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Human Trafficking and Forced Labour in Bangladesh and India

Human trafficking and forced labour in Bangladesh and India

By Tahmina Rahman

Global Context Human trafficking and forced labour are not new phenomena. With globalisation, issues such as wealth and comfort become more polarised. This increasing demand for cheap labour in developed countries and increased mobility has made human trafficking multi-dimensional. Despite global efforts to tackle trafficking, which is recognised as a crime and a violation of human rights, it is gradually increasing.

Defining Human Trafficking and Forced Labour Human trafficking is the trade of human beings for the purposes of forced labour, sexual exploitation and slavery. It is a multi-dimensional violation of human rights. It results in activities such as domestic servitude, low-wage work in formal and informal sectors and sex work. Earlier forms of human trafficking mostly saw the sex slavery of women, but now it is understood in a broader continuum which includes men, women and children in hazardous work and organised crime as well.

According to the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), forced or compulsory labour is: "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily." The definition consists of 3 elements. These are: (1) work or service which includes all types of work in formal and informal sectors, (2) threat of penalty refers to the wide range of penalties used to compel someone to work, and (3) voluntariness refers to the consent of workers and their choice to leave work.

Human Trafficking in Bangladesh Trafficking in women and children in Bangladesh is a growing concern as thousands of women and children are trafficked to neighbouring countries as well as the Middle East, with false hopes of getting better jobs or better living conditions. Unprotected by law due to their illegal status, they become vulnerable to economic and social exploitation, being forced to work for low or no wage, coerced into marriage and made to become sex workers to develop the tourism sector in many countries.

The 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded Bangladesh to Tier 2 Watch list as it did not demonstrate increasing effort to tackle human trafficking compared to the previous reporting period. Coupled with its lucrative nature, a poor economy, over-population, gender discrimination, the patriarchal social system, exclusion, unemployment, rural and urban migration, displacement due to recurrent natural disasters, lack of good governance, the social security system and lack of awareness are some reasons behind human trafficking.

Getting data of trafficking in Bangladesh is hard as families are usually not willing to share information for fear of shame or further threat, making trafficking low-risk for recruiters. Therefore traffickers are hardly convicted and the phenomenon remains invisible, resulting in difficulty in establishing actual data about trafficking.

Available data indicates that around 400 women and children are trafficked out of the country every month 1 . The Global Slavery Index 2016 showed that an estimated 1,531,300 people from Bangladesh are living in modern slavery. It revealed that forced labour (80 percent) - consisting of manual labour, construction, drug production and farming - was more prevalent than forced marriage (20 percent) in Bangladesh. It found that men made up 85 percent of forced labour while women (88 percent) were more affected by forced marriage.

This reflects the wider trend for forced marriage, wherein 29 percent of girls under the age of 15 are likely to be married in Bangladesh, the highest figure for child marriage worldwide, and 2 percent of girls are married before the age of 11. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Bangladeshi children are also at risk of organ trafficking. In 2014, 15 children were killed and harvested for their organs.

According to UNICEF, a major underlying issue behind child trafficking is that children are often unaware of their legal rights and the existing inequalities of the society. Every year, many girls are trafficked abroad for domestic servitude and sex work, while males are used for camel racing jockeys.

Bangladesh is a source and transit point of trafficking, hosting significant trafficking route links from South Asia to the Gulf region. It has both water and land route links with other countries. Traffickers use 16 or more transit points located in different districts in Bangladesh to traffic people from Bangladesh to India 2 .

Response to Trafficking Although there are enormous challenges to overcome, it is important to develop the system to address the issue. The Government of Bangladesh developed the National Plan of Action from 2015 to 2017 to prevent human trafficking and is addressing the root cause of gender inequalities through a social safety net programme.

It also aims to stop cross border human trafficking through coordination and cooperation of a Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Integration (RRRI) taskforce in India and Bangladesh. On a non-governmental level, there have been many efforts to raise awareness and reduce trafficking volume in Bangladesh.

Human Trafficking in India A study of the United Nations International Labour Organization and the rights group Walk Free Foundation revealed that South Asia, with India at its centre, is one of the fastest-growing regions for human trafficking in the world.

According to The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 8,132 human trafficking cases in 2016 compared to 6,877 in 2015, with most cases reported in the eastern state of West Bengal, followed by Rajasthan in the west. However, the actual figure was much higher, activists in India say.

Every eight minutes a child goes missing. The National Human Rights Commission says that about 40,000 children go missing and 11,000 are never found. About 10 percent of the human trafficking in India is international and the other 90 percent happens within India 3 . Trafficking is operating in new dimensions, such as in tribal areas and among the disabled and transgender population where data remains inaccessible.

Reasons for trafficking in India are many, with poverty identified as a core factor. More than 42 percent of people are economically deprived in India 4 and they mostly live in rural areas. Lack of education, gender and caste discrimination are aggravating factors. The National Crime Records Bureau reported that trafficking results in domestic servitude, forced marriage, begging, drug peddling and the removal of organs; 45 percent of victims were trafficked for forced labour, and 33 percent for sexual exploitation such as prostitution and child pornography.

Also, girls and women are often sexually exploited for the Devadasi tradition in South India, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, where they are dedicated to deity or temple worship. A lack of social awareness and proper governance system and the lack of prosecution of traffickers expedites trafficking in India as well.

Response to trafficking in India India’s effort to prevent trafficking varies in different states. Apart from the law, the Central Government has a scheme providing grants to victims for rehabilitation, and it provides shelter or safe homes for children when they are rescued. Non-Governmental organisations also raise awareness to support regional networks to stop trafficking. A Regional Task Force implements the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on the prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children.

However, efforts are not adequate. According to Trafficking in Persons Report 2017, the Indian government demonstrated increasing efforts to tackle trafficking by increasing the number of victims identified, investigations completed, and traffickers convicted, as well as raising its budget for shelter programs for female and child trafficking victims. It also adopted an action to prevent child trafficking and protect child victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas and the country remains in Tier 2.