The State of Human Trafficking in Bangladesh
FEATURED RESEARCH PAPER, 26 Apr 2021
“Almost 10 million Bangladeshi migrants work across the world. A UNICEF report states that, approximately 400 women and children in Bangladesh are victims of trafficking every month. According to a report, approximately 3,000,000 Bangladeshi children and women have been trafficked out of the country in the last 10 years. A Pakistan based organization, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid’s report shows nearly 200,000 Bangladeshi women and girls were sold in Pakistan. The statistics highlight how grave the human trafficking situation is in Bangladesh…”
Human trafficking is a violation of human rights, an unethical and heinous crime against humanity. “The trade of human beings, a modern form of slavery . . . violates the God-given dignity . . .”.1 Pope Francis. Trafficking in persons over the past 20 years has generated an astounding attention across the world. The crime has a growing coverage in the media. Anti-trafficking activities mounted high and most of the countries’ new policies, laws and enforcement mechanisms emerged to combat the problem.2 It is, therefore, a global crime having its impact at local and transnational levels. According to the UN, an estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of labor and sex trafficking. Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $ 150B a year and $ 99B of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation.3 “Human trafficking impedes national and international economic growth. Within the next 10 years, crime experts expect human trafficking to surpass drugs and arms trafficking in its incidence, cost to human well-being and profitability to criminals.”4
Human Trafficking as a legal concept is defined by the basis of its requisite traits such as actions-recruitment, transportation, harboring of victims by using force, fraud and other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation.5 The issue, trafficking in persons should judge the broad range of actions and consequences that involve “different stages ranging from the organization of the supply of people of vulnerable to exploitation and harm, the process of moving to the demand for the service or labor of trafficked person.”6
Alarming trends in human trafficking in Asia region have raised the urgency of dealing with the threatening issue. More than 85 percent of victims were trafficked from within the region. Bangladesh, a country in South Asia, is the eighth-most populous country in the world and is one of the sources and transit countries. It is a central point of trafficking in person being located near the Gulf-region linking to South Asia for men, women and children being trafficked person as forced labor and forced prostitution.
The history of woman and child trafficking in Bangladesh goes back to the early 50’s, when camel race and “jockey” gained momentum in Middle East countries. Women and children are being trafficked out of Bangladesh to various countries predominantly to India, Pakistan, and the Middle Eastern countries. About 25,000 women and children are being trafficked to other countries from Bangladesh every year.7 One million women and children have been trafficked out of the country in the last 30 years.
A UNICEF report states that, approximately 400 women and children in Bangladesh are victims of trafficking every month. According to a report, approximately 3,000,000 Bangladeshi children and women have been trafficked out of the country in the last 10 years. A Pakistan based organization, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid’s report shows nearly 200,000 Bangladeshi women and girls were sold in Pakistan. The statistics highlight how grave the human trafficking situation is in Bangladesh.8 Almost 10 million Bangladeshi migrants work across the world.
Ninety percent of them are in Middle Eastern countries. Many Bangladeshi trafficking victims including men and women are victimized in those countries either for sexual exploitation, or for forced labor and domestic servitude. The horrific death of Abiron Begum Ansar, a Bangladeshi woman exposed the tragic plight of human trafficking. Abiron had to endure untold horrors while employed to a Saudi household. Her employer would not give her food, used to beat her, poured hot water on her body and also put her head into a grill. This is especially significant for Bangladesh as “it had to see 500 bodies of its female migrant workers flown back over the last five years, at least 200 of them from Saudi Arabia alone.”9 Bangladeshis are lured to go to those countries.
There is lack of exact figure of vulnerability of human trafficking due to the fact that “human trafficking is now even more underground and less visible.”10 Now, trafficking in person is commencing through social media as a result of technological advancement. Traffickers are using online social media to convince people and to proliferating their trafficking operations through fraudulent mechanisms.
Legalized Prostitution Increased Human Trafficking
An empirical study conducted over “a cross-section of up to 150 countries shows that the scale effect dominates the substitution effect according to economic theory. On average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows.”11 This finding can also be seen in Bangladesh and other countries around the world.
Internal and External Case of Human Trafficking
In the case of internal trafficking, the traffickers with the method of false promises of a better life with good employment opportunities allure women and children by using various techniques, from their home-the safe place, mostly victims from rural areas with minimal survival opportunities, and sell them to brothels. “At the cross border- level trafficking, victims are transported and transferred to destinations further away such as India, Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries, by using illegal acts and processes which culminate in the most corrosive forms of human rights violations and a life of unspeakable agony and torture.”12
Demand and Supply Factors of Human Trafficking in Bangladesh
The crime of human trafficking, a form of “modern slavery is the result of human vulnerability”.13 People’s vulnerability let them exposed to become vulnerable to exploitation and this heinous business continually seek labor sources at lower cost. “The trafficking of human beings generates profit and therefore, a market for human trafficking is created”14 It (recruitment) begins at the safe place-home with the root cause of vulnerability. Children and women become vulnerable due to poverty, social inequality, deeply rooted discrimination particularly against women and girls are the most commonly identified causes to the trafficking process. “Deeply rooted discrimination and low status of women within Bangladesh society excluded them from development opportunities disproportionately.
They experience poverty more intensely than men as they have fewer assets such as skills, education or resources to remove themselves from these situations, and the incidence of poverty is higher for women which make them at high risk of being trafficked.”15 The vulnerability situation is commonly noted as “push” factors that reflects the supply condition in Bangladesh. The “pull” factors include a demand for cheap labor and goods, the possibility of higher living standards, and the hope for a better life. Along with these factors environmental and natural disasters put in motion the situation to increasing people’s vulnerabilities. Demand varies in each of this condition on the situation of social, economic, cultural, legal and political environment. The interaction of Demand and Supply, lead people to fall into the trap of traffickers.
Human Trafficking a Complex and Interlinked Issue (social, economic and political dimension)
Poverty alone does not necessarily create vulnerability to human trafficking, but when combined with other factors, this can lead to a higher risk for being trafficked. Lack of Social justice due to globalization of economy, crony capitalism, weak governance, corruption in every level of society facilitates trafficking of women, children and men internally and externally. “As more families are marginalized in the development process, do children and women respond to the expanding client market.”16 Development process in this way helps traffickers to carry on their heinous crime against humanity as they find human trafficking more profitable than other.
Covid-19 Pandemic: Women and Children’s Trafficking in Bangladesh
Covid-19 Pandemic has further increased women and children’s trafficking in Bangladesh. In this situation poverty has aggravated situation letting especially rural people to be more vulnerable to trafficking. Forced child marriage and rape case have been increased at an alarming rate and this tempts further the traffickers to gratify their greed at the cost of women and girls’ dignity. During pandemic, “626 children were reportedly raped between January and December last year.”17
Violence against women is worse than past years. Amid pandemic 1,627 women were raped or gang raped.18 The traffickers avail the horrific situation in carrying on human trafficking. According to IOM data since September 2017 to June 2020, 625 victims of trafficking (45% Rohingya and 55% Bangladeshi host country) were identified and assisted by IOM and its partners in Cox’s Bazar.19
Human Trafficking is now considered as one of the major concerns for Bangladesh. To combat human trafficking Bangladesh government has taken significant measures. It prevents the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude under the Repression of Women and Children Act 2000(as amended in 2003). But sex-trafficking is a rising form of human trafficking in Bangladesh. Measures have also been taken in Articles 372 and 373 of its penal code prohibiting selling and buying of children under the age of 18 for prostitution.
The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHT), 2012 has come into effect for restraining human trafficking. Recently, the government through Ministry of Home Affairs has undertaken a number of measures to suppress trafficking in women and children. Even then human trafficking is on increasing trend at internal periphery and externally. And sex-trafficking is a rising form of human trafficking in Bangladesh. An estimated 100,000 women and young girls are working as prostitutes, but less than 10 percent are working voluntarily. Forced sex work is an issue affecting women and girls all over Bangladesh. This is due to corruption and criminality as well as ineffectiveness of key institutions, lack of accountability and impunity among the key factors.20
Therefore, enactment of laws is not enough; it needs to be enforced unrelentingly. Secret alliance between corrupt government officials and criminal networks is a serious problem in Bangladesh in combating trafficking. Traffickers get help of the corrupt officials in trafficking the victims along the borders. According to the Chairman of the Anti- Corruption Commission “Government organizations and departments are not serious enough about curbing institutional corruption.”21 Therefore, the gap between the legal framework and the enforcement of relevant laws at all levels pose problem in combating human trafficking. It is disgraceful to mention that, the Bangladeshi lawmaker (MP), Mohammad Shahid Islam ( Kazi Papul) was sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment by a Kuwaiti court on January 28, 2021.
Papul was elected as an independent candidate. He was accused of human trafficking, money laundering and bribing Kuwaiti officials with millions of dollars to recruit Bangladeshi workers. He was a part of an “organized gang” made up of two Kuwaitis. They recruited over 20,000 Bangladeshi workers to Kuwait through fraudulent means by their companies in exchange for payments ranging between KD2, 500 and KD2, 700 for each, reported The Times. “Papul is also being investigated by Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission over allegations of amassing TK 1,400 crore by trafficking people to Kuwait and laundering money to different countries.”22
Importance of Integrating the Anti- trafficking Measures
This highlights the importance of integrating the anti-trafficking measures into a humanitarian action. Bangladesh Government must work in collaboration with its partners and counter partners helping its large migrant workforce to live and work with dignity and to end human trafficking, the crime against humanity.
Religions and Religious Organizations Addressing human Trafficking
Religions and Religious Organizations have been working since long decades, with the poor, immigrants, and sexually exploited victim, and they possess “significant knowledge of the manifestations of this form of exploitation and can be important stakeholders in combating human trafficking”.23 Human trafficking is not a form of criminal activity that can be evaded solely through the enactment of criminal laws. It is more than a crime. Legal proceeding against traffickers is not enough. “Measures must be taken to prevent human trafficking, protect victims of human trafficking, and make partnership with governments and other organizations to end human trafficking effectively and comprehensively”24
Religious organizations “ having worked with these populations for centuries, thus affording them the ability to more easily identify victims or those at risk of trafficking as well.”25 Therefore, Religions and religious organizations can be effective partners in fighting human trafficking.26 Trafficking must be combated with tools that are effective at global and local levels. Such tools include the world’s religions and religious organizations. Religious organizations with “significant knowledge of the manifestations of this form of exploitation and can be important stakeholders in combating it”27 with expertise through their work with the poor, immigrants, and sexually exploited. One of the greatest strengths of religious organizations can be their ability to partner with other organizations – government or non-government.
Across the world, religions and their affiliates have been working in the area of the true social issues that are being recognized as the main causes of human trafficking. “These faith-based organizations are the only civil society actors present globally, regionally, and locally. They offer valuable tools against human trafficking.”28
The Global Freedom Network is an organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking by engaging faith leaders namely, Patriarch Bartholomew (orthodox), Grand Imam of Al- Azhar (Muslim), Datuk K. Sri Dhammaratana (Buddhist), Chief Rabbi David Rosen (Jewish), and Pope Francis who assembled and signed the Declaration to take action.29
The International Network of Consecrated Against Trafficking in Persons (Talitha Kum) has been performing a significant role against human trafficking. Hundreds of women, for example, have been working in 80 different congregations to combat human trafficking. These women have created an anti-trafficking kit language to educate religious communities, seminaries, schools, and parishes. Religious communities in an organized way often work with vulnerable people by providing necessary services to the people who are at a high risk of being trafficked. “They often possess the knowledge of the realities of human trafficking on the local level, as well as the trust of the population. This makes then unequally suited to identify and combat human trafficking.”30
RfP International- the World’s largest and most representative multi-religious organization advances common action against social ills created by political, social and economic factors. Its local chapter RfP Bangladesh has been playing a significant role since its inception addressing social issues. At the RfP 10th World Assembly held in Lindau, Germany in August 2019, religious leaders from Myanmar and Bangladesh, in a Joint Statement: ‘Religions for Peace Bangladesh’, expressed their great concern over the Rohingya issue and stated clearly their confidence to build and striving to find a peaceful and just solution to the tragic plight of Rohingya refugees who were compelled to flee to Bangladesh.
RfP Bangladesh carried out an ACRP Flagship Project: “Protection of Children’s Rights and Advancing Their Well-being.” Therefore, religious organizations can be a formidable partner in combating human trafficking.
Holistic /International Approach
Palermo Protocol developed as a holistic approach to human trafficking, launched as a strategy built on previously accepted UN Convention which would form the touchstones for an international approach. With the current framework of the “Four P’s”: Protection, Prevention, Prosecution, and Partnership have offered additional condition in combating human trafficking. “Religions are relevant in conceiving in and executing a practicable strategy to end human trafficking”31 This document signifies the strengths of religions and applies them to these “Four P’s” to point out clearly the unique advantages religion has in participating effective way in combating crime against humanity.32
Therefore, Bangladesh government would be able in deepening it’s anti-trafficking policy in collaboration with the shared response of Religious organizations along with all sectors of society- government, civil society organizations, businesses, law enforcement and judicial to eliminate human trafficking, the heinous crime against humanity.
Finally, “the presence of nonkilling ethic in world spiritual and humanist traditions reveals divine intent to plant profound respect for life in the consciousness of humankind. On the other, it demonstrates human capacity to receive, respond to or to create such a principle”33 for serving humanity providing justice to all.
- Pope Francis.
- According to the United Nations 134 countries have criminalized trafficking and 25 have not done so(UNODC 2012 SS), cited in “New Directions in Research on Human Trafficking”, Ronald Weitzer, Journals.sagepub.com, doi, pdf
- ILO Report.
- Schauer and Wheaton, 2006, 164-165.
- Human Trafficking: A Security Concern for Bangladesh, BIPSS, Toward a Secure World (www.bipss.org.bd).
- The Daily Star, June 1, 2020.
- United Nations office on Drugs and Crime Interview: Human Trafficking in Bangladesh.
- Slobhan Mullally, UN Special rapporteur on Internal and Cross-border Trafficking.
- Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? World Development, Volume 41, January 2013, pages 67-82.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, op.cit.
- Bales, 2000, 15.
- Economic of Human Trafficking, Elizabeth M. Wheaton, Edward J. Schauer, Thomas V. Galli, 19 July 2010.
- Combating Trafficking of Women and Children in South Asia, Country Paper, Bangladesh, 2002, Asian Development Bank Canada: Agriteam Canada Consulting Ltd., p.11.
- Mary Graw Leary, op.cit.
- The Daily Star,January 10, 2021.
- World Day against Human Trafficking, July 30, 2020.
- The Daily Star, January 1,2021
- Mary Graw Leary, op.cit.
- op.cit, January 29,2021.
- op.cit. February 9, 2021.
- op.cit. February 20,2021.
- Mary Leary, Religion and Human Trafficking, 29 October, 2015.
- (Quoting) Det. Inspector Kevin Hyland, 10 (8)
- Mary Graw Leary, op.cit.
- Mary Leary, op.cit.
- Eugenia Bonnetti, Slaves No More, 1(2013).
- Mary Graw Leary, op.cit.
- Glenn D. Paige, The Nonkilling Global Political Science, 2009 41.
Prof. Dr. Rashida Khanam (Retd.) is Founder and Director of the Center for Nonkilling and Development (CNKD), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. She is translator of Prof. Glenn D. Paige’s classic, Nonkilling Global Political Science to Bangla, entitled: Ahimsa Vishwa Rajniti Vigyan, Dhaka: AHDPH Publishers, June 2014. She is Chair of the Women Network, Religions for Peace Bangladesh. RfP Bangladesh is a Chapter of Religions for Peace International.
Tags: Bangladesh, Human Rights, Human Traffic, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Apr 2021.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: The State of Human Trafficking in Bangladesh, is included. Thank you.
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