The country is in Tier 2 Watch List in the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US Department of State
Majeda Begum (not her real name), from Bhola, spent about Tk1.5 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia on June 23 last year, leaving her husband and three children at home, with the dream of building a better life for her family.
But within a week after she arrived there, she realized she had become a victim of human trafficking, while finding herself repeatedly accosted by men and facing attempted rape.
Her employer physically tortured her when she resisted, and later went on to starve her as well as forbidding her from calling home.
She managed to call her husband in Bangladesh and told him about the terrible situation she was in. But when he made contact with the employment agency, he started getting negative responses. They also refused to bring her back and threatened him.
Meanwhile, Majeda was taken to a place where she saw at least 30 other women from different countries, who were in a similar states. There, she was brutally tortured and then sent to a local hospital. She managed to escape from the hospital and contacted her family.
On August 17, 2017, Majeda was brought back to Bangladesh with assistance from Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).
Like her, every year thousands of women are being illegally trafficked from Bangladesh to different countries, and only a few of them are as lucky as Majeda to make it back home.
In the backdrop of recent returns of hundreds of women from Saudia Arabia under dire circumstances, the matter of human trafficking comes to light yet again as countries around the globe are observing the World Day against Trafficking in Persons on Monday.
What UN says
UN agency International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally, and they include the victims of human trafficking.
While it’s unknown how many of them were trafficked, the estimate implies that the number is in millions and children make up almost a third of all the victims worldwide, according to the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Additionally, the report stated, women and girls comprise 71% of human trafficking victims.
The vast majority – more than 85% - of the victims detected in East Asia and the Pacific were trafficked from within the region, it said, and about 6% of them were trafficked from South Asia, in particular from Bangladesh and India.
This year, in observance of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, UNODC said it will focus more on “responding to the trafficking of children and young people.”
Nearly no action
Bangladesh had introduced the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA) in 2012, and since then 4,152 trafficking cases have been lodged.
According to Bangladesh Police, around 7,340 people, including women and children, have been trafficked between January 2013 and June this year.
Since 2013, total 6,106 people were arrested in connection with human trafficking, but only 25 of them have been convicted, according to data from the Police Headquarters.
The UNODC’s 2016 report also cited that Bangladesh reported just 10 to 15 convictions per year in such cases in comparison to 50 to 80 convictions every year in neighbouring Nepal.
Though PSHTA has a provision for a tribunal to handle trafficking cases exclusively, it is yet to be set up.
Anti-trafficking campaigner Binoy Krishna Mallick told the Dhaka Tribune: “Human trafficking in Bangladesh is increasing, but the authorities are reluctant to stop this crime.”
“Labour trafficking has also risen recently due to lack of implementation of laws. The perpetrators are not facing punishments and the role of law enforcement agencies is frustrating.”
Binoy, also the executive director of human rights organization Rights Jessore, said: “The situation is so worse that even if someone speaks against this issue, they face danger.”
Watch List prompts no measures
The US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2018, has kept Bangladesh in the “Tier 2 Watch List,” which is an indicator for vulnerability.
This Watch List refers to the countries that fail to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, from the previous year.
Until 2017, Bangladesh was in “Tier 2,” a better category, since 2011.
This year’s TIP Report, published last month, stated that the Bangladesh government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
It said: “Courts convicted only one trafficker in 2017—a decrease from 2016 and a low number compared with the scale of the trafficking problem.”
According to the report, Bangladesh government reported 778 cases lodged in 2017, and 496 of them remained under investigation at the end of the year.
Of the 282 completed investigations, 86 cases were unsubstantiated and 196 cases resulted in filing charges against the accused.
In 2016, 290 cases were investigated and 302 alleged traffickers prosecuted.
In 2017, the courts reached verdicts in nine cases and convicted one trafficker, sentencing the convict to life imprisonment, compared with 2016’s three convictions. The other eight cases resulted in acquittal.
The TIP Report, quoting observers, noted that convictions remained rare as the government did not dedicate sufficient resources to investigations and prosecutors persisted with trials meeting the statutorily required timeline of 180 working days even though they were unprepared.
It also said that the prosecutors were “overburdened and lacked expertise in trafficking cases.”