While the constitution protects citizens from all forms of forced labour and prostitution, the execution of relevant laws is in dire straits
Bangladesh remains one of the major source countries for international traffickers due to the low conviction rate of trafficking cases, experts and stakeholders say.
The regional conference on “Combating trafficking: Repatriation of victims of trafficking,” was organized by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at a Dhaka hotel on Saturday.
While the constitution protects citizens from all forms of forced labour and prostitution, the execution of relevant laws is in dire straits, the speakers there said.
According to police headquarters, 6,106 people were arrested in connection with human trafficking since 2013, but only 25 of them have been convicted. The conviction rate is 0.4%.
To prevent trafficking and punish the criminals, the government enacted the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act in 2012. The rules of this act were also formulated later, in 2017. But the tribunal required by law to try cases filed under this act, has not been established till date.
NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said: “Implementation of the act is a big challenge now. Due to lack of the specific tribunal mandated by the act, subordinate courts are looking after the cases, which creates a case backlog in the courts. This is one of the main reasons for delays in trafficking cases.”
Reazul urged the government to allocate a budget to establish the tribunal.
“Due to the low conviction rate, Bangladesh remained on the Tier 2 watch list of the US Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report for the second consecutive year,” he said.
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.
Bangladesh reported just 10 to 15 convictions a year in human trafficking cases, compared to 50 to 80 convictions a year in neighbouring Nepal, according to the UNODC 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.
Globally, every year around 800,000 women and children are victims of trafficking across international borders, and 80% of them end up in forced prostitution. In South Asia, human trafficking is estimated to affect over 150,000 people a year - mostly women and children who are exploited for labour and the sex trade.
Of identified victims globally, 51% are women, 21% men, 20% girls, and 8% boys. Of them 45% have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and 38% for forced labour.
“Women, girls, and boys trafficked from Bangladesh are taken to India, Pakistan, and Middle Eastern countries for cheap labour and prostitution. Bangladesh is also a transit country,” said Kazi Reazul Hoque.
Shariful Islam Hasan, head of the migration program at Brac, said: “Bangladesh has become the single biggest source country for trafficking to Europe. It is a matter of shame.
“The rules and regulations of our country are better than those of others, but the implementation rate is the worst in the world.”
If the government does not take necessary steps to prevent trafficking, the crisis will only worsen, said the former journalist who has extensively covered trafficking issues.
“We will continue to find our fellow countrymen in mass graves like those in Malaysia and Thailand,” he said, recalling the discovery of mass graves of Bangladeshis in Thailand in 2015.
Experts said Rohingyas are the most vulnerable in this situation, desperately seeking income to improve their condition. Traffickers often come and offer women, children, and families, money and a better future, which sounds very appealing to vulnerable refugees in camps.
There is no actual data on trafficking, they said, as many victims do not return, and many who do, are not willing to disclose what happened to them, fearing social stigma and ostracization.
Speaking as the chief guest, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said: “We have no data on how many people have been trafficked by force and how many through deception.The majority of those trafficked by ocean routes are Rohingyas.”
He said the government has been sincere in raising awareness against traffickers who use the lure of jobs and as such, the incidents of such trafficking has gone down.
Law enforcement faces some difficulties in the investigation of trafficking cases due to some deficiencies in the acts and rules, Deputy Inspector General Shah Alam of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said at the event.
“The government should update the laws pertaining to trafficking, smuggling, and money laundering,” he said.
Later, in a plenary session, human rights defender Khushi Kabir said: “Women are often trafficked by their relatives and neighbours, trusting their promises of a better life.”
“In some cases, women are lured by women for trafficking. Under these circumstances, laws alone cannot stop trafficking, as society is not ready to accept victims in the community. We have to bring our society to such a place where a victim woman will be treated normally,” she said.
She emphasized awareness building and rehabilitation in the community after repatriation.
Under article 34 (1) of the constitution, all forms of forced labour are prohibited. Article 18(2) obliges the state to prevent prostitution. Together, these two articles cover trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation.