Human trafficking is a crime violating human rights as well as health and cross-border issue. Each year, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 21 million people globally who are victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation. Bangladesh is one of the source countries as well as transit points for human trafficking. The report of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is very import to evaluate the country over all globally.
On June 25, the United States Secretary of State released the 2020 global Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report (20th), upgrading Bangladesh’s ranking from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2. This significant step reflects Bangladesh’s progress in combating human trafficking over the past year, including standing up seven anti-trafficking tribunals and taking action against recruiting agencies exploiting Bangladeshis seeking to work abroad.
The efforts made by the government included convicting more traffickers, modestly increasing the number of victims identified, acceding to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol in September, 2019 at the close of the reporting period as stipulated in Bangladesh's anti-trafficking law. However, the report also states that Bangladesh does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
The Tier-2 ranking means Bangladesh government is making significant and increasing efforts to meet the minimum standards towards the elimination of trafficking. But there is more work to be done to fully meet these standards, and put an end to this despicable practice. Bangladesh was in Tier-2 in the years of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 but she was downed to Tier-2 Watch List in three consecutive years of 2017, 2018 and 2019. Now in South Asia, India, Bangladesh & Nepal are in Tier-2 while Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Bhutan & Maldives are in the Tier-2 Watch List.
The government of Bangladesh enacted one of the finest and most effective laws in 2012 titled “the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act in 2012 (hereinafter ‘PSHTA’)” covering every side of crime, investigation, trial and effectively implementation of this law. Apart from this, the Penal Code-1860, the Overseas Employment and Migration Act 2013 and the Children Act 2013 are also very relevant to ensure justice on human trafficking. This Act came into force on February 20, 2012 and almost after 8 years only seven tribunals in divisional districts were created on March 03, 2020. On March 08, 2020 the Judge of these seven tribunals has posted for initiating their tribunals.
In the TIP report 2020, Bangladesh has been praised for taking actions in filing cases, investigations and trial of trafficking cases. The report states that the government investigated 403 cases, prosecuted 312 suspects (256 for sex trafficking and 56 for forced labor) and convicted 25 individuals in nine trafficking-related cases in 2019. This is a decrease in investigations but increase in convictions from the previous reporting period of 2018. The report also evaluates the role of Judiciary referring that the judiciary completed prosecution in 39 cases. Judges acquitted 68 traffickers in 30 cases, convicted 25 traffickers in nine cases and sentenced 17 of those convicted to life imprisonment. The government reported 4,407 trafficking cases remained pending investigation or prosecution as of December 2019. [TIP Report 2020, P-94]
In the previous reporting period, the vast majority of cases involved migrant smuggling of Rohingya and Bangladeshis without clear indicators of crimes of trafficking in persons. The government acknowledged investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for trafficking remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem; the conviction rate for suspected traffickers arrested under the PSHTA was 1.7 percent.
Constituting seven tribunals for the trial of human trafficking cases has been considered an epoch making decision to develop our position. The report clearly expounds that the government took steps to establish seven anti-trafficking tribunals stipulated in the PSHTA to exclusively hear human trafficking cases, including appointing seven judges. The women and children’s tribunal continued to hear trafficking cases but had insufficient staff and resources to handle the caseloads and prosecutors lacked expertise in trafficking. Observers stated the government generally did not dedicate sufficient resources to pre-trial investigations and prosecutors persisted with trials to meet the statutorily required timeline of 180 working days for the disposal of cases, even if inadequately prepared. [TIP Report, 2020 P-94]
In this report, Bangladesh was criticised mainly for lack of protection measures for victims, sex exploitation, migration corruption, torture towards to women victims in Saudi Arabia, Rohingya matters etc. The report spells out that the government modestly increased the number of victims identified but maintained severely inadequate victim protection, especially for Bangladesh trafficking victims identified overseas. Traffickers exploited the majority of victims identified in forced labor. Organizations identified and provided support to at least an additional 1,456 trafficking victims, including 543 Rohingya identified between December 2018-2019. In addition, the government continued to allow humanitarian access to the Rohingya camps. [Source: TIP Report 2020, P-93]
The TIP report suggests some recommendations for Bangladesh such as increase investigations and prosecutions of credible allegations of trafficking of Rohingya, establish and disseminate guidelines for provision of adequate victim care and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the referral of victims to such services, allow NGOs to provide services to trafficking victims in government shelters without a court order, enhance training for officials, including law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officers, on identification of trafficking cases and victim referrals to services, fully implement the 2018-2020 National Plan of Action, including enhancing victim care and operating the anti-trafficking tribunals. [TIP Report 2020, P-93-4]
In the TIP report of 2020, the activities of government regarding the illegal migrant of women to Saudi Arabia and torture to women victim in Saudi Arabia were seriously discussed and criticised. Moreover the activities and actions by Mobile Courts and Village Courts in some cases have been negatively cited and discussed. The report directly suggests stopping illegal mobile courts in trafficking matters. There is negative attitude and discussion about the law maker Kazi Shahid Islam Papul and his connection with human trafficking in Kuwait.
In last few years, the government has taken some glorious actions to eliminate trafficking in the country. Recently, on Libya incident, the government has operated crackdown against perpetrators and filed 26 cases as well as arrested many accused. In 2019, in the world, 11,605 cases of human trafficking have been filed while 9,102 accused was convicted and 105,787 victims were identified. [TIP Report, 2020, P-43]
In last 8 years, a total of 6,134 cases have been filed and only 233 cases are disposed of. 5,901 cases are under trial across the country. Only 409 have been convicted in 233 cases while 1,699 were acquitted of 571 other cases. The concerned courts sentenced eight of the convicts to death, 299 to life imprisonment and 102 to various jail terms. Police and other law-enforcing agencies arrested 10,928 out of the 24,504 accused in the cases. Many of the accused were acquitted only because trials were lengthy and delayed. [Source: bdnew24.com, June 27, 2020] According to the report of Police Head Quater, 778, 561, 685 and 106 human trafficking cases have been filed in year of 2017, 2018, 2019 and till May 2020. [Source: the daily Prothom Alo, June 18, 2020]
Now the Prevention of Women & Children Repression Tribunal is in additional charge of human trafficking tribunal. There are almost 170,000 cases along with additional charge of the Children Court with almost another 30,000 cases in 101of the Prevention of Women & Children Repression Tribunals. For such backlog in the Prevention of Women & Children Repression Tribunals, the cases on human trafficking can’t get possible focus and speed to dispose of. To achieve a sustainable action in trafficking cases, the government has to constitute more tribunals as well as introduce standard investigation, prosecution team and high profile monitoring cells in different stages for ensuring justice and Tier-2 level.
The US Embassy of Dhaka has issued an official statement which was also published in the daily Star on June 26 stating that “the United States is proud to work with Bangladesh in its efforts to combat human trafficking. We echo the UN Network on Migration’s June 11 op-ed in encouraging further actions to address TIP.” In TIP report of 2020, it has highly been expected that the government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued implementing its 2018-2022 anti-trafficking national action plan. In a nutshell, there should have political decision and a strong message to perpetrators about the implementation of commitment to international community and our laws.
The writer is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service & Senior Judicial Magistrate of Feni.