We have seen a big expansion in the areas of technological innovations and their application in our daily life. This has been intensified during the pandemic. In particular, technology has changed the way we used to communicate with each other. Regrettably, human trafficking, too, has made its way into the cyberspace. The digital platform has created an enabling environment for the traffickers to entice the victims of trafficking and exploit them. Technology is sometimes helping the traffickers building their own network within the national border and beyond. They can also transact the illicit money involved in the human trafficking through informal channels with the use of modern technology. Technology is like a gun. If it goes to the hand of criminals or murderers, its use could be dangerous.
Information and Communication Technology, however, can also be used as a tool to curb their illegal activities. ICT is indeed already in use for effectively combating human trafficking in persons; broadly in four domains namely 1) awareness building, 2) reporting, 3) rescue and 4) prosecution of traffickers. In Bangladesh’s context, the Government, notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Missions abroad, are actively engaged in those areas. Some of the measures in this regard are depicted below:
Reporting: Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a dynamic mobile application, DUTABASH, to provide consular and welfare services at home and abroad. In case of emergency support, a citizen can press the SOS button for 3 seconds and an emergency support request will be forwarded to a Bangladesh Mission with his/her pre-registered information. All Missions abroad have a dedicated hotline number, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Any incident of human trafficking abroad can also be reported through hotline numbers. Any incidents inside the country can also be reported easily to the law enforcing agencies through technology-based multiple modes of communication.
Rescue: The Foreign Office conducts rescue operations and arranges the repatriation of the victims of trafficking in person in coordination with the Missions abroad and relevant Government Ministries and Agencies. Because of the use of ICT, this is now possible to coordinate with the stakeholders better and faster and can conduct rescue operations even when the victims stay in a remote region. Emergency support such as medical, food and accommodation are provided on a case-by-case basis through different mechanisms. Since September 2021, the Government have repatriated around 2500 of human trafficking victims.
Prosecution of the traffickers: ICT has made it easier for the law enforcing agencies to monitor the human traffickers, including the potential ones in the cyberspace. Technology is also useful to track and catch the culprits. The footprints that the human traffickers left in cyberspace serve as strong evidence to prosecute them also.
Indeed, Bangladesh maintains ‘zero tolerance’ policy to human trafficking. Sincere efforts of the Government to combat human trafficking in persons have been appreciated in the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports of 2020 and 2021, in which Bangladesh has been reported making progress in this area. Bangladesh has been upgraded from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 because of its performance in combating human trafficking in persons. In order to reduce human and drug trafficking amongst the forcibly displaced people of Myanmar known as Rohingya, we once stopped the use of high-speed internet facilities in the Rohingya camps. However, this has to be resumed at the request of western powers.
Bangladesh became party to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) in 2011, which deals with all forms of transnational crimes including human trafficking. On 12 September 2019, Bangladesh joined ‘the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children’, which is popularly known as Palermo Protocol. Bangladesh Government is also an active member of ‘Bali Process’, an international forum that deals with human trafficking prevention. Bangladesh affirms its strong commitment to obligations under a series of other international and regional instruments linked to human trafficking.
Clearly, human traffickers equipped with technology can do greater harm. But the government agencies and relevant stakeholders can undo the efforts of the trafficker effectively with the help of technology. However, one needs to keep in mind that human trafficking is trans-boundary crime and the traffickers may possess better technology than it is available with the Government of a particular country. In this regard, the developed country and the international partners need to ensure smooth transfer of the latest technological innovations to the developing countries to effectively combat the human trafficking in persons.
I myself, apart from being a Minister, being a human rights activist and a teacher, do think that we need a comprehensive view of human trafficking to eradicate it. We must ask why young men and women, in the first place, become victims of the dangerous route of trafficking. We know why. Therefore, we all, especially the developed countries, need to come forward with adequate resources, not only advice, to help reduce the gap of economic disparity and job opportunity between the rich and poor countries. Developed nations should help us in creating more job opportunities. It is a human tendency just like water to flow from higher to lower, in this case, poorer countries to richer countries for better life. Till world wars, there was no barrier to human mobility and no wonder, the Arabs, the Persians, the Mongolians, the Central Asians, the Portuguese, the French and, at last, the British flocked to Bengal: the granary of India, a fertile land; and without passport or visa. And therefore, our population base is so large. But now as we created barriers and walls in God-given planet earth, in order to exploit resources, we have the issue of human trafficking. Maybe it is time to tear down the walls. Also, to be added that the United States of America is a land of immigrants; and immigrants are not a burden but a source of innovation and development. They don’t take jobs away from the local people but they do create jobs; and help the growth of the host country. If we work together with a humane mind; I have a feeling that we can help resolve this issue of human trafficking. Fact of the matter is that we can resolve the issues. Nearly 32 years ago, I started a campaign against camel jockeys, that is the trafficking of young boys into slave like servitude; and we were successful. This is important that the developed nations, who are mostly the destination countries, remain humane to all categories of migrants, displaced persons and victims of human trafficking.
Bangladesh Government, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Missions abroad, would continue relentless efforts to curb human trafficking as per our international commitments and national policies, and is making every effort to have the best use of technology in this endeavour. In this regard, the cooperation from international community, including transfer of modern technology as well as funding for use in the combat against human trafficking, is very much required.
The writer is the Foreign
Minister of the Government of
the People’s Republic of Bangladesh