<%-- Page Title--%> Human Rights <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 119 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

August 22, 2003

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

The Violence of


Ashfaq Wares Khan

Trafficking of women and children is one of the most serious human rights issues of South Asia as it has widespread consequences on societies. The recently held South Asia Court of Women on the Violence of Trafficking, sought to raise the awareness about the rights violated by this social menace and to generate greater public support for the victims

The court, held recently at China-Bangladesh Friendship Conference Centre in Agargaon from August 11 to 13th in Dhaka, broke new ground, by bringing the often-marginalized voices of the victims to the fore. The court employed innovative mediums such as “poetic visuals” video images accompanied by poetry expressing the pain of the victims and most powerfully, the on-stage testimonies of nearly 30 victims that enabled the audience to empathise with the victims on the deepest levels.

From these testimonies, the Jury - comprising 6 globally renowned activists and academics - in their conclusive statement, demanded the recognition of poverty, war, human rights abuse and other forms of social insecurity, as the principal causes for a growing number of women and children to set out to find alternative ways of securing their livelihood.

Speaking at the court Rukhmini Rao, an activist from India, alluded to the double burden of poverty on women, citing the example that on average women in India work 17 hours a day, while men only work 7, a phenomenon similar to Bangladesh. The Jury added that globalisation is exacerbating these burdens by dismantling their community structures.

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates trafficking to be the fastest growing illegal trade that is valued at over US $7 billion per year.

The testifiers were largely poor and disenfranchised women mostly young girls including a child and a transsexual. They described how they were deceived by traffickers into promised marriages, safe and well-paid jobs such as housemaids only to find themselves trapped into prostitution. Furthermore, they linked their work in foreign lands, often in unhealthy conditions to the increasing incidences of HIV/AIDS contraction among them.

Throughout the day, the victims one by one testified to the agonising tales of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that they had to endure for the sake of their own subsistence. They described their ordeals as they worked with the different faces of trafficking, either working as sex-workers, camel-jockeys, or housemaids to being forced into marriages or adoption.

Villi, a woman from India's Andhra Pradesh, narrates tales of horror she had undergone at the hands of goons, at the South Asian Women's Court on Women and Children's Trafficking and HIV/AIDS at the Bangladesh-China Friendship Conference Centre.

A girl trafficked from Bangladesh to India, requesting anonymity, spoke of her despondence as she was dehumanised into a 500 rupee item sold to a brothel in India. “I don't want this to happen to any girl, ever”,she cried, speaking from an enclosed booth that concealed her identity.

The fears of social isolation were also a prominent issue noted in relation to the media, at a round table discussion preceding the court. The participants observed that the South Asian media, in general, emphasised the identity of the victim of trafficking rather than the perpetrator, in effect, stigmatising the victim and adding to their already tormented experience.

Rita Rai, an HIV positive woman from South India, recounted her tales of despair after she was socially stigmatised because of her disease. Calling for awareness, UBINIG Executive Director Farida Akhtar, told The Daily Star, that “women of South Asia already possess self-agency, it is only a matter of the victims becoming aware of the issues and finding support groups that will enable them to collectivise their grievances”.

Replicating Winnie Mandela, a juror at the court and a prominent activist, who called for the “realisation of the collective power of women”. The court symbolised of such a collective spirit, as around 5000 women from all around South Asia participated in the court, and shared their solidarity in similar circumstances and issues that they face.

The Jury also demanded the removal of migration barriers, to enable effective monitoring of female labour migrations, which will not allow the traffickers to take advantage of the women through unaccountable practices.

Acknowledging the limits imposed on impoverished countries, the Jury asked for a proper legal framework and its implementation, however, unequivocally opposing the death penalty as it distracts attention from the issue.

“Without a qualitative shift in grassroots education for the eradication of long-term patriarchal values, women's agency cannot be effectively exercised”, said renowned academic and activist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who was a juror at the court.



(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is jointly published by the Daily Star with the technical assistance provided by Onirban.