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The bane of human trafficking

  • Published at 11:30 am May 19th, 2018
  • Last updated at 11:32 am May 19th, 2018
The bane of human trafficking
Photo: MEHEDI HASSAN

To ensure that people migrate safely, more needs to be done to raise awareness around the proper channels of migration. 

Migration is seen as an opportunity for social change by potential migrants -- the dream of supporting their families better, providing for their children, building a nice home in their village etc. 

Unfortunately, the desire to migrate is sometimes so strong, people don’t take adequate time to search for proper, safe channels. Instead, they listen to “dream sellers” or dalals (middlemen) who, in many cases, are out to exploit the migrants. 

To ensure that people migrate safely, more needs to be done to raise awareness around the proper channels of migration. 

Increasing services and awareness around safe migration at district level

The government has established 42 District Employment and Manpower Offices (DEMO) in nearly every district to raise awareness around the proper channels of migration. 

DEMO offices offer registration services for enrollment in the job market and Technical Training Centers provide skills training and pre-departure orientation training for potential migrants. 

Organizations such as IOM, the UN Migration Agency, ILO, UN Women, BRAC, OKUP, BOMSA, WARBE, and Shishuk, are also involved in raising community-level awareness around safe migration through village courtyard meetings with women, capacity building of union digital center entrepreneurs to speak about safe migration (which include: what, where and how they will get the services, and most importantly, how to check their documents before going abroad), community radio alerts and television infomercials, jatras (interactive theatres), and pot songs that highlight the steps in proper migration. 

Knowledge on safe migration should be widely disseminated to students by schools, colleges, and training institutes and through government education institutes to all government officials, to ensure the information is available at the most granular level.

Better management of the recruiting process

Currently, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) and Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited (BOESL) are the private and government-run recruiting agency associations. 

Both aim to ensure safe migration and abide by the government regulated maximum costs chargeable to migrants. BAIRA coordinates the activities of licensed recruiting agencies approved by the government. 

However, even these agencies rely on middlemen for outreach, as their offices are located only in Dhaka and Chittagong. As such, space is opened for unscrupulous middlemen to operate. Checks and balances are required. Bangladesh can benefit from the use of technology to help with tracking.

BAIRA and BOESL should both consider certifying middlemen and tracking their activities digitally, to create transparency and accountability. More emphasis should also be placed on ethical migration, whereby the employer pays the migration costs. 

For a manpower agency to be able to guarantee the migrant has not made any unknownpayments on the way out, they must know their supplier well. Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment has already introduced an emigration clearance system through smart card with biometric impressions and has begun the process of introducing a digital system in workers’ recruitment to help reduce migration costs inflated by middlemen and increase transparency. This is a step in the right direction. 

Implementing existing policies

The Bangladesh government demonstrated significant commitment to this effort by passing the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA) 2012 and enacting rules necessary to implement the act. 

So far, the Ministry of Home Affairs has completed two National Action Plans and is now finalizing the third one for 2018–2021. The PSHTA 2012 prohibits and punishes all forms of human trafficking. 

Prescribed penalty for labour trafficking offenses are five to 12 years imprisonment and a fine of minimum Tk50,000. Prescribed penalty for sex trafficking offenses range from five years imprisonment to the death sentence. 

In 2013, the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act was enacted by the Government of Bangladesh toensure lawful, documented and legal emigration and to address the legal and institutional challenges related to migration. The act of 2013 secures penalty for using unlawful means for collecting demand note, visa or work-permit for overseas employment, or for trading in such documents. 

One notable feature of the act is that, under Article 34, it empowers the law, the local police, Thana Nirbahi Officers, elected local representatives, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, BAIRA, and other related ministries, to file cases against culprits. 

Access to justice

The capacity of law enforcement agencies need to be improved to file cases lodged by victims who have been deceived by the middlemen. Increased coordination between police and public prosecutors is needed. 

There should be a separate cell or authority exclusively dedicated to overseas trafficking issues. A permanent tribunal for prosecution of traffickers should be a top priority. Trafficking-prone areas should have special tribunals. 

As Bangladesh continues to experience growth in its demographic dividend, migration has been included in the 7th five-years plan to put greater emphasis to utilize the opportunity of earning remittances. 

With a holistic, multi-stakeholder approach, it is possible to promote safe migration and stop trafficking


Shazia Omar is an activist, a writer and a yogini. www.shaziaomar.com

Asma Khatun is aNational Programme Officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), [email protected]