Human trafficking in Bangladesh
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. Recent reports indicate many brothel owners and pimps addict Bangladeshi girls to steroids, with devastating side effects, to make them more attractive to clients; the drug is reported to be used by 90 percent of females between 15 and 35 in Bangladeshi brothels.
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.
The Government of Bangladesh did not provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat sex trafficking or forced labor during the reporting period. Bangladesh prohibits the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or involuntary servitude under the Repression of Women and Children Act of 2000 (amended in 2003), and prohibits the selling and buying of a child under the age of 18 for prostitution in Articles 372 and 373 of its penal code. Prescribed penalties under these sex trafficking statutes range from 10 years’ imprisonment to the death sentence. The most common sentence imposed on convicted sex traffickers is life imprisonment. These penalties are very stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 374 of Bangladesh’s penal code prohibits forced labor, but the prescribed penalties of imprisonment for up to one year or a fine are not sufficiently stringent.
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 Bangladeshi judicial system’s handling of sex trafficking cases continued to be plagued by a large backlog and delays caused by procedural loopholes. Most sex trafficking cases are prosecuted by 42 special courts for the prosecution of crimes of violence against women and children spread throughout 32 districts of the country; those courts are generally more efficient than regular trial courts.
The Ministry of Home Affairs’ Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Cell reportedly collected data on trafficking arrests, prosecutions, and rescues, and coordinated and analyzed local-level information from regional anti-trafficking units. During the year, there was some evidence of official complicity in human trafficking. Several NGOs reported a nexus among members of parliament and corrupt recruiting agencies and village level brokers and indicated that politicians and regional gangs were involved in human trafficking. Some NGOs also report that official recruitment agencies in Dhaka have linkages with employers in destination countries who sometimes put their migrant workers in situations of servitude. Low-level government employees were also complicit in trafficking. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the government prosecuted a civil servant who was complicit in trafficking; the trial remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government confirmed the existence of allegations against some Bangladeshi soldiers in Sierra Leone who may have engaged in or facilitated trafficking, but the government did not provide any information on investigations or prosecutions of these cases. The country’s National Police Academy provided anti-trafficking training to 2,876 police officers in 2009. The 12 police officers of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ “Trafficking in Human Beings Investigation Unit” continued to receive training on investigation techniques. Other government officials received training from NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments. A 2009 report from a prominent NGO suggested that law enforcement trainings have not translated into increased prosecutions or a change in outlook.
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. In the previous year, law enforcement officials identified and rescued 251 victims. While the government did not provide shelter or other services dedicated to trafficking victims, it continued to run nine homes for women and children victims of violence, including trafficking, as well as a “one-stop crisis center” for women and children in the Dhaka general hospital. These centers, in cooperation with NGOs, provided legal, medical, and psychiatric services. 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. The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment continued to operate shelters for female Bangladeshi victims of trafficking and exploitation in Riyadh and Jeddah. Law enforcement personnel encouraged victims of trafficking, when identified, to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers, but there was no evidence of the number of victims who assisted in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers in the reporting period. Authorities did not penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. When no space was available in shelter homes, however, female victims of trafficking – as wards of the police or court – stayed in jails. From February to October 2009, local police in India rescued seven adult female Bangladeshi sex trafficking victims. In March 2010 – after some of the women had remained in shelters for over a year in India – the Government of Bangladesh began working with NGOs and the Indian government to repatriate these women. As of the writing of this report, the process has not been finalized.
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 (as opposed to disposing 745 complaints of 1,010 the year before); some of these complaints were likely due to trafficking offenses. NGOs allege officials working at Bangladeshi embassies abroad were mostly unresponsive to complaints and attempts to seek restitution abroad were rare. The Government of Bangladesh continued to donate land for an IOM project which established a coffee stand run by rehabilitated trafficking victims.
The Bangladeshi government failed to take adequate efforts to prevent the forced labor of Bangladeshis abroad and at home, and made modest efforts to prevent sex trafficking over the reporting period. During the reporting period, the BMET reportedly shut down one recruiting agency, cancelled the licenses and confiscated the security deposit money of six agencies for their involvement in fraudulent recruitment practices that potentially facilitated human trafficking. This is a decrease from the nine agencies shut down and 25 agencies whose licenses were cancelled in the previous reporting period. BMET collected approximately $830,000 in fines from recruitment agencies for fraudulent recruitment practices and other infractions. The government continued to allow BAIRA to set fees, license individual agencies, certify workers for overseas labor, and handle most complaints of expatriate laborers, while not exercising adequate oversight over this consortium of labor recruiters to ensure their practices do not facilitate debt bondage of Bangladeshi workers abroad. Various ministries disseminated numerous anti-sex trafficking messages in a number of different forums, including public service announcements, discussions, songs, rallies, and posters. The Monitoring Cell reported anti-sex trafficking messaging was included in monthly public outreach sessions conducted by government heads in each of Bangladesh’s 65 units. The Home Secretary continued to chair the monthly inter-ministerial National Anti- Trafficking Committee Meetings, which oversees district-level committees in 64 districts. The Home Secretary also regularly holds coordination committee meetings with NGOs, although some NGOs note that the meetings often have broad agendas and do not focus adequately on trafficking. The Ministry of Home Affairs published the Bangladesh Country Report on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children. While the government made the registration compulsory in 2006, the national rate of birth registration is only between seven and10 percent, and most children born in the rural areas are still not properly documented. During the year, the government did not demonstrate measures to reduce the demand for forced labor or for commercial sex acts. Bangladesh is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.