. doi:

Human Trafficking in Bangladesh (2020). The Borgen Project. doi: 

Impact of the COVID19 pandemic on trafficking in persons. UNDOC. doi:

  1.  Article 3 of the UN protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime can be found at:
  2.  a non-party, non-profit organization and independent think tank devoted to studying peace and security issues related to South and Southeast Asia. The institute seeks to bridge the gap between academic research and policy analysis within the context of Bangladesh and other countries of South and Southeast Asia
  3. This link helps us further understand the topic at hand
  4.    An global Christian humanitarian organization.That  partners with children, families, and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.The link redirects to the organizations webpage:

  5.  This data is to be found at:

  6.  This link helps us further understand the topic at hand

  7. This link helps us further understand the topic at hand
  8. Article 23 Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law, full text accessible at:
  9.  Act accessible at

  10.  Accessible at
  11.  Deal with offences including child sexual abuse and child pornography. The Act through its 46 provisions increased the scope of reporting offences against children, which were not earlier covered under the Indian Penal Code.

  12. act as a focal point for communicating various decisions and follow up on action taken by the State Governments. It also interfaces with other Ministries and National Crime Records Bureau in the collation and dissemination of information. All the States/Union Territories Administrations have nominated Anti-Trafficking Nodal Officers who coordinate amongst themselves in inter-state trafficking cases.
  13.  Accessible at
  14. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) deals with the problem of trafficking. The SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution of 2002 was signed by Member States including India.  The main purpose of this Convention is to promote cooperation amongst Member States so that they may effectively deal with the various aspects of trafficking in women and children. Accessible at
  15.  Bonded labor, also known as debt bondage and peonage, happens when people give themselves into slavery as security against a loan or when they inherit a debt from a relative. More information at

  16.  PTPA is accessible at
  17.   The penal code is accessible at
  18.  Accessible at
  19.  provides protection of vulnerable children at ICT level. Link towards the legislation:
  20.  Act accessible at :
  21.  Penal code accessible at:

  22.  are  stateless Indo-Aryan ethnic group of which the majority follows Islam and reside in the Rahine State in Myanmar.[
  23.  In August 2017, the Myanmar authorities burned down  entire villiges of the rohinya community, families where murdered or seperted. As  result the Rohinya people fled to Bangladesh, where they found shelter in refugees camps in Bangladesh.  
  24.   An NGO that leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.  For further information visit

  25. T he United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN. GIFT) was conceived to promote the global fight on human trafficking, on the basis of international agreements reached at the UN. .
  26.  project works on  d eveloping evidence-based information on  trafficking and  smuggling   patterns and trends, legislative review and harmonization, capability development of criminal justice actors, and international cooperation. The project also provides direct assistance to victims of human trafficking and  migrants in vulnerable situations  through the strengthening of identification, referral, and protection mechanisms, accessible at


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