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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 213
October 29, 2005

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Fact File

A shelter for survivors of trafficking

ZAM Khairuzzaman

Nasima Khatun, 15, and Josna Khatun, 14, two innocent girls hailing from Cox's Bazar district, went to India illegally after being misguided by a co-villager about three years ago. The co-villager, in the guise of their brother-in-law, lured them away from home with false promises of lucrative jobs. Many girls fall for this trap. Difficult economic situations, coupled with dysfunctional family backgrounds and low levels of education, are behind most trafficking cases.

Women and girls are either lured by promises of well-paying jobs in other countries, or are kidnapped and forced to go abroad. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that hundreds of children and women are being trafficked each year.

Nasima and Josna trafficking route took them to India, after a long journey by bus and on foot. As they were loitering there, Indian police caught them on suspicion and handed over them to the authorities of a local NGO, who could not trace their actual address. The girls were then handed over to members of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), who pushed back them to Bangladesh through Benapole border of Jessore district. In Benapole, members of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) transferred them to police, who kept them in safe custody in the Jessore jail.

Luckily for the girls, staff members of the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), were informed of the matter. They later negotiated the girls' release and sent them to DAM's shelter home for trafficked children and women at Bhakutia village of Arabpur union in Jessore. There, a new life and a second change began for the girls. At the home, they found a safe place to rest, heal, and recover as they prepare to rejoin the real world. They stayed there for one year, receiving advice and non-formal education, regaining their self-esteem and confidence, and learning to sew embroidery.

This is one of only a few shelters in the country, established in 1999 with 30 beds having optimum standards and provides awareness training, non-formal education, vocational training, as well as voluntary psychological and medical counseling for survivors of trafficking. Here the girls realised their actual position and built a new life. In the meantime, the DAM personnel started frantic efforts to search for their near and dear ones in Cox's Bazar. In the process they contacted the authorities of a local NGO, Uddipan, working at the resort town. Following earnest efforts, they finally identified their parents and located their homes. DAM fixed a suitable date and handed over them to their near and dear ones.

Unfortunately, happy endings like Nasima and josna are rare. For each girl rescued, hundreds of others remain trapped in prostitution and other shameful jobs. Surveys show that trafficking of children and women is lucrative, well-organised and linked to criminal activity and corruption.

The Bangladesh Government has identified trafficking as one of its priorities in fighting organised crime. It is hoped that both Nasima and Josna get back on their feet and reintegrate themselves into society, using the tools DAM provided them to succeed and avoid stigmatisation.

DAM president and chief executive Kazi Rafiqul Alam told The Daily Star, that his organisation has taken up an extensive community awareness programme along the border belts from Panchagarh to the Sundarbans to resist the crime. People are being made conscious about trafficking through various programmes, such as processions, dramas, courtyard meetings, and distribution of posters and leaflets. Moreover, DAM has built a transit home in Dhaka for the child camel jockeys who are returning from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). DAM also handed over a few of them to their parents and relatives. “We take necessary timely steps as and when called for,” the DAM chief added.

The writer is working as Sub-Editor of The Daily Star.


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