Understanding human trafficking in Bangladesh
As an overpopulated country where corruption and poverty are at every corner, Bangladesh is facing the serious threat of human trafficking. Every other morning, our conscience is shaken to the core by the news of someone being killed by human traffickers or the description given by the surviving victim of the horrible treatment he/she has experienced.
Although the perpetrator, victim, time, and place continue to change with every news, one thing that remains painfully clear and constant is our failure to save innocent lives.
A statistical view of the current scenario
As evident from a 2011 report of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, only in the first decade of the 21st century, approximately 20,000 Bengali women and children have been trafficked out of the country.
Bangladesh is currently sheltering approximately a million stateless Rohingya refugees, which makes the situation worse. Rohingya girls are regularly being moved from Chittagong to Dhaka and ultimately trafficked to India, Malaysia, and Nepal. According to IMO data, approximately 655 victims were identified and rescued only in Cox’s Bazar from September 2017 to June 2020. Among them, 45% were Rohingya and 55% were Bangladeshi citizens.
If closely observed, trafficking will appear to be a gender and age-specific incident. The victims mainly include children, teenage girls, female garment workers, widows, maidservants, floating women, and women who were abandoned by their husbands. Males are also targeted for trafficking, mostly for labour, however, the number in comparison to the prior is very low.
The root causes
Numerous causes have, thus far, been identified as being the catalyst for the prevalence of human trafficking in Bangladesh in several studies.
These include: The geographical location being close to the Gulf region which connects to South Asia, financial insolvency with more than 20% of its population living below the national poverty line, a lack of education with only 82.6% children completing primary education out of the 98% who take admission in primary schools, the increasing demand for cheap labour in the national and international market, oppression, gender discrimination with Bangladesh being ranked 50th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, and corruption, with Bangladesh being placed at 146 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020.
Even after being rescued, people who are trafficked often fail to return to the life they used to lead before coming face to face with such an unfortunate fate, being manipulated, tricked, robbed of liberty and income, and forced to work in unbearable conditions. On top of that, intense psychological stress like loneliness, fear, and sexual violence ultimately cultivate extreme trauma and depression, leading to suicide in some situations.
Human trafficking also encompasses sex trafficking. In Bangladesh, an estimated 100,000 women and girls are working in prostitution since its legalization in 2000. However, the number of individuals working here willingly is no more than 10%. One of the most concerning aspects of sex trafficking is the increased risk of exposure of such victims to diseases contributing to their premature death, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
With the emergence of the ongoing pandemic aggravating the causes of human trafficking, fighting against human trafficking has become more challenging. Traffickers will, undoubtedly, leave no stone unturned to take advantage of this added plethora of problems in our society. Thus, the scenario will only become more frightening, making it a must for the government to broaden the range of its actions.
Eliminating human trafficking will not be an easy task by any means whatsoever while standing face to face with a myriad of challenges posed by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
However, what the revered philosopher Edmund Burke said is important to mention here: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This begs the question: What can be done?
Firstly, initiatives must be taken to reduce and break the trafficking network. Secondly, the number of prosecutions and punishments for all kinds of human trafficking should considerably be increased as just having a large number of laws is not useful as long as they are not enforced strictly all over the country.
Thirdly, the security of the nation must be strengthened by increasing vigilance in border control. Fourthly, there should be a significant improvement in the surveillance of the international recruiting agencies operating here. Lastly, it is necessary to promote and raise funding programs aimed at educating the general people about how they can be tricked by traffickers.
Tarazi Mohammed Sheikh and Arafat Reza are students of law. Anika Tabassum and Fahreen Sultan Labonno are freelance contributors.