The World Day against Trafficking in Persons, observed on July 30 every year, is a timely annual reminder of the risks run by an estimated 700,000 Bangladeshis who chose to migrate abroad in search of work through irregular channels.
Bangladeshis migrate in huge numbers for a variety of economic, social and environmental reasons. Most move from rural to urban areas, but a large number also travel abroad in search of better opportunities. Many are successful and make a major contribution to the well-being of their families, Bangladesh and the host countries in which they work.
An estimated 12 million Bangladeshis are currently employed overseas in a range of sectors including construction, manufacturing, health, agriculture and as domestic workers. In 2018 an estimated 8.9 million Bangladeshis migrated internally and a further 730,000 left the country through regular channels to work abroad.
But according to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2019, many of the over 700,000 Bangladeshis who migrate every year through irregular channels risk exploitation and abuse at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. The clandestine nature of irregular migration means that few of these crimes are ever discovered or prosecuted.
In addition to Bangladeshis who are exploited in other countries, human trafficking also occurs in Bangladesh.
The TIP report, which places Bangladesh on its Tier 2 Watchlist, implying that more could be done to combat trafficking, points to a lack of anti-trafficking law enforcement, identification of few victims, inadequate protection measures and a slow prosecution rate, despite Bangladesh’s 2018-2022 anti-trafficking National Action Plan. Under the plan, there have been 592 cases prosecuted involving 1,324 suspects.
Vulnerable persons are often the target of traffickers and find themselves in situations that can result in debt bondage, forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and other forms of modern slavery. For example, between September 2017 and June 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Counter Trafficking Programme in Cox’s Bazar and its implementing partners identified 420 Rohingya and Bangladeshi victims of trafficking, among which six percent were boys and 21 percent were girls. Ninety-four percent of the victims were trafficked for domestic work, construction, factory work, fishing industry, and six percent for sexual exploitation prostitution.
Without documents, money or a knowledge of the local language, escape is often impossible. Rescues are rare and even if they are rescued, victims often find reintegration difficult due to social stigma and are forced to re-migrate to pay off their debts.
The Government of Bangladesh has taken steps to counter human trafficking, including formulating policies and strengthening taskforces. These include the GO-NGO National Coordination Committee to Combat Human Trafficking; Committee to Monitor the National Plan of Action for Combatting Human Trafficking 2018-2022; the Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Integration (RRRI) Task Force; the Vigilance Task Force; and Counter Trafficking Committees at district, sub-district and union level.
IOM—the UN’s migration agency—has also worked to support the government and partners to counter trafficking through information campaigns and outreach, direct assistance to victims, capacity building, and working with the private sector to promote ethical recruitment and transparent supply chain management.
IOM also seeks to equip Bangladeshis and Rohingyas with information about risks to human trafficking and how to access help in Bangladesh and abroad.
IOM believes that to combat the scourge of trafficking in persons and ensure sustainability, it is critical for all stakeholders to join hands and work together. Government at all levels, partners, law enforcement, civil society, the private sector and all other relevant actors must make a concerted effort not only to raise awareness of modern slavery, but also to take action to stamp it out. We stand ready to play our part.
Giorgi Gigauri is Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Bangladesh.