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  5. Human Trafficking - A New Form of Slave Trade in Bangladesh

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FOCUS September 2004 Volume 37

Human Trafficking - A New Form of Slave Trade in Bangladesh

Jamila Ahmed Chowdhury

A twelve-year-old Bangladeshi girl was taken away from her family and tricked into going to India. Once there, she was sold to a brothel owner. She was gang-raped and tortured for days until she finally agreed to sleep with up to 10 men a day, for each day of the week, the whole year round. Many girls like her eventually acquire an illness that deteriorates their body - some die from serious diseases. Her case provides a typical example of a trafficking situation that happens to countless women and children.

The 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States government,1 presented to the public in Dhaka on 15 June 2004 describes this global epidemic quite succinctly:

No country is immune from human trafficking. Each year, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders (some international and non-governmental organizations place the number far higher), and the trade is growing. This figure is in addition to those trafficked within countries. Victims are forced into prostitution, or to work in quarries and sweatshops, on farms, as domestics, as child soldiers, and in many forms of involuntary servitude. The US government estimates that over half of all victims trafficked internationally are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Its high-profit, low-penalty-nature makes human trafficking attractive to criminal gangs and large - scale o rganized crime. The United Nations "estimates that profits from human trafficking rank it on top three revenue sources for organized crime, after trafficking in narcotics and arms."

The crime of trafficking is mainly committed against persons who are socially and economically vulnerable. Economic underdevelopment generates huge exodus of men and women to affluent countries. As far as trafficking in women and children is concerned, it necessarily involves a gender dimension and a negative consequence on the rights of women and children as almost all the women-victims are trafficked for the immoral purposes of flesh trade or child-victims are sold as suppliers of human organs.

The case of Bangladesh

The South Asia-Gulf Region trafficking route affects Bangladesh. Several reports over the years reveal that traffickers use 20 main points in 16 south/south-western districts of Bangladesh near the Indian border to run their trade.2 The main trafficking route is the Dhaka-Mumbai-Karachi-Dubai route. There are people on both sides of the Bangladesh-India border involved in this trafficking chain.

Just like in other parts of Asia, Bangladeshi girls (under 18 years of age) from the villages are trafficked for about 1,000 US dollars and sold to the sex industry. But human trafficking is not confined to the sex industry. Bangladeshi children (aged about 4 to 15 years) are also largely trafficked:

  1. To work in dirty, difficult and dangerous (3D) jobs as bonded or forced labor,
  2. To get their body parts, such as kidneys and other internal organs,
  3. To become "camel race jockeys" in the Arab Gulf countries that expose them to serious physical injury (even death), misery and loneliness.

Estimates on the number of trafficked women and children are difficult to make. The crime is largely hidden despite its pervasiveness. Nevertheless, a total of 335 women and children were reportedly trafficked from Bangladesh in 2002.3 Statistics from Bangladeshi human rights NGOs estimate the rate of trafficking in Bangladesh as follows:4

- 200-400 young women and children are smuggled and trafficked every month from Bangladesh to Pakistan and Arab Gulf countries;
- An estimated 10,000-15,000 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh to India annually;
- An average of at least 70-80 women and children are trafficked daily from Bangladesh to other countries;
- An estimated 200,000 women5 have already been trafficked in different countries including girls as young as 9 years old.

Trafficking victims, according to NGOs in Bangladesh,are lured into trafficking by false promises (promise of better life/jobs, and marriage proposal or fake marriage), force (kidnapping), and outright trade (sale done by people known to the victims such as relatives). They are vulnerable to trafficking schemes due to poverty, gender -based discrimination on social protection, lack of information among the public about trafficking, weak enforcement of existing relevant laws and policies, and general lack of good governance. The collapse of the garment industries after September 2001 is noted for causing the increase in trafficking of women and children.

Trafficking victims suffer from mental stress, bad social treatment after their rescue especially for women, and health problems (such as HIV/AIDS for those trafficked for prostitution purposes).

Human trafficking is a crime violating human rights as well as health and cross-border issue. It is an offence under the Bangladesh legal system. The Constitution of the Peoples' Republic of Bangladesh prohibits forced and compulsory labor (Article 34). In addition, the Penal Code, 1860 (Sections 372, 373, and 466A), the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, 1933 (Sections 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10) and the Repression of Violence against Women and Children Act, 2000 (Articles 5 and 6) clearly provide that trafficking is an illegal and punishable offence for which capital punishment may be imposed as the maximum punishment.

However, the low number of court cases and convictions regarding trafficking in Bangladesh demonstrates the weak implementation of existing laws. During the last five years only 53 cases of trafficking have been brought before the court, out of which 35 were dismissed by the court for lack of adequate evidence. Only 21 accused have been convicted with the highest punishment of 10 years of rigorous (hard labor) imprisonment.6

Complete elimination of human trafficking in Bangladesh is a difficult goal to attain. But there are several measures that can be done at least with the aim of preventing it. Increasing public awareness of this issue is important. Campaign, training, public demonstration, street drama, mass media, among other means, can be used. The NGOs should play a dominant role in this regard.

The government has to be pressured to strictly enforce the existing laws and ensure punitive measures against the traffickers. Punishment of the traffickers should immediately take place and handed down within the shortest period of time using summary trial.

There is also a need to strengthen the anti-trafficking network in Bangladesh. And a shelter and rehabilitation program for the rescued women and children has to be created.

Last but not least, parents and society in general should be motivated to accept the trafficking victims back into their family with cordiality.

Final observation

Human trafficking is a 'social evil' that seems to be growing at an alarming rate throughout the world. This practice results in unimaginable human suffering and represents one of the most important human rights violations of our time, resulting in a form of 'Modern Slavery'. For Bangladesh, this condition is more acute. In order to prevent this crime, human trafficking should be integrated as cross-cutting issue related to social protection from all sectors of the society.

Jamila Ahmed Chowdhury is a JDS Scholar (Bangladesh) in the Graduate School of Law, Niigata University, Japan.

For further information, please contact: Jamila Ahmed Chowdhury, Graduate School of Law, Niigata University, Japan, ph/fax (8125) 261-2108, e-mails: jahmedc@yahoo.com; jamilachowdhury@yahoo.com


1. The Trafficking in Persons Report offers a comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. Its public release is intended to raise global awareness and spur countries to take effective actions to counter trafficking in persons. "This year, Bangladesh is rated Tier 3, the lowest tier," says the report, adding that the efforts of governments to fight human trafficking are rated in tiers in the report based on concrete actions taken throughout the year. See http://nation.ittefaq.com/artman/publish/article_9986.shtml
Bangladesh was in "Tier 2" in 2003. See Trafficking in Persons Report. Released by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 11 June 2003 http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2003/21275.htm.

2. Violence against Women in Bangladesh, Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association (Dhaka: 2002).

3. Cell for Combating Trafficking, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

4. Coordinating Council of Human Rights in Bangladesh (CCHRB ), Ain-o-Shalish Kendro (ASK), Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

5. Mentioned by former Home Minister of Bangladesh Altaf Hossain Chowdhury on 20 January 2004 at 3-day regional workshop on Trafficking in Women and Children, organized by the Centre for Women and Children Studies. See more details in www.sos-arsenic.net/english/intro/child-traff.html

6. World Organization against Torture (OMCT), Violence against Women: 10 Reports/ Year 2003, (Geneva: 2004). This is the fourth collection of reports within the framework of its Violence against Women Program.

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