Child trafficking in border areas
Rashed, son of Saiful Islam of Gunobati village under Comilla district recently came back home with the support of UNICEF and BNWLA. He was trafficked to Dubai 10 years back and forced to serve there as a camel jockey. He was only 7 at the time of trafficking. Another little boy, aged 6-9 years, all he can now remember about his family is that he had a father, a mother, and two siblings. The father was a schoolteacher, and the mother raised chickens and ducks. One day he was playing outside all by himself, when two strange men came and took him away from his family.
In Dubai, he was employed as a camel jockey. One day while riding a camel he fell down and was seriously injured, and was taken to a hospital. When this boy was hospitalized, an international news media broadcasted this case. The BNWLA later got involved in repatriating this boy back to Bangladesh from Dubai.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in trafficking of women and children in Bangladesh particularly in border area. Very little work has been done to understand the local dynamics of the problem meaningfully. There are young boys aged about 8 to 15 (some are even younger). They are those specifically sent to the Arab Gulf countries. There they are used as drivers for camel races; offering sexual favours is a secondary activity in most instances. As in the case of girls, there are no reliable statistics, but possibly about 50 to 100 boys are being smuggled out of Bangladesh for this purpose. The camel-rider boys of Bangladesh are part of rich Arab households.
The entire trafficking operation involves "scouting" for suitable victims, picking them up, then keeping them hidden in Dhaka City for a few days (sometimes the children are gagged and chained), then putting them on a bus or train towards the Indian border or elsewhere. There are people on both sides of the border who are part of the trafficking chain. Sometimes a prospective buyer is also waiting at the border. Transactions can be up to 40,000 to 50, 000 taka though most go for less.
The main methods of trafficking are deception or false promises, and kidnapping. Among contributing factors identified were: poverty, open inter-country borders, political corruption at certain levels, and lack of inter-Government cooperation. One is tempted to add - the apparent ignorance of society regarding this problem, and the culpable apathy of those who could and should do something about it.
Recently, the countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted a definition in their Convention for Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children. Trafficking in children usually consists of all acts involved in the procurement, transportation, forced movement, and/or selling and buying of children within and/or across border by fraudulent means, deception, coercion, direct and/or indirect threats, abuse of authority, for the purpose of placing a child against her/his will without his/her consent in exploitative and abusive situations such as commercial sexual abuse, forced marriage.
Review of different literature showed that some 18 transit points along the India-Bangladesh border are used for smuggling children and women out of the country. The border areas of Khulna, Jessore, Satkhira, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Comilla, Brahmanbaria, and Sylhet are frequently used as land routes for trafficking.
Recently, the ATSEC has prepared a “Preliminary Directory of Non-government Organizations (NGOs) involved in combating trafficking in, and sexual exploitation of children and women”. The directory includes information on 130 different local and national level NGOs. The directory shows that the NGOs are involved in awareness raising, information dissemination, advocacy, repatriation, rehabilitation, etc.
NGOs face many constraints in dealing with the issue of trafficking. Lack of a fully equipped investigative cell has been the most outstanding one. NGOs get information about cases either through the media or when they initiate a special study/research. Sometimes they also receive information through local partner NGOs/organizations. Whenever a case is reported in the media, they try to follow it up and usually retrieve those children from jail or police custody.
Legal provisions to protect women and children from exploitation are not properly enforced due to organizational inefficiency and inadequate capacity of the law-enforcing agencies. Rashed, the boy with whom this report began, is one such victim who somehow escaped and came back to his parents. But when shall we have statistics of all those unlucky ones? In the final analysis, children need community - they should not be considered as an island in the society. There must be a strong social consciousness to prevent the trafficking of children. Such consciousness can probably be best achieved in the Bangladesh context by organizing information and planning sessions on this issue, on a regular basis, at least once a year, in different places. The sad and most sickening aspect is that these trafficked children are the victims of elders, the very ones in society who should be helping them and protecting them. To build a bright future for all children, kidnapping of children, sale, and cross-border trafficking must be ended without any further delay. Therefore steps should be taken for women and children trafficking-related cases to be disposed of speedily, giving punishment to the criminals and the perpetrators who are involved in whole trafficking cycle.
-- A group of child journalists from Children's Express, Shishu Prokash, Comilla.