World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is observed in Bangladesh, like all other countries of the world, every year on this day of 30th July since it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 through its resolution no. A/RES/68/192 to raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for promotion and protection of their rights.
Human trafficking, as defined and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, is the illegal or secret crossing of a country’s boundary by the people of the developing countries or the countries with economic transition. The history of human trafficking states that the process mainly began by trafficking the women and children, who were forced to do anti-social, oppressive and illegal activities for money. However, that definition has attained a new dimension when males were also falling prey to the traffickers. Poverty, unemployment, income inequality, social insecurity, reluctance in law enforcement, lack of awareness and personal greed are some of the reasons for people’s falling into human traffickers’ hands.
We know that the corona pandemic has immensely affected the global economy as well as the social structure and, thus, has generated sufficient conditions for increasing the poverty rate. There is apprehension that extreme poverty might rise for the first time in decades if the Covid-19 crisis stays longer. The rise of poverty would create a number of socio-economic problems, including both internal and external human trafficking. Consequently, it would give the human traffickers opportunity to capitalise on these vulnerabilities for running their business.
Due to the global engagement to combat Covid-19, there might have significant disruptions in our anti-trafficking efforts. In this situation, a sustained collaboration among government organisations, civil societies, private sectors and other anti-trafficking actors is crucial to handle the issue for better results. A coordinated anti-trafficking strategy should be formulated with an emphasis on preparedness to prevent the compounding effects of future crises on trafficking victims and vulnerable individuals, as well as with efforts to combat the most recent emerging human trafficking trends.
The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020 contains some policy considerations, like- (1) Establishment of specialised national anti-trafficking agency with multi-disciplinary expertise to prevent and combat trafficking in persons and assist the victims; (2) Taking government’s measures to match the technological advancements of the criminals and bring them to justice; (3) Reinforcing social ties, safety nets for households in economic need, addressing economic inequalities, gender discrimination, etc. so that marginalised communities and population groups do not become victims of trafficking; (4) Engagement of local communities and civil society to create awareness about the risk of irregular migration; (5) Involvement of social media, both public and private sector, in the efforts of creating a trafficking-free environment; (6) Ensuring the victims of trafficking from any punishment for those acts they are forced to commit as a result of trafficking; (7) Strengthening the implementation of the protection measures included in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol and (8) Promotion of anti-trafficking policy development.
In September 2015, the world adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and embraced goals and targets on trafficking in persons. These goals call for an end to trafficking and violence against children; as well as the need for measures against human trafficking, and they strive for the elimination of all forms of violence against and exploitation of women and girls. However, in order to achieve these goals within the stipulated time frame, it is necessary to give equal importance not only to political or economic development but also to social development. The goal will be to eliminate this social disorder called human trafficking from society.
The human traffickers started this trade in Bangladesh approximately at the same time as many other countries. Normally, trafficking of humans, including women and children, from Bangladesh happens to those countries where the traffickers have their well-orchestrated networks. Human traffickers allure the vulnerable groups of our society, particularly the women, for better jobs abroad. Once those people fall into the trap, immediately the process of trafficking starts. In Bangladesh, there are also people who want to be trafficked voluntarily. Even they offer the human traffickers a good amount of money. If the destination is a developed or rich country, traffickers can get an attractive amount. Knowingly well, these people choose illegal ways that might put their lives at risk. We see such occurrences very often. In fact, not only the government agencies, but everyone in Bangladesh knows this network and the traffickers.
As human traffickers maintain a very powerful network and human trafficking is an old-aged practice, it is not so easy to eradicate such practices overnight from the soil of Bangladesh. The government has already taken a number of measures, but it lacks proper implementation at the field level. It is true that it would be difficult for the government alone to control it unless necessary cooperation is extended from the civil society. The creation of proper awareness is the most desired measure to control human trafficking. In addition, our government may consider the following measures- (1) proper monitoring of the Bangladeshi migrants working abroad; (2) eradicating illegal migration; (3) taking steps for the marginal communities’ social and economic safety, including reduction in income inequalities; (4) building a strong collaboration among all anti-trafficking actors; (5) emphasising proactive response and crisis mitigation planning to anti-trafficking activities; (6) ensuring strict punishment of the traffickers, offenders, perpetrators and facilitators; (7) organising training for capacity building of the enforcement agencies engaged in anti-trafficking initiatives; (8) ensuring proper care for the victims, including their rehabilitation; (9) formulating joint co-operation structure on anti-trafficking at the regional or sub-regional level; (10) demonstrating resilience, and producing advanced solutions that could be beneficial during and after the pandemic, though there will be challenges; (11) dealing with stray incidents of trafficking committed by some recruiting agencies where the victims are none other than aspiring migrants; and (12) continuing to work with neighbouring countries and NGOs to address cross-border trafficking issues and support strong collaboration at the borders to identify and prevent trafficking.
Lastly, I would like to mention here an important point about trafficked Bangladeshi migrants facing arrest, detention or prosecution. We know that a good number of trafficked Bangladeshis are prosecuted by the courts of their host countries for illegal activities or crimes, which they are forced to do. That means victims of trafficking are subject to various forms of exploitation, including forced criminal activities. As recently stated by the resolution of the conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crimes, trafficked persons should not be subject to arrest, detention, prosecution, penalisation or other punishment for illegal activities they have committed as a direct consequence of being trafficked. Our diplomatic missions abroad may like to note this point and try to help such victims in their host countries, though proving a victim of human trafficking might sometimes be difficult.
Perhaps, while celebrating this day every year, we express and campaign so many ideas for the victims of human trafficking, but the results from those efforts are not so much appreciating or satisfactory. The reason is that, like all other international days, this day is also celebrated as a colourful event and there are speeches full of ornamental and convincing words, but missing the strong commitment by the world leaders to stop human trafficking. In the face of the ongoing corona pandemic, it is the responsibility of the international community to work together towards a shared goal of preventing and combating human trafficking, protecting victims, and empowering survivors. We hope that our continued collaboration, adaptation, and commitment to serving the needs of victims, survivors, and vulnerable populations, will bring a better outcome in our anti-trafficking efforts.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary