Content warning: This story discusses human sex trafficking and violence against children
Bustling markets, smells and sights, the aroma of exotic foods wafting through packed walkways. An unsuspecting young Afghan girl wandering from her family to explore the new landscape she had just discovered.
- Young Afghan immigrant Pak Zekrya shares her traumatic experience of a near kidnapping in a market place in Pakistan.
- At only 4 years of age, Pak was saved only by her male friend who was following her.
- Sex trafficking is very common in Pakistan, and the country is still trying to combat the extreme rates throughout the country.
26 years ago, Pak Zekrya’s family fled Afghanistan to find peace in their life, escaping from the Afghan Civil war not long after she turned 4. Finding shelter in Pakistan, a neighbouring country, Pak’s family were thrilled with the freedoms they had.
“In Afghanistan, every time you left your house you would fear for your life. Women could not really walk around or out of the house without an accompanying male. Whereas in Pakistan you didn’t have that issue,” she said.
On an unsuspecting day, Pak, her mother, and friends went to the local markets to shop. The markets were packed with stalls, with twists and turns, trinkets and materials, that would spark any small child’s curiosity.
From her family’s experiences in Afghanistan, Pak’s mother was always clear about staying close together while they were out. On this day, a young Pak’s curiosity got the better of her, and she decided to go exploring. Unbeknownst to her, one of her family friends, a boy of about 9, was following her.
After navigating the long twists and turns of the market place, Pak found herself lost and isolated in a dimly lit rug store, secluded from the rest of the market. Pak described the owner of the stall as sitting on a stack of rugs, in a position of power over her.
“He’s seen me walk into the stall, and he’s signalling for me to come to him, because he’s got something for me. I’m a kid and I’m vulnerable, gullible, I think he’s got candy.”
In a swift movement, the man grabbed Pak and dragged her under his clothing, knife to throat. Terrified, Pak can’t move, she’s only 4, and the market place was too busy for anyone to notice. Except for the little boy who was following her.
“He immediately went to find my mum, and his mum, and if he hadn’t followed me, my mum wouldn’t have been able to find me.”
Common knowledge of Afghanistan is bombarded by headlines of war and the Taliban (Doucet, 2011). The fundamentalist group threaten the civil and political social rights of the Afghan people, and women’s rights are deemed borderline non-existent (Maizland, 2022). There is a ‘drastic increase in the number of women arrested for violating discriminatory policies, such as rules requiring women to only appear in public with a male chaperone and to completely cover their bodies. The rates of child marriage have also increased’ (Amnesty International, 2022).
Pak’s family assumed they were free from these horrors, only to be closer than ever to being victims of child kidnapping and sex trafficking. Pakistan, although significantly safer, ‘is a destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor, particularly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Afghanistan and Iran, in sex trafficking in Pakistan’ (U.S. Department of State, 2022).
“The incident has given me a bigger appreciation for when we moved to Australia. If the guy had taken me any number of terrible things could have happened to me.”
If you suspect that you or another person is experiencing, or at risk of, modern slavery or human trafficking, call 131 AFP (131 237) or use the Australian Federal Police’s confidential online form.