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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: 61
March 29 , 2008

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Human Trafficking
Steps to restore rights of victims

Z.A.M. Khairuzzaman

Life changed for Rabeya (not a real name) when she was separated from her family. 'I got separated from my family when a man took me to Bombay in India promising a good job,' said Rabeya, a 16-year-old girl at Krishnapur village of No-2 Lakkhanpur union in Sharsha upazila, Jessore. 'Siddique, an acquaintance, asked me about my family. I told him that life was very difficult as we were very poor. He said that my sister and brother-in-law already agreed to go to Mumbai in India with him because he promised them jobs of Tk 5,000 a month. If I accompany them then I shall also be offered such a lucrative job, Siddique promised. On return home, my sister and brother-in-law said they would try their luck in Mumbai; I should accompany them if I want to change my fate. Thinking helpless condition of day-labourer father, I agreed to their suggestion.'

'One day we set for Mumbai with Siddique'. On arrival in Mumbai, the man sold us to a dance bar owner. 'A few months later, my sister and brother-in-law escaped the 'hell,' but I was forced to stay back to do flesh trade there against my will,' Rabeya said. 'For Allah's sake don't ask me any more question', the ill-fated girl sobbed.

On a query, she said that her sister and brother-in-law had informed her father about her misery. 'When my helpless father charged Siddique, he threatened him the dire consequences through armed cadres of another ferocious man, Rouquatullah. But my father did not give up and created constant pressure on Siddique. Finally, Siddique yielded to his pressure. After a long trek back his men brought me to Shikerpur ghat (terminal) on Benapole border.

When Rabeya finally returned to her village after nine months, she was initially met with scorn. After a brief time, her neighbours came to understand what happened to her and embraced her return.

Finally, a facilitator of Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) located her. DAM helped file a case against the traffickers. 'But still Siddique's men threaten us to withdraw the case. I am now insecure and attacked with various diseases', murmured the frail girl.

According to a report of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), 400 women and children fall victim to trafficking each month.Most of the victims of trafficking end up in the commercial sex industry, where most of the sex workers are within 12 to 16 years of age. Conditions of poverty and high unemployment make teenage and young girls -- and their families -- extremely vulnerable to the promises of work in India, Pakistan and Middle East, not realising the realities of what awaits them.

DAM initiated a programme titled, 'Prevention of Cross-Border Trafficking in Women and Children between Bangladesh and West Bengal, India (C-BAT) Project' in October, 2005. It was aimed at reducing human trafficking as well as for repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation of the victims.

At present, women and children learn how to protect themselves from trafficking after launching of the programme. The project is being implemented by Concern Universal, Bangladesh. It is progressing in 27 border areas of 10 unions in four upazilas of Jessore and Satkhira districts.

In Jessore district, the unions are Sadar, Pativila and Sarupdia in Chowgacha upazila and Benapole, Lakhanpur and Bahadurpur unions in Sharsha upazila. In Satkhira, the unions are Ratanpur, Dhalbaria and Mothurespur in Kaliganj upazila and Noornagar union in Shyamnagar upazila.

European Commission and Irish Aid are supporting the project.

Two Indian NGOs, Socio Legal Aid Research and Training Centre (SLARTC) and Women's Interlink Foundation (WIF) are working in close collaboration with DAM.

Poverty, illiteracy, cultural practices, money power and above all low status of girls encourage and help perpetuate such exploitation. In recent decades, cross border trafficking in women and children is assuming dangerous proportions threatening the social fabric in the region. This widespread and multi-dimensional problem involves humanitarian, social, moral and legal aspects.

Trafficked people are generally forced into bonded slavery, servitude, serfdom and very often prostitution. In the Middle East, some children from Bangladesh are being used as 'Jockeys' in their traditional camel race in the desert. These poor women and children are also used in the nefarious trade of human blood, kidney, cornea, skull and other organs including human skeleton. It is becoming a growing profitable business for the traffickers while enhancing the misery for many as their prey. The prevailing socio-economic and geographic conditions provide a fertile ground to the traffickers for easy trafficking and for trading with the victims in the criminal underworld.

C-BAT Project Coordinator Rowshon Ara said education is being used as a strategy to combat child trafficking and exploitation through practical life-skills education, livelihood development support and community awareness and mobilization. The C-BAT programme helps girls, in particular, learn relevant, practical skills including basic and reproductive health, nutrition, hygiene, and HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as reading, writing, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Schoolgirls are directly involved in awareness-raising activities in communities where they live and speak out about trafficking issues during public events, she said. Rowshon Ara took us to Benapole High School to show a regular session.

Headmaster Md Nazrul Islam said both boy and girl students of his school learn about the dangers of trafficking through these sessions. He said his students talk to families about the dangers that exist in their village or beyond, and tell them how they can help protect their children.

Because of the open atmosphere that has been created by the C-BAT Programme, parents and community leaders have become less fearful of discussing child trafficking issues in public and have embraced the leadership demonstrated by their wards.

Under the programme, school children are learning skills to help their families and others better understand how to change conditions of poverty. They talk about the dangers of trafficking and the tricks traffickers can use to get young girls to leave their villages under the false promise of good employment.

No-2 Lakkhanpur Union Parisad (UP) chairman Mohram Ali said child marriage is the major cause behind woman trafficking. Because of decrease in incidents of child marriage, human trafficking reduced in and around his union.

For building up a social movement to prevent human trafficking by through regular courtyard meetings, mass dramas, seminars, discussion meetings especially in boarder areas, DAM conducts campaigns in collaboration with GOs and NGOs. The C-BAT project coordinator said DAM succeeded in making the awareness building programme reach to about 40,000 out of 80,000 poor families in Jessore and Satkhira districts.

Priority is being given on capacity building of local government institutions like Union Parisads to make the programme a complete success. Local administration as well as police and para- military BDR personnel are trying to combat trafficking in collaboration with people. Public representatives, members of law enforcement authorities, local administration officials, teachers and community leaders were given training for the purpose.

Meanwhile, 17 rescued victims were given shelter at the shelter home of DAM in Jessore where they were provided psychological counselling, food and clothing, basic education and skill training such as embroidery to make them self-reliant.

The writer is a working journalist of The Daily Star.


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