The backlog of cases has also increased due to the slow pace of trial proceedings
A majority of human traffickers are now on the loose as thousands of cases have piled up at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals across the country.
At the same time, a low conviction rate in these cases has been depriving victims of justice by allowing these traffickers to evade punishment.
Anti-trafficking campaigners said the slow pace of trial proceedings and low conviction rate had opened the door to a gradual increase in the crime in the country.
Back in 2012, the government enacted the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act with a view to preventing and penalizing human trafficking.
The law states that anyone found guilty of human trafficking will receive a minimum of five years in jail to a maximum life term imprisonment. It also states that an organized gang of traffickers will receive a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment to a maximum of death penalty.
The law assigned the country’s Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals for conducting trial proceedings in human trafficking cases. It also asked for separate tribunals to be set up in all divisions and formed a central monitoring cell for supervising the activities of the tribunals.
However, it took eight years to set up the separate tribunal and central monitoring cell, causing a pile up of thousands of cases with different courts across the country.
Court sources said the trials of the human trafficking cases do not get proper attention at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals as they are preoccupied with their own cases.
The backlog of cases have also increased due to the slow pace of trial proceedings.
As per Section 24 (1) of the law, a case over human trafficking should be disposed of within 180 days. But, trial proceedings in most cases have been pending for years.
Taking advantage of the delay, the accused come out of jail on bail and try to influence their cases, said rights activists.
The pending cases
Sources said over 5,500 cases have been filed over human trafficking since the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act was enforced in 2012.
Law enforcers arrested 9,692 people in connection with these cases in the last eight years. But, only 247 cases have been disposed till now where only 54 people were convicted.
Sources of Dhaka courts said, there are around 956 human trafficking cases pending with nine Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals.
Of the pending cases, Tribunal-1 has 80 cases, Tribunal-2 has 60 cases, Tribunal-3 has 102 cases, Tribunal-4 has 50 cases, Tribunal-5 has 131 cases, Tribunal-6 has 45 cases, Tribunal-7 has 38 cases, 300 cases in Tribunal-8 and 150 cases in Tribunal-9.
Besides, some 80 cases transferred to the newly formed “Human Trafficking Crimes Tribunal” in Dhaka.
“Around 80 cases shifted to the tribunal from different courts since set up the tribunal in March this year,” the tribunal’s bench-officer Jahangir Hossain told Dhaka Tribune.
The court official also informed that none of the cases have been disposed till now as the court is yet to start fully.
Trafficking ringleaders remain untouched
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers´ Association President Advocate Salma Ali said “The conviction rate is very poor in the human trafficking cases as the prosecution lawyers cannot prove the charges against the accused.
“The ringleaders of these trafficking gangs remain untouched as a section of people from the government are patronizing them. Basically, some aides or middle men of these trafficking gangs came under investigation.”
Salma Ali, who had filed the first case under human trafficking law in the country, also said “Human trafficking is taking place under the shadow of recruiting agencies, travel agencies, brokers, immigration, among others.
“Only the middle men and brokers are coming under the investigation, but the masterminds of the crime remain untouched, so now we are also not interested to go to court,” she said.
“Now, we should give attention to activities to check and prevent such incidents,” she advised.
Prosecutors failing to prove crimes in court
“Trials of the human trafficking cases get delayed as witnesses do not come forward to give their testimonies,” Advocate Abdul Bari, special public prosecutor of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-1 in Dhaka, told to the Dhaka Tribune.
“Many of the accused go unpunished as the prosecution fails to prove charges against them as witnesses show no interest to give their testimonies,” he added.
“Similarly, out-of-court settlements between the accused and the plaintiff in exchange of money, and absences of separate tribunal for the cases are mainly responsible for the increasing number of pending cases.”
Meanwhile, Md Abdullah Abu, chief prosecutor of Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judges' Court, said: “The prosecution lawyers are trying their level best to dispose of the cases, but the trial in the cases gets delayed due to the lack of a separate tribunal.
“The conviction rate is poor due to non-appearance of prosecution witnesses in the cases,” he also added.