Manowara came to the country’s capital city with many dreams – dreams for a better life and a better-educated generation after her.
She and her family of five, who depended on her earnings, had fought long and hard with grinding poverty in their village in the northwestern district of Kurigram.
The lowly wage she received when she joined a garment factory in Ashulia near Dhaka was not enough, by any stretch of the imagination, to pull her out of poverty, let alone fulfill her dreams.
Still she settled for what was offered, before things fell apart.
The factory she worked for was the ill-fated Tazreen Fashions factory, burnt to ashes last year in the devastating factory fire that killed at least 112.
Like all the other workers of the factory, Manowara too lost her job. She was badly wounded and has not recovered enough since to rejoin work.
In the last six months starting November 2012, five readymade garment factories were hit by accidents of catastrophic proportions – infernos at Tazreen and Smart and the collapse of Ether Tex, Phantom and New Wave in Savar’s Rana Plaza.
At least 700 workers were killed in those accidents and thousands wounded. According to various labourorganisations, at least 10 thousand workers lost their jobs as these factories were closed down following the disasters.
Some of them, who suffered minor injuries or came out unharmed, managed to get jobs at other factories. But their number is small compared to the total number of people who have lost their jobs.
According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), 80% of the readymade garment factory workers are women.
Dr Abrar Chowdhury, coordinator of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), said chances are high that these jobless women might fall prey to traffickers if they did not receive alternative employment.
Manowara happens to be among a growing number of jobless workers who are either leaving their jobs and going back to their villages or looking for employment in the Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian countries.
“As these women live near the city, traffickers can easily lure them with promises of jobs abroad,” Abrar said. “Such incidents might have already occurred. Who knows?”
The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) emphasizes joint efforts of all stakeholders to resist human trafficking in any form.
The group identifies poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, ignorance, drug addiction, cross border trade, dowry and child marriage as the main reasons for human trafficking, especially of women.
BNWLA President Salma Ali said: “Unemployed women do not want to go back to their villages because their families consider them burdensome. When they have nowhere to go, they fall prey to the traffickers.”
“We have requested the government [home ministry] to keep a close eye on the situation,” Salma added.
The rights lawyer sounded very much like an NGO activist when she said: “Our organisation [BNWLA] is trying to run an awareness building programme among these unemployed workers.”
Secretary of the home ministry CQK Mustaq Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune that the collection points for traffickers are usually far from the border areas. “We have seen that women rescued from Dinajpur [in the North] were actually brought from Cox’s Bazar [in the South]. Girls from the country’s southern districts are smuggled through the country’s northern borders.”
“We have asked our border guards [Border Guard Bangladesh] to remain on high alert. Risk of trafficking rises when people lose jobs in factory mishaps, especially women,” he said.