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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: 177
July 10, 2010

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Human Rights Monitor

Bangladesh does not fully comply with minimum standards

BANGLADESH is a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. A significant share of Bangladesh's trafficking victims are men recruited for work overseas with fraudulent employment offers who are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Children both boys and girls are trafficked within Bangladesh for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and forced labor. Some children are sold into bondage by their parents, while others are induced into labor or commercial sexual exploitation through fraud and physical coercion. Women and children from Bangladesh are also trafficked to India for commercial sexual exploitation.

Bangladeshi men and women migrate willingly to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, Liberia, and other countries for work, often under legal and contractual terms. Most Bangladeshis who seek overseas employment through legal channels rely on the 724 recruiting agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA). These agencies are legally permitted to charge workers up to $1,235 and place workers in low-skilled jobs typically paying between $100 and $150 per month. According to NGOs, however, many workers are charged upwards of $6,000 for these services. A recent Amnesty International report on Malaysia indicated Bangladeshis spend more than three times the amount of recruitment fees paid by other migrant workers recruited for work in Malaysia. NGOs report many Bangladeshi migrant laborers are victims of recruitment fraud, including exorbitant recruitment fees often accompanied by fraudulent representation of terms of employment. The ILO has concluded high recruitment fees increase vulnerability to forced labor among transnational migrant workers. Women typically work as domestic servants; some find themselves in situations of forced labor or debt bondage where they face restrictions on their movements, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Some Bangladeshi women working abroad are subsequently trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Bangladeshi children and adults are also trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and bonded labor.

Bangladesh does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government has continued to address the sex trafficking of women and children. Despite these significant efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of increased efforts to prosecute and convict labor trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for the fraudulent recruitment of Bangladeshi workers for the purpose of forced labor overseas. Similarly it did not demonstrate increased efforts to prevent the forced labor of Bangladeshi workers overseas through effective controls on high recruitment fees and other forms of fraudulent recruitment; therefore, Bangladesh is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. Some government officials and members of civil society continue to believe the forced labor and debt bondage of Bangladeshi workers abroad was not considered labor trafficking, but rather employment fraud perpetrated on irregular migrants.

Recommendations for Bangladesh: Draft and enact legislation criminalizing the forced labor of men; integrate anti-labor trafficking objectives into national anti-trafficking policies and programs; significantly increase criminal prosecutions and punishments for all forms of labor trafficking, including those involving fraudulent labor recruitment and forced child labor; consider establishing special courts to prosecute labor trafficking offenses; greatly improve oversight of Bangladesh's international recruiting agencies to ensure they are not promoting practices that contribute to labor trafficking; provide protection services for adult male trafficking victims and victims of forced labor, including improving consular assistance in embassies abroad; and increase awareness campaigns targeted at potential domestic and international migrants.

The Government of Bangladesh did not provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat sex trafficking or forced labor during the reporting period.

During the reporting period, the government obtained the convictions of 32 sex trafficking offenders and sentenced 24 of them to life imprisonment; eight were sentenced to lesser prison terms. This is a slight decrease from the 37 convictions obtained in 2008. The government did not report the conviction of any labor trafficking offenders. The government prosecuted 68 cases involving suspected sex trafficking offenders and conducted 26 investigations, compared with 90 prosecutions and 134 investigations during the previous year. Forty-nine prosecutions resulted in acquittals; however, under Bangladeshi law the term “acquittal” can also refer to cases in which the parties settled out of court or witnesses did not appear in court. Despite administrative actions taken against labor recruitment agencies involved in fraudulent recruitment and possible human trafficking, the government did not report any criminal prosecutions or convictions for labor trafficking offenses.

The Government of Bangladesh made limited efforts to protect victims of trafficking over the last year. The government's lack of efforts to protect victims of forced labor who constitute a large share of victims in the country and adult male victims of trafficking is a continuing concern. While the government did not have a systematic procedure to identify and refer female and child victims of trafficking, the courts, police, or Home Ministry officials referred victims of internal trafficking to shelters. Law enforcement officials identified and rescued 68 victims (38 females and 30 children) in the reporting period, but it is uncertain whether they were referred to shelters. During the last year, 384 victims were served by government and NGO care facilities in Bangladesh; some of these may have been victims of trafficking.

While workers ostensibly had several options to address complaints of labor and recruitment violations and to get compensation, the process most often used arbitration by Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) did not provide sufficient financial compensation and rarely addressed the illegal activities of some recruitment agencies, all of which are BAIRA members. The Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), which is charged with overseeing recruitment agencies and monitoring the condition of Bangladeshi workers overseas, regularly steers workers with complaints to BAIRA for resolution. Workers are drawn to the BAIRA complaint mechanism because it offers quick cash payouts (though usually much less than the wages they were denied and the recruitment fees paid) and requires significantly less proof of paid fees most fees charged were illegal and thus had no corresponding receipts. If there are “major” disputes, recruitment agencies may lose their licenses; however, NGOs report that friends and family members of agency heads successfully file for new licenses. Recruitment agencies may also incur criminal charges.

According to Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MEWOE), the government disposed 893 of 1,030 labor complaints in the reporting period ; some of these complaints were likely due to trafficking offenses.

This is the abridged version of the report.

Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2010.


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