Human trafficking is nothing new. It has been happening for thousands of years. The number of people in the world is increasing day by day, as well as the scope of human trafficking. In the process of running from the primitive age, it has never shown any parsimony in achieving its interest using various tricks over years. When trafficking of a small group happens quietly, people do not make such noise. But, when it goes horribly in an open form, it becomes a fierce coincidence that the whole world is shocked. Although the amount of money involved in the first type of trafficking is high, but risk of life is low. Due to low cost of trafficking in the second type, nobody bothers the security of life. Since we are only discussing here about the aspirant workers for employment abroad especially the future migrant workers, so there is no reason for others to be worried if they are not already in the hands of the human traffickers. Apart from this, the very old issues of trafficking of women and children were not brought to this discussion. However, the present discussion might have some relevance in all types of human trafficking.
In economic consideration, though these three issues- legal migration, illegal migration and human trafficking are happening for a fairly similar purpose, but there is a great difference between them. Although there are many questions in legal migration, especially the high migration cost that worries us, yet it is acceptable as a legitimate arrangement administered in the legal system. Considering the status of the workers, illegal migrants are divided into two categories- (i) started work through a legal migration process, but later continued work with illegal status due to his own or the employer’s fault; and (ii) travelled to a country with visit or other visa and started working there illegally even after expiry of the visa. According to the definition of human trafficking as adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, illegal or secret crossing of country’s boundary by the people of the developing countries or the countries with economic transition is called human trafficking. However, it has been specifically mentioned here the trafficking of women and girls whom the traffickers forced to do anti-social, oppressive and illegal activities for monetary gains. In fact, the history of human trafficking started mainly from the trafficking of women and children, and it still continues. But the definition of human trafficking has attained a new dimension when male workers were trafficked alluring them for higher wages.
The first type of illegal migration mentioned above will not be considered as human trafficking, although illegal staying in a country is a punishable offence. But the second type is undoubtedly an improved version of human trafficking. This is nothing but a well mannered human trafficking. As far as this migration process is concerned, the air communication is usually used. Though the migration cost is more than the normal human trafficking, risk of life is less. It is surprising that no legal actions are normally taken against those who are involved in this process of human trafficking. Even if a life is lost during such trafficking, the trial of the trafficker under law becomes a matter of evidence and proof; and thus the vacuum of law saves the trafficker. Honestly speaking, there is no way to deny the involvement of some government officials in this work.
Naturally the question arises, who are the easy preys of human trafficking or why. The poor section of the society who have not been able to avail the opportunities of education or spend their days in social insecurity, they are caught in the grip of traffickers while searching for better life. Due to unemployment problem as well as economic inequality existing in the country, they do not take much time to calculate their future financial gains and swallow the offer of the traffickers. Sometimes, opportunities for human trafficking are created due to natural disasters. Also, people become crazy to go abroad when they see financial wellbeing of the neighbours or acquaintances those are getting remittances from their family members working abroad. They never think the way they are accepting the proposal is legal or illegal. The price of life then becomes insignificant to greediness. Even they do not hesitate taking loans or selling land and properties. Actually, people are trafficked due to poverty, lack of employment opportunities, lack of social security, economic inequality, weakness in the enforcement of human trafficking related laws, corruption of government officials, natural disasters, etc.
Human trafficking, like other consumer products, is dependent on demand and supply. Those who control this market have a strong network worldwide.
However, there are groups working only in regional or sub-regional levels. Some groups are active all over the world. In this process, an employer gets a worker at lower wage and at the same time, does not have any liability as that worker works illegally. It is worthy to mention here that criminals and terrorists can safely escape from one country to another through this network.
The history of human trafficking, especially women trafficking from Bangladesh, is as old as many other countries. Though many steps have been taken to prevent that, but are still running. The history of trafficking of male workers could not be heard much. Even it is difficult to say whether human trafficking was there when Bangladesh started sending its male workers to different countries of the world, especially to the Middle East or to Malaysia. If it happened, might be there was no such strong or organised traffickers like now. Might be the trafficking of men started slowly, but it has reached to an inhuman situation. It is true that human trafficking from Bangladesh does not happen to all the countries in general. Human trafficking from Bangladesh easily happens to those countries where there exist such opportunities or the environment for human trafficking. This business of human trading runs on a strong network, but dreadful.
It has been observed that the trafficking of men from Bangladesh is often deliberate or voluntary. In this event, the person, who wants to be trafficked, offers to the human trafficker whatever the amount is. He does not care whether the way is legal or illegal. Such trafficking is usually done for a country in the developed world. The person does not think about what will happen to him after reaching there. He only wants to go in
We can understand the current situation of human trafficking in Bangladesh from some of the events of the present day. According to the report of the UN High Commission for Refugees, about 25,000 people were the victims of human trafficking from Bangladesh in the first three months of 2015. We see almost the same picture in the last few years. Traffickers have earned approximately 100 million US dollars every year from trafficking of Bangladeshis to Malaysia via Thailand. Even there are incidents of collecting money amounting to 2/3 lacs from the family of the trafficked person on a mobile phone keeping the person as hostage in the boat. There were incidents of throwing the trafficked person into the sea, if the traffickers failed to collect the ransom. According to the UNHCR, about 750 people were thrown into the sea in 2014. From the media, we have learned that thousands of people were kept in various camps in the jungle of Thailand in order to send them to Malaysia and armed men were engaged to guard those camps. When the situation went worst, many Bangladeshis reached to their final destinations in the mass graves of Thailand and Malaysia. We were terrified from those news, the families of the victims lost their own men and became destitute. These stories of human trafficking in Bangladesh have become a cause of social and political thoughts in the international arena.
Stopping human trafficking is not an easy task, particularly total elimination. In fact, we are more or less aware of the reasons hidden in it. So, it might take a long time to stop it. But, we have to take action now, without further delay. And most importantly, we must continue our uninterrupted efforts to stop human trafficking. I strongly believe that the solidarity of the people with the government and their collective efforts would play a strong role in reaching the desired goal. Considering the overall situation and analysis, I feel that we can look at the issues described below-
(1) Creating awareness among the people of Bangladesh about the horrors of human trafficking is most important. Measures can be taken for wide publicity of this issue in all national and local media. Apart from this, steps at the grassroots level might bring better result. Meetings and seminars should be arranged to create awareness about the prospective migrants so that they would not accept any other way except the government arrangement. An officer of the upazilla administration can go around every village of his administrative area and make everyone aware of this matter (may be after each three or six months). I think this would not be a difficult task. A local public representative, teacher of school or madrasa and a police officer can also be included in that work.
(2) Reducing the cost of migration at the lowest level by adopting and implementing a fair and safe migration system would produce a positive result. The cost of illegal migration or trafficking, in general, is less than the cost of legal migration. There are also various rules to follow in that case. But, there is no patch on the illegal route. Even some of them leave the country without any passport. The flow of human trafficking would gradually decrease if the cost of legal migration is reduced. However, the human trafficking to the developed countries, though the number is less, would continue. It will not be easy to obstruct them because of various reasons.
(3) Human trafficking could be reduced if we can create opportunities to earn locally or arrange employment for the unprotected people who are poor, socially unsecured and deprived of economic inequality. But, if they are given preference in legal migration, I believe that human trafficking will definitely come down drastically. Besides, this will reduce poverty.
(4) It is universally acknowledged that our law enforcement authority has an important role in preventing human trafficking. Only they can control it with the cooperation of our people, although it has often been seen that many aspirant Bangladeshi migrants became victims of trafficking due to the weakness of the enforcement authority or lack in the implementation of necessary laws. But, if our law enforcement agencies are quick, alert and sincere, it will not remain as a difficult task to prevent human trafficking.
(5) The arrangements for controlling the agents and their appointed sub-agents, who collect and send workers for employment abroad, should be ensured so that they would not be involved in human trafficking. Besides, we should keep our eyes open so that no fake institution or broker can manipulate human trafficking including sending people abroad. Necessary legal action should be taken immediately whenever we come to know of any incident of human trafficking.
(6) The government officials and employees engaged in preventing human trafficking need to provide necessary training for their capacity building and development. Besides, it is also necessary to ensure cooperation from other authorities, if required. In fact, this is a concerted effort, so everyone concerned will have to work together. Our only goal is not to allow any Bangladeshis to be the victims of traffickers.
(7) In Bangladesh, the victims of human trafficking are not taken care of. They have to be rescued and brought back to the society through various rehabilitation programmes. Efforts should be continued to establish them in the normal way of living. Besides the government authorities, private organisations or individuals may come forward to provide necessary support to these victims.
(8) Certainly, the present government did a commendable job by adopting laws regarding human trafficking. However, we should be more serious and committed to its effectiveness, especially quick decision of the cases relating to human trafficking and ensuring strict punishment of the traffickers. Otherwise, the traffickers will continue their work in new system and route without caring about the law of the country.
(9) Appropriate measures should be taken to stop human trafficking after identifying the places (such as Cox’s Bazar) of human trafficking in Bangladesh. Human trafficking has become a regular event in the name of going abroad by air on tourist visa. The authorities concerned should be careful while these people pass our immigration posts at the airports. In fact, we need to stop human trafficking from any corner of Bangladesh.
(10) In fact, it is not possible for a country alone to stop human trafficking. Because the two ends in the trafficking process, sending and receiving ends, work through a strong networking. For example, a Bangladeshi worker will be trafficked to Malaysia. He can go directly to Malaysia (such as by air), or through another country (such as Thailand). Traffickers of three countries are involved in the second process. Therefore, all these countries will have to work together to stop human trafficking. This requires the formation of a joint co-operation structure at the regional level and consequently implementation of its decision strictly. Even, if the situation demands, assistances and cooperation from international and regional organisations, including the United Nations, can be taken.
Our expectations are to stop the hateful activities like human trafficking in Bangladesh soon. But it can’t be stopped overnight, it will take time. However, we must set our goal to stop human trafficking without any delay and start working on that target. We should think of the formation of a common platform on this issue with our neighbours and simultaneously ensure the implementation of the concerned law including creation of awareness among the people. Needless to say, this is the time to take necessary steps on priority basis.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary