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August 8, 2004

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Trafficking: recent issues in Bangladesh

Jesmul Hasan

On 14 June, the State Department of the USA, in its annual 'Trafficking in Persons Report 2004' (TIP) has blamed the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) for not complying with the standards for elimination of trafficking and for not making significant efforts to do so. In the report, Bangladesh has been moved from Tier 2 (making significant efforts to curb trafficking) to Tier 3 of ten black listed countries because Bangladesh failed to make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers and address the complicity of government officials in trafficking. According to The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000 (VTVPA) of the USA, these Tier 3 countries are going to face sanctions within three months of the submission of this list by the US President to the US Congress. Accordingly the sanctions Bangladesh is going to face from the US Government include
* No non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance;
* US Government may request to international financial institutions not to provide any loan or financial assistance to Bangladesh;

According to the VTVPA, the sanctions are going to be effective from October 2004 unless the GOB makes significant efforts to bringing itself into compliance with the minimum standards against trafficking within 60 days of publication of the TIP report. So August 15 is the deadline for the GOB for taking significant actions for prevention of trafficking.

Prosecution issue
The three key issues on which emphasis has been given in this TIP report are prosecution, protection and prevention of trafficking. In preventive activities, Bangladesh has done considerable progress through mass awareness. In protection the government efforts is insignificant. The most crucial aspect is prosecution failure in which sector has moved Bangladesh from Tier 2 to Tier 3. In the year 2003, 72 suspected traffickers were arrested which was 60 in the year 2002. But conviction declined from 30 in 2002 to 17 in 2003.

Legal framework on trafficking
The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act 1933 includes penalties for detaining a girl under 18 years against her will in a place or prostitution. The Penal code of 1860 provides for minimum punishment of seven years of imprisonment or more and/or fine for kidnapping, abduction, slavery, forced labour, rape, wrongful confinement, selling or buying minors for prostitution. The most relevant and effective law dealing with trafficking issue is The Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act 2000. According to Section 5 of this act, if any person is accused of trafficking any woman abroad or bringing any woman from abroad or selling or buying any woman for prostitution or unlawful or immoral act or giving her in rent or transferring her for repression or for any other reason, he/she will be sentenced to death or life imprisonment or maximum 20 years and minimum 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and fine. According to Section 6 of the Act, if any person is accused of trafficking any child abroad or from abroad for any unlawful or immoral act or selling or buying or keeping such child to his/her possession or custody, he/she will be sentenced to death or rigorous life imprisonment and fine. According to Section 18 of the Act, investigation of any trafficking incident must be completed within 60 days of the day when the offence took place. This period can be extended, for special reasons, up to 30 days more. According to Section 19 of the Act, trafficking is a non-bailable offence and according to Section 20 of the Act, such offence can be tried only in Special Tribunal for Prevention of Repression against Women and Children set up under Section 26 of the Act. Trial of such offence must be completed within 180 days after receipt of the case. Section 31 of the Act provides for safe custody of the victim of trafficking during trial period.

Bangladesh is a party to following international instruments that can be used to combat trafficking:
* 1949 Trafficking Convention,
* 1956 Slavery Convention,
* Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women 1979,
* Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989,
* Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography,
* ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour,
* ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour, 1930,
* ILO Convention 105 on Abolition of Forced Labour, 1957,
* SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution 2002
* The Constitution of Bangladesh has following provision to protect rights of victims of trafficking:
* Right to equality and equal protection (Article 27);
* Right to be free from discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Article 28);
* Right to protection of Law (Article 31);
* Prohibition against force labour (Article 34), torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 35);
* Freedom of movement (Article 36).

Case studies
There are 17 cases of trafficking, which are being monitored by a special cell of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Of theses cases, seven are under Dhaka Metropolitan City, two in Dhaka District, two in Narayanganj, one in Naogaon, three in Satkhira and two in Chandpur. The key problem in quick disposal of these cases is absence of witnesses on case hearing days. A special public prosecutor has been appointed for looking after these cases.

Recently in some case, courts have given exemplary punishment to accused of trafficking. In one case under Mirpur police station, three accused including two women have been sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment with fine of Tk. 7000 each. In a trafficking case under Badda police station, two accused including one woman have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Under Kafrul police station, three accused including two women have been sentenced to life imprisonment and Tk. 500,000 each in a trafficking case. Under Motijheel police station, one woman has been sentenced to life imprisonment and fine of Tk. 100,000. In Sirajganj, three persons have been sentenced to life imprisonment for trafficking for their involvement in trafficking. In Faridpur, one woman has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and fine of Tk. 2000.

Government steps
To comply with the conditions given by the US Government for taking effective action for preventing trafficking, the GOB has taken some steps. These include instructing government lawyers to take measures for quick disposal of trafficking related cases, continuous watch and strengthening of monitoring mechanisms in border areas and trafficking routs by border and other law enforcement forces, media campaign against trafficking, protection and referral of victims at government and NGO operated shelter homes, involving religious teachers, grassroots level NGO workers, volunteers, lawmakers and local government people to organize motivational and awareness raising events at grassroots level, strengthening work of district monitoring committees on trafficking, strengthening immigration procedures in land and airports, increasing diplomatic contacts at the recipient countries for rescue of victims and discouraging of trafficking, setting up of a monitoring cell for trafficking at police headquarters etc.

Some concerns regarding TIP report
The key concern regarding the TIP report is that it is based on performance of the 'source' countries on trafficking while it is silent about role of 'recipient' countries. Flurry of activities particularly prevention and motivational activities on trafficking are taking place in Bangladesh for last several years. All the major donors have been funding local NGOs and relevant government ministries in the fight against trafficking. Stringent law against trafficking has been enacted and specialized courts have been set up. However, the prosecution process is lengthy here. There is government policy against trafficking and specific measures have been taken in this regard. In the TIP report 2003, Bangladesh was in Tier 2. It is unfortunate that failure in addressing the issues of prosecution of traffickers and complicity of government officials in trafficking has been the cause for downgrading Bangladesh from Tier 2 to Tier 3. Again number of persons persecuted in Bangladesh (17) in the year 2003 was more than that of neighbouring countries like Nepal (8), Pakistan (11) and Sri Lanka (7). How come Bangladesh is in Tier 3 and those countries are in Tier 2. The situation of trafficking in India or Nepal is not better than that of Bangladesh. On Nepal, the TIP comments say, 'Cases brought by government attorneys have been far less successful'. On Indian situation, the TIP comments, 'Endemic corruption among law enforcement officials impedes India's progress in combating trafficking in persons.' Thus consistency of the TIP country analysis and tier positioning is questioned.

The writer is a human right activist.

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