Human trafficking in the coastal belt
Imagine living in an isolated area of Bangladesh. The roads, if any, that lead to these areas are mostly inaccessible. There are hardly any schools to prepare the children for a better future; nor are there any jobs that these children can aspire to, once their education is complete.
There are barely any medical services available. Every day, surviving in this remote hamlet is a challenge. Yet, hundreds and thousands of Bangladeshis soldier on, because this is the only option they have. This is the only home they’ve ever known.
Then one day, someone comes and tells them stories of a faraway land, where a better life awaits them. He sells these desperate people stories of how they can easily go to those lands and build new homes and better futures for their children. Of course, it will cost them a lifetime of savings, but what good is that money if it cannot buy a better future?
To a populace as uninformed as them, it sounds like the gospel truth. They do what they’re told without realizing that the one showing them this new enlightened path is no angel. That he is misleading them into a journey which may involve potential harassment and torture.
Even when the police come to the rescue of these people, they often lie, because they have been brainwashed by the traffickers into believing that the police are the enemies of their dreams. In most cases, regrettably, by the time they come to know of their precarious situation, it’s already too late. They have already handed over their money to the middle man, in return for a job that pays far less than they were promised. The worry of losing the money they have handed over -- which may have involved huge debts and sale of assets -- usually makes migrants obey the traffickers.
Human trafficking is a major challenge in Bangladesh, with the coastal belt and the borders along India being some of the most vulnerable locations. A study by border security forces, 2018, suggests over 50,000 women and children are trafficked to India each year. The study says there is a network of touts, agents, and sub-agents who lure people into danger by promising better lives abroad.
New legislation has been enacted, and a special tribunal for crimes against women and children has been formed, but implementation needs to be reinforced. Moreover, all the countries along this belt need to come together in this fight against illegal trafficking. Inter-regional governance needs to be strengthened too.
Education and awareness about the dangers of trafficking need, to be increased. Aspiring migrants often don’t even know what a visa is. They do not know what job opportunities exist abroad. They do not even know the languages of destination countries or the realities of the migration process.
Trafficking happens in many forms. In some cases, people are misled into believing that they are “migrating.” In other cases, they are kidnapped. They are kidnapped as a form of leverage over their families. In some cases, it is a modus operandi employed by companies who want to buy the lands farmers are unwilling to sell. Quite conveniently for these companies, suddenly the farmer’s son or daughter goes missing and a hefty ransom is demanded for his or her release. The farmer’s family is then forced to sell their land to pay up the ransom.
Prosecution after trafficking is another major challenge. The legal process, should one take that route, is so lengthy and tedious that most of the people tend to settle outside of court -- accepting money from traffickers as a compensation for the trauma and misery caused, rather than sending the traffickers to prison. There is a desperate need for speedy tribunals to be established.
Bangladesh has two recruitment associations: BOESL (public sector) and BAIRA (private sector). BAIRA is highly centralized, with only one office in Chittagong and another in Dhaka. With that acute a centralization, they have no option but to depend on the activities of a myriad of “frontline staff” or dalals. These middlemen are so deeply embedded in the recruitment process that the system just wouldn’t work without them. Since dalals are required to reach the grass root levels, it is impossible to get rid of them. But they do need to be regulated through some form of certification and rating system to bring about greater transparency.
The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012 sets out the functional and legal parameters for recruiting agencies. Agencies stand to lose their license to operate if they are found to be involved in any sort of illegal migration. But this act lacks monitoring. More capacity building of regulators is needed to implement this act. The government’s vigilance task force needs to be further strengthened to combat irregular migration, in accordance with the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act, 2013.
The seventh five-year plan does suggest some steps to prevent trafficking, such as identification and tracking of victims of fraudulent recruitment processes. This is linked to strict regulation of private recruitment agencies. However, in addition, there needs to be a continued effort to provide migrants with information. Further work with private sector employers is needed to help them identify and work only with formal intermediaries committed to ethical recruitment.
IOM is involved in raising awareness on safe migration and human trafficking around the country. Union members are being sensitized on safe migration procedures, so they may guide potential migrants and discourage unscrupulous middle-men.
Union Digital Centre officers are also being imparted training on supporting aspiring migrants with visa checking, registration, and providing migration related information. IOM also works with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET) in disseminating information through its hotline and trainings.
With such steps -- and of course many others in the future -- the dream of eradication illegal trafficking seems achievable.
Lubna Farjana is a Project Associate at the IOM Dhaka. Radhika Tabrez is an editor at IOM Dhaka. Shazia Omar is an activist, a writer, and a yogini.
The Op-Ed was first published on Dhaka Tribune, Date: 30th April, 2019