Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bangladesh in Human Trafficking Watch List

Bangladesh is a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. A significant share of Bangladesh’s trafficking victims consists of men recruited for work overseas with fraudulent employment offers who are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Bangladeshi children and adults also are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced and bonded 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. Internal trafficking often occurs from poorer, more rural regions, to locations with more commercial activity including Dhaka and Chittagong, the country’s two largest cities. Women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked to India and Pakistan for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Many Rohingya refugees from Burma transit through Bangladesh using unofficial methods, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers inside Bangladesh and in destination countries. In 2010, some Rohingya girls were forced into prostitution.

Bangladeshi men and women migrate willingly to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, the Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, Libya, Europe, and other countries for work, often under legal and contractual terms. Most Bangladeshis who seek overseas employment through legal channels rely on the over 1,000 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, but workers are sometimes charged $6,000 or more for these services. Many Bangladeshi migrant laborers are victims of recruitment fraud, including exorbitant recruitment fees often accompanied by fraudulent representation of terms of employment; high recruitment fees increase vulnerability to debt bondage and 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, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Some Bangladeshi women working abroad are subsequently forced into prostitution. Some Bangladeshis have been convicted by foreign governments for their human trafficking crimes abroad. There are reports of an increased number of Bangladeshis transiting through Nepal to obtain Nepalese visas and work permits for employment in the Gulf, and many of them are likely trafficking victims. Many Bangladeshi migrant workers – including trafficking victims – were stranded in Libya in early 2011 due to the civil conflict in that country. Trafficking victims among these migrant workers may be particularly vulnerable to being trapped in Libya as a result of the confiscation of their travel documents and unpaid wages. Some of these migrants who have been able to return to Bangladesh are under pressure to repay the high debts they incurred for recruitment fees.

Bangladesh does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Bangladesh was not placed on Tier 3 per Section 107 of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, however, as the government has shown evidence of a credible, written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The Government of Bangladesh demonstrated increased attention to the issue of human trafficking. The government continued to address the sex trafficking of women and children, drafted and submitted a comprehensive anti-trafficking law to the cabinet, and created an interagency task force mandated to monitor recruiting agencies and address high recruitment fees. The government did not prosecute or convict those who trafficked men, as well as those responsible for subjecting Bangladeshi workers to forced labor overseas through fraudulent recruitment mechanisms. The government did not report on law enforcement efforts against Bangladeshi officials who were complicit in human trafficking.

Recommendations for Bangladesh: Enact the draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes the forced labor of men, in order to integrate anti-labor trafficking objectives into national anti-trafficking policies and programs; increase criminal prosecutions and convictions for all forms of labor trafficking, including those involving fraudulent labor recruitment and forced child labor; take steps to address the allegations concerning the complicity of public officials in trafficking, particularly through the criminal prosecution and punishment of those found involved in or abetting human trafficking; increase the capacity of the Vigilance Task Force and improve oversight of Bangladesh’s international recruiting agencies to ensure they are not promoting practices that contribute to labor trafficking; place Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Cell officers in Bangladeshi embassies in destination countries; and provide protection services for adult male trafficking victims and victims of forced labor.

The Government of Bangladesh showed progress in convicting sex traffickers of females, but not traffickers of men, during the reporting period; however, the government drafted an anti-trafficking law that includes criminal prohibitions for all forms of trafficking, with stringent sentences, and submitted the proposed law into the parliamentary process in December 2010. 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 trafficking statutes range from 10 years’ imprisonment to the death sentence. 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 42 sex trafficking offenders and sentenced 24 of them to life imprisonment under Sections 5 and 30 of the Repression of Women and Children Act; 18 were sentenced to lesser prison terms. This is an increase from the 32 convictions obtained in 2009, with 24 offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. The government prosecuted 80 cases involving suspected trafficking offenders and conducted 101 investigations, compared with 68 prosecutions and 26 investigations during the previous year. Fifty-three prosecutions resulted in acquittals; however, under Bangladeshi law the term “acquittal” also can refer to cases in which the parties settled out of court or witnesses did not appear in court. The government did not report any criminal convictions for labor trafficking offenses, although some unconfirmed reports noted that the government prosecuted some labor trafficking cases. 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 continued to collect data on trafficking arrests, prosecutions, and rescues.

The complicity in human trafficking crimes of Bangladeshi government officials remained a serious problem, though the government made no discernible efforts to address it. During the year, there were allegations that a Bangladeshi diplomat facilitated human trafficking of Bangladeshi migrants. 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. NGOs and press reports indicate official recruitment agencies in Dhaka have linkages with employers and brokers in destination countries and help facilitate fraudulent recruitment. In addition, some of these employers put their migrant workers in situations of servitude. The Government of Bangladesh did not provide data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of public employees complicit in human trafficking. There was no further information about the prosecution of a civil servant last year who was complicit in trafficking, as noted in the 2010 TIP Report. The country’s National Police Academy continued to provide anti-trafficking training to police officers who went through entrance training.

The Government of Bangladesh made some efforts to protect victims of trafficking over the last year. The government’s insufficient 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. The government did not have a systematic procedure to identify trafficking victims and vulnerable populations, and to refer victims of trafficking to protective services. An NGO report indicated that many brothel owners and pimps coerce Bangladeshi girls to take steroids, with devastating side effects, to make them more attractive to clients; the drug is reported to be used by 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 35 in Bangladeshi brothels; this phenomenon made it sometimes difficult for the government to identify prostituted minors. Bangladesh’s courts and police refer some victims of trafficking to NGO shelters; other times, those victims were either self-identified or identified by an NGO. One hundred thirty-seven victims (83 adult women, zero adult men, and 54 children) were self-identified or identified and rescued by law enforcement officials or NGOs in the reporting period, but it is uncertain whether they were referred to shelters. In the previous year, law enforcement officials identified and rescued 68 victims. While the government did not provide shelter or other services specifically 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. An NGO noted that adult female victims could leave the shelters at will; children’s decisions to leave were dependent on their families’ permission. No male victims were assisted in these shelters. It is not known how many trafficking victims were served by government and NGO care facilities in Bangladesh. The government continued to run some shelters in Bangladeshi embassies abroad, but closed other shelters. Law enforcement personnel encouraged victims of trafficking, when identified, to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers by providing transportation to courts. Authorities did not penalize Bangladeshi 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 were placed in divisional custody facilities at government-run prisons, which include access to medical care and cooking facilities. Unregistered Rohingya refugees who were trafficking victims were detained indefinitely for their undocumented status. At least 36 Bangladeshi sex trafficking victims were repatriated to Bangladesh from India from 2010-2011, although repatriation remained a challenge for other victims. Some of them had been in shelters in India for almost a year and a half, awaiting the verification of their Bangladeshi identities by the Government of Bangladesh. Bangladesh established a trafficking task force with India.

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 BAIRA-affiliated recruitment agents. Workers were encouraged to seek resolution for their complaints directly from BAIRA, rather than file cases against the company, by both BAIRA and the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training. This resolution generally led to cash-payouts much less than the wages they were denied and the recruitment fees paid. If there are “major” disputes, recruitment agencies may lose their licenses. NGOs and news reports alleged instances of officials working at some Bangladeshi embassies abroad were mostly unresponsive to complaints and attempts to seek restitution abroad were rare. Bangladeshi officials noted that embassies in destination countries do not have enough staff to combat labor exploitation.

The Bangladeshi government took efforts to prevent trafficking over the reporting period. In July 2010, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MEWOE) created a Vigilance Task Force charged that improving the oversight of Bangladesh’s labor recruitment process. Through the task force, MEWOE launched an advertising campaign directed at potential migrants which detailed the dangers of migration, offered tips for safe migration, and provided contact information for relevant ministries through which migrants could reach assistance. The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs held events in villages explaining recourses for victims under the Women and Children’s Repression Prevention Act. In the reporting period, the government shut down three recruiting agencies, blacklisted their owners, and seized their assets. The government cancelled the licenses of 25 recruiting agencies for involvement in fraudulent recruitment practices that potentially facilitated human trafficking. The agencies in question have the right to appeal the cancellation, and until all the appeals are exhausted – a process that could take several years – they are allowed to continue business operations; however, during the appeals the agency is not allowed to engage in any labor recruitment. This is a large increase from the shutting down of one agency and the cancellation of licenses and forfeiture of money from six other agencies in the previous reporting period. NGOs and a government official reported, however, that friends and family members of agency heads are sometimes able to file successfully for new licenses. Bangladesh took a leadership role in the region, chairing the Colombo Process, a consortium of labor contributing countries that seeks to address issues such as rights and conditions for migrant workers and human trafficking. Under Bangladeshi leadership, consultations between European and Colombo Process countries took place in February 2011. 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. The home secretary continued to chair the bi-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. The national rate of birth registration is only between seven and 10 percent, and most children born in the rural areas are still not properly documented. Training, including awareness about human trafficking, was provided to Bangladeshi soldiers prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. During the year, the government did not demonstrate measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Bangladesh is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.