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No place to call home

  • Published at 09:25 am October 27th, 2018
no place to call home
Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Cheated by family and raped by employers in the Middle East, a teenage orphan girl now has nowhere to go except for a mental hospital

When she landed in Dhaka, she must have felt relief, feeling as though she had finally left her ordeal behind. The teenage girl had no idea it was far from over. 

Our knowledge of her plight begins from the point where she showed up last Friday at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport all by herself on a flight from Jordan, physically and mentally broken.

It is yet unclear how the victim - whose name we are withholding for her age and the nature of the crimes committed against her – got to Jordan and got employed as a housemaid. But the  Expatriates’ Welfare Desk, a government office at the airport, found that the 15-year-old’s passport says she is 27, and that she was sent through a registered recruiting agency, MH International, on June 12, 2017.

She had escaped brutal abuse, but she was not expecting the horror that awaited her.

Having lost her parents at an early age, the child had been raised by a distant uncle. When she called her uncle from the airport, the man – the only parent figure she had known in her whole life – denied knowing her at all.

“I told him my parents’ names, and he said he did not know these people,” the girl told this reporter through an inside gate of the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital in Dhaka’s Shyamoli last night, her eyes wide in disbelief.

Abu Taleb of Raniganj union, Jagannathpur upazila, Sunamganj, the girl’s uncle, has been receiving her monthly wage of Tk13,000 per month for the last 14 months. She, on the other hand, has been repeatedly raped by multiple Jordanian men – her employer, his son, his son’s friends, his son-in-law.

Repeated suicide attempts

At the airport, the Expatriates’ Welfare Desk, an outpost of the Expatriates’ Welfare Ministry, took the crying girl into their custody.

“When the Airport Police and The Wage Earners’ Welfare Board informed us about the victim, we provided shelter for her at our Safe Home. She attempted to commit suicide there, but it was foiled by Brac’s security guards,” said Shariful Hasan, the head of Brac Migration Program. 

“After that she was admitted to Kurmitola General Hospital where she again attempted to kill herself twice. Now she is being treated at NIMHH,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

“It is tough for us to take the responsibility of a girl who is suicidal. The government has been repeatedly informed but still no initiative has been taken for her. As of now we have no clue who is supposed to take care of her.”

On October 21, two days after her arrival, the Desk sent a letter to the Bureau of Manpower, the Expatriates’ Ministry and the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board to take initiative.

On the same day, the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board sent a letter to Jagannathpur upazila administration and police station asking them to take necessary steps to hand over the victim to her family or nearest relatives.

Dr Delwar Hossain of NIMHH said that the victim was physically tortured and sexually abused during her stay abroad. The hospital has formed a board for her treatment.

“The patient is in shock and suffering from depression. She attempted to commit suicide here but was stopped by our staff,” he said.

“Her condition is now improving. She is eating and sleeping well. We hope she will get better within two or three weeks but we are concerned about what will happen later, as no one has come forward to take her responsibility yet,” the doctor told the Dhaka Tribune. 

What happened out there?

Speaking to this reporter at NIMHH, the victim said that for the first three months in Jordan she had worked without any trouble. After that period, the employer gradually started sexually abusing the victim. Eventually the son of the employer also took advantage of her.

“In absence of my employer, his son used to abuse me. Not only that, he often brought his friends home and abused me together,” the girl said.

“In the last few months, the employer’s son-in-law harassed me physically,” she added.    

When the victim became unable to endure the torture, she asked her employer to send her to Bangladesh on leave. 

She said: “I convinced my employer that I will come back, but his son kept saying no. However, in the end they bought me a ticket and I came to Bangladesh without informing my uncle.”

Local administration promises rehabilitation

Abu Taleb’s phone has been off for most of this week.

Jagannathpur UNO Mahfuzul Alam Masum said the local administration has been working to resolve the crisis.

Taleb has been summoned and will meet the officer this morning at 9am, he said.

“We understand that the girl is mentally distraught. We are looking at how to rehabilitate her here while addressing the social stigma,” the official said.

UNO Mahfuzul said the upazila women’s affairs officer had been contacted and they were discussing training and employment opportunities for the victim.

The Dhaka Tribune contacted Raniganj Union Parishad Ward Member No. 1 Mahmad Miya. He said that he was aware of the situation.

“Taleb became scared getting all these phone calls from Dhaka, which is why he said he did not know her,” he said.

“No uncle will refuse to take his niece’s responsibility. I have talked to him and he said he was afraid if it was some bad people who called him,” Mahmad said.

Jagannathpur Police Officer-in-Charge Harunur Rashid Chowdhury said he did not have current information on the issue and would have to get back later.

‘The state must do its duty’

Even for Brac’s Shariful Hasan, whose department has handled hundreds of abused female workers returning from the Middle East over the last few years, this incident has been disheartening.

“Is it only Brac’s duty to take care of all returnee expat female workers in the country? What is the role of the government who approved them to go abroad? Where are the rights organizations that work on women and children?” he told this reporter over phone in a distraught voice.

“The state must have a mechanism to receive the women workers who return from abroad after being abused and tortured. There should be shelter and medical facilities for them,” he said.

“Every day, women workers are coming back from Saudi Arabia physically and mentally tortured and sexually abused. What does the Ministry for Women and Children do? Where are the NGOs and safe houses for women and children?” he asked.