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‘Your daughter has been sold to a brothel? Forget her’

  • Published at 11:00 pm January 21st, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:39 pm January 23rd, 2018
‘Your daughter has been sold to a brothel? Forget her’
[caption id="attachment_241773" align="alignleft" width="218"] Rita's family would welcome any information coming from anyone about her whereabouts Courtesy[/caption] An impoverished but determined mother has recalled how a madam at a Mymensingh brothel told her to give up the long quest to find her missing daughter, and to move on with her life. “If a girl is sold to a brothel, she can never be found,” the madam had said. “So it’s best if you forget your daughter.” For over three years since hearing those words, Nasima Begum has been unable to forget her daughter Sumaiya Akter Rita, who was kidnapped on her way to school when she was just 15 years of age. Nasima gritted her teeth as she told the Dhaka Tribune how the tragedy unfolded on the morning of August 15, 2014. “I was in a hurry to prepare food for Rita, my second daughter. She did not have school that morning but had to attend a special class to prepare for the JSC examination,” said Nasima, who resides in a shanty adjacent to the rail tracks at Doyaganj slum in the Gendaria area of Dhaka. “Her class was just a five-minute walk away from home. She left a little before 10am but never came back.” When Rita did not return in the evening, Nasima grew concerned. Over the next days, Nasima and her husband Selim Miah, a raw material trader, began a frantic search. They visited the houses of Rita's friends, teachers and relatives in Dhaka, knocked on the doors of every neighbour, and contacted relatives nationwide. Two days after Rita’s disappearance and with still no sign of the missing child, the family decided to file a missing person report with the police.

Mother on the hunt

After filing the missing person report, police advised them to keep searching for Rita at places she would frequent and to inform them if they found anything suspicious. After more days passed by without contact from her daughter, Nasima began to suspect two of their former neighbours and two other boys who were friends with the neighbours. Mir and Shaon were once Nasima's neighbours, but on the day Rita went missing they had left the area and moved elsewhere. Neither of them had been seen since. They were frequently visited by Saddam and Sujon. All four of them were in their early to mid-20s and used to drive minibuses on the Jurain-Sadarghat route. Nasima said: “We went to Sadarghat and Jurain several times and noticed that every time we went there, Mir and Shaon disappeared. One day we caught Mir from Dholaikhal and informed the police.” Police interrogated Mir and arrested Shaon. The duo admitted to kidnapping the girl and selling her to Daulatdia brothel for Tk20,000. They also confessed that they lured Rita by bearing a marriage proposal from Saddam. After several months, Nasima also managed to catch Saddam and handed him over to police. Only Sujon managed to escape the rage of the mother.

From Daulatdia to Tangail to Mymensingh

Nasima said Gendaria police asked her to arrange some money to rent a microbus to go to Daulatdia. “So we borrowed Tk9,000,” she said. The police then took Nasima, Mir and Shaon to Daulatdia brothel in the rented microbus. The two culprits identified the house where they had sold the girl, but could not identify the woman who bought her. “It was raining all night. We knocked at every house inside the brothel, showed Rita's photograph to the girls, their managers, and customers, but nobody could identify her,” Nasima said. Over the next two months, Nasima twice sent her brother-in-law, Monir, to Daulatdia, but he could not find Rita. However, a woman there said she had seen the girl inside another woman's house. “When we tried to find that (other) woman, we learnt that she was not in Daulatdia anymore. She had moved to Kandapara brothel in Tangail (but) I had no money to go to Tangail that month,” Nasima lamented. She later borrowed some money and went to Tangail alone to look for the woman who may have had bought her daughter. “I found the woman, but she denied seeing my daughter. She then took me to every house inside the brothel but nobody admitted to seeing Rita,” said Nasima. But the girl at the brothel suggested Nasima try her luck at Mymensingh brothel. Nasima, along with her only son Sayem, went on yet another failed trip. “They said: ‘if a girl is sold at a brothel, she can never be found again’. They told me it was best to forget my daughter.”

No end in sight

Rita's family did not stop searching for her over the past three years. They pursued every lead and followed up every rumoured sighting of their daughter. They borrowed over Tk1.5 lakh to meet the mounting travel and legal expenses. Nasima said: “Mir, Shaon and Saddam secured their bails with Tk1 lakh each. When we go to the court hearings, they mock us, and at times, threaten us.” The investigation officer of the case, Md Wahid Parvej - who was a sub-inspector with Gendaria police station during the incident - said the trio refused to give confessional statements before the court. “We included detailed accounts of witnesses and framed strong evidences against them in the charge sheet. Despite our best efforts, we failed to rescue to the girl,” he told the Dhaka Tribune recently. Wahid was transferred from Gendaria police station around 18 months ago. Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) Advocate Fahmida Akter Shirin is now providing legal support to Nasima and her family. She said the case - filed under the Human Trafficking (Deterrence and Suppression) Act - is currently recording witness depositions at a Dhaka court. “Years have passed, but there has been little progress in the trial. It is going to take years more to ensure justice for this family,” she said.