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Palermo protocols: Bangladesh to ratify UN treaty to combat human trafficking

  • Published at 12:18 am September 21st, 2019
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File photo: Immigration authorities at the Benapole check-post have detained seven people over attempts of human trafficking on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

Various global bodies have designated Bangladesh as a provider, and transit points for human trafficking, as well as trafficking illegal immigrants to Europe, and other continents

Bangladesh has decided to sign a UN treaty to combat human trafficking, one of the most profitable form of illegitimate enterprise in the world.

The “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children” is one of the three protocols that make up the United Nations' Palermo Protocols on trafficking – which provides countries with an international definition, and guidelines on how they should tackle human trafficking.

The modern slave trade around the world generates more than $150bn, according to the UN. And 70% of the world’s 4.8 million sex trafficking victims are in the Asia, and Pacific region.

Various global bodies have designated Bangladesh as a provider, and transit points for human trafficking, as well as trafficking illegal immigrants to Europe, and other continents. Every year, thousands of people, particularly women, and children are trafficked from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, who confirmed the development, says the protocol will help Bangladesh deal with the social, and economic impact of the crime. However, no tentative date for the ratification has yet been revealed.

A hotspot for human trafficking

Bangladesh continues to be a hotspot for human trafficking - both in terms of trafficking within the country, and internationally, George McLeod, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration told Dhaka Tribune.

He said: “Development challenges, and natural disasters all provide opportunities for human traffickers to attract victims. Compounding this is the lure, amongst Bangladeshis, of working abroad, which is exploited by many.” 

McLeod said the Palermo Protocols set an international definition of human trafficking that forms a basis for cooperation. 

This is taken into account by the United States for example, which factors it into its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. 

According to the TIP 2019 report, Bangladesh is listed in the Tier 2 watch list for the third consecutive year, and it might get blacklisted if the situation worsens.

Tier 2 refers to the governments of countries that do not fully meet the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

The US State Department, in its latest TIP report in June, said that Bangladesh did not fully meet its minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.

It criticized the government for its failure to investigate several potential crimes of forced labour, and sex trafficking of Rohingya refugees in the country.

Furthermore, the TIP identified the lack of a government mechanism to identify victims, and provide support to them. The latter is significant as it leaves the victims vulnerable to repeated attempts by traffickers.

The report also noted that the government has allocated resources for a National Plan of Action from 2018-2022, and outlined future steps to combat human trafficking.

With regards to low convictions, the State Department acknowledged the drop in global prosecution, including the United States, and hoped that with allies like Bangladesh, would be able to reverse the dip.

What Bangladesh has been doing

In 2012, the government passed the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, which contains all the provisions of the UN treaty.

Migration expert Asif Munier said human trafficking is a transnational crime, and ratifying the treaty will help tackle the organized syndicates involved.

Hence, the Palermo Protocols offer a framework that places Bangladesh on the same page as other signatories. By ratifying the convention, Bangladesh is placing itself in the international mainstream on countering trafficking.

However, Munier cautioned that the government has to thoroughly follow the protocols to benefit fully. He further emphasized the need for awareness campaigns, down to the grassroots level to create a wider support, and awareness network.

Shariful Islam Hasan, head of Brac Migration Program, said if the government implements the treaty, it will prove that Bangladesh is determined to solve the problems associated with the crime, and introduce greater accountability.

Low conviction, no tribunal, and light punishment

Bangladesh remains one of the major source countries for international traffickers due to the low conviction rate in trafficking cases.

A total of 4,668 cases were filed, and only 245 of them were resolved in between 2013 and 2019. 4,106 cases are still pending trial as of July 2019. Perpetrators in only 0.5% of the cases were prosecuted.

Under the 2012 Trafficking Act, it was required to set up a tribunal to handle cases pertaining to trafficking. Till date, it has not been set up. The law provides punishment for trafficking with imprisonment, not exceeding imprisonment for life, with a minimum of five years of rigorous imprisonment, and a minimum fine of Tk50,000 for persons convicted in human trafficking cases.

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