Around 500,000 Bangladeshi women and children aged between 12-30 years have been illegally sent to India in the last decade
Around 50,000 Bangladeshi girls and women are trafficked to or through India every year, along the 4,156 km international border between the neighbouring countries. Around 300,000 Bangladeshi children work in the brothels of India.
This was revealed in a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS).
Another study titled “Adolescence at the Border,” by anti-human trafficking NGO Justice and Care, in association with Border Security Force (BSF), showed that around 500,000 Bangladeshi women and children aged between 12-30 years have been illegally sent to India in the last decade.
Data from both studies suggest that a staggering number of Bangladeshi women and children are being trafficked every year.
But, according to the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the US Department of State, the government of Bangladesh identified 355 victims in 2016. Among them were 212 men, 138 women, and five children.
Key trafficking routes
Sanlaap, an Indian non-government organization (NGO), has identified areas where these trafficked girls are being used for sexual exploitation. The NGO has experience in rescuing trafficked girls, and is active in sites such as Matia Bazar, Canning, and Kultali of West Bengal, India.
Matia Bazar, a red light area with a population of over 400 women engaged in prostitution, is located between Barasat and Bashirhat.
Apart from being a source area for girls who are being trafficked to Mumbai, Delhi, and other parts of the country, this is also a transit route for girls trafficked from Bangladesh through the Bashirhat and Hasnabad border.
Canning is a small town in South 24 Paraganas, which is notorious for being the source, not just for trafficking, but also the busiest route for trafficked victims. Women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh through the waterways in the Sundarbans belt.
Every second to third household in Madhusudanpur of Kultali has a daughter or a daughter-in-law who was trafficked into prostitution in the red light areas of Kolkata or Mumbai.
Speaking to this correspondent, advocate and human rights activist Salma Ali said: “Victims of child marriage, abandoned single women, and garment workers, are vulnerable to trafficking. “Traffickers seek out vulnerable women. A victim of child marriage remains at high risk when her husband leaves her with a child. What will they do? They believe they have lost everything, and at that moment, traffickers lure these vulnerable girls and women.”
“Along the border we share with India, there are a limited number of check-posts on the land border, and on waterways. Traffickers also have their own houses in the border regions,” she added.
Fate of trafficked victims
According to a BSF study, a certain Indian syndicate buys young girls and women, mostly as prostitutes for brothels and hotels. They are also sold to dance bars, massage parlours, and hired as domestic workers.
Trafficked women are also forced into marriage, used as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers.
The study also reveals most victims are trafficked from Jashore and Satkhira to Gojadanga and Hakimpur in Bangladesh. The border here is completely unfenced and the population near the zero line is scarce, making it easier for traffickers to bring people into India.
Around 84% of these traffickers are male, while the other 16% are female.
The human trafficking from Bangladesh to India has reached a critical point, where the system works directly on the principle of supply and demand, through a well managed mechanism of traffickers working on both sides of the border, with the first link in the chain being Dhaka.
Many Bangladeshi victims of trafficking are waiting in India for their repatriation. The Dhaka Tribune visited one of the shelters in Kolkata, India, for an in depth understanding of life there.
The shelter home in Narendrapur is home to more than 150 girls who are minors rescued from prostitution, children of sex workers and vulnerable girls rescued from sexual abuse.
This correspondent visited the safe home on an afternoon, and found the girls were eagerly waiting for updates about their repatriation.
The untold stories of these girls unfolded one by one.
Betrayed by own family
Two sisters from Dhaka’s Jatrabari area revealed how they ended up in the safe home.
The older sister said: “We did not know we were being trafficked into India back in 2013. Our own aunt told us that we would be working at a jeans factory.”
The older sister is documented as 18 years old, and her sister is two years younger than her.
Another girl shared her tale of being deceived.
“I am currently sixteen, but I was only 12 when I was trafficked to Mumbai, India, in 2014. One of my friends from my dance school introduced me to a man. He told me he would help me get work in the glamour industry,” said the dance loving girl.
She was rescued from Dongri, Mumbai’s underworld belly.
Leaving the room in a hurry, she told this correspondent she did not want to talk about it anymore.
Sold to the highest bidder
Rubina, a domestic worker from Chittagong, was sold at a red light district of West Bengal six years ago. Currently a mother of three, she was very young when she got married.
The woman, presently around 22 years old, had left her two young children with her relatives in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar, and moved to Jashore with her employer.
“I started working as a domestic worker after my husband married another woman. My employer took me to Jashore with her, and then sold me for Tk120,000 in the Haldia area of India, where I spent five years forced into prostitution,” she told this correspondent.
“My father is sick. I am not able to talk to my father. I want to go back to my family,” she added.
Rupali, a 17 year old from Postogola, Dhaka shared a similar tale of betrayal. She was sold by her boyfriend for Tk300,000 in 2014.
Explaining how she ended up in a safe home, Rupali said: “My boyfriend told me he is taking me to a nice place. One of his friends took me to India and sold me as a sex worker.
“I was too underage at that time, so my owners wanted to sell me in Mumbai. When I heard that, I ran away and surrendered to the police.”
The young girl has lived in two different shelters in India for the past four years, and she wants to go home.