It is tough enough living with a disability in the Pakistani city of Karachi, but being targeted by traffickers has added a new challenge: Hundreds of people with disabilities are being trafficked to neighbouring countries to beg there, according to the police. Many come from the southern province of Sindh, and are destined for Iran.
In the past few months, said Khadim Hussain Rind, a district police officer in the Khairpur District of Sindh, 200-300 disabled persons have been "transported to Iran for beggary". The numbers could be higher but some cases are not reported to police.
"The gang of traffickers is spread all over the province," said Salam Dharejo, child labour manager with the NGO Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. Trafficking, he added, was a growing problem in both Khairpur and Shikarpur districts.
A recent survey by the NGO found that some poor parents were being paid a lump sum of Rs 10,000-20,000 (US$117-235), and offered a share in proceeds from begging, in exchange for allowing their disabled children to be taken to Iran.
In Iran, the disabled Pakistanis, both children and adults, are taken to beg outside shrines or mosques.
Others are simply kidnapped. In February, 28-year-old Raham Ali, who is paralysed in his right arm and leg, was brought back to Khairpur following complaints to the police by an aunt. The traffickers were later arrested.
"My nephew was kidnapped and Rs. 100,000 ($1,176) demanded for his return," the aunt, Lal Pari Gopang, said.
Relatives of other people living with disabilities are scared of similar incidents. "We have heard about the abductions, and it is disturbing since my 12-year-old son, who was born with deformed legs, goes out to beg near a hospital here," Siddiqa Bibi, 35, told IRIN. "He is terrified he will be abducted; these stories are circulating among beggars."
Mujahid Shaikh, who made his way back to Khairpur after being trafficked to Iran, and now begs at the railway crossing, said there were "hundreds of persons [from Pakistan] with disability, including children" living in captivity in Iran.
On the fringes of society
According to the US State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, Pakistan is a "Tier 2" country, that is one of those "whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards".
Pakistan, it added, was "a source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and prostitution."
"From childhood, disabled people are told they are good for nothing and must always depend on others," Ghulam Nabi Nizamani, head of the Karachi-based Pakistan Disabled Peoples Organization, told IRIN.
"They are severely disadvantaged in terms of access to education and those from poor families often end up as beggars. There are also physical challenges, like the lack of ramps for wheelchair users."
Social attitudes, educational disadvantages and a lack of acceptability, he added, meant people living with disabilities are most often pushed to the fringes of society.
In 2009, the government said there were only 6,789 disabled people in Pakistan, but Nizamani and development agencies say this number is inaccurate. A study by the Japanese development agency, JICA, put the figure at 2.49 percent of a population of 165 million.
"No census has been conducted - so we lack reliable data, though this is badly needed," Nizamani said.
Two percent of jobs in government are reserved for those with disabilities, but they must be registered. They are also entitled to free medical treatment in all federal government hospitals, rehabilitative aid and duty free import of cars.
But many are not registered and have no stable source of income, often surviving by begging on the roadsides or other public places.
"Parents who are poor are compelled to make their disabled children beg, even when they become adults, to supplement household expenditures," said Dharejo of the NGO Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. "There are few opportunities available to these people to earn a livelihood in any other way."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions