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. Human trafficking has also become the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. 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.
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 2019 at the close of the reporting period as stipulated in Bangladesh's anti-trafficking law. [Source: TIP Report 2020, P-93] However, the report also stated 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 the 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’)”. Apart from this, 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 offices.
In the TIP report 2020, Bangladesh has been praised for taking actions in filing cases, investigations and trial. 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 evaluates performance of judiciary stating 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. 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. [TIP Report 2020, P-94]
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, migration corruption, 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. In addition, the government continued to allow humanitarian access to the Rohingya camps. However, it did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Law enforcement decreased investigations into trafficking cases, continued to deny credible reports of official complicity in trafficking, and despite hundreds of credible reports of forced labour and sex trafficking of Rohingya, did not open investigations to verify these reports.[Source: TIP Report 2020, P-93]
The TIP report suggested 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, expand services for trafficking victims, especially adult male victims, foreign victims, and victims exploited abroad, 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, and 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 last few years, the government has taken some glorious actions to eliminate trafficking in the country. Recently, on Libya incident, the government has operated crackdownagainst 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. 8 accused as death penalty and 299 accused as life imprisonment have been convicted in 233 cases in this time.
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 Office 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 September 2019, Bangladesh acceded to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. In conclusion of report, it was expected that the government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking and continued implementing its 2018-2022 anti-trafficking national action plan.
(The writer acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service & Senior Judicial Magistrate of Feni.