South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes and grave violation of human rights in the present world. It is the abuse of one person’s right taking place within a state or across borders and poses a gross challenge to humanity to the detriment of millions of people from various parts of the globe. Today trafficking has developed into a widespread criminal practice which equals the “modern form of slavery” and can also be treated as trade in people for the purpose of forced labour, sexual abuse, slave trade and commercial sexual exploitation. It restricts movement of the people from one place to another.

At the universal level, the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, 2000 is the principal anti-trafficking law which in its Article 3(a) defines ‘trafficking’ in persons as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’.

Also according to Section 3(1) of the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012,  “Human trafficking” means the selling or buying, recruiting or receiving, deporting or transferring, sending or confining or harbouring, either inside or outside the territory of Bangladesh, of any person for the purpose of sexual exploitation or oppression, labour exploitation or any other form of exploitation or oppression by means of: (a) threat or use of force; or (b) deception, or abuse of his or her socio-economic or environmental or other types of vulnerability; or (c) giving or receiving money or benefit to procure the consent of a person having control over him or her.”

Though presently there is no globally comparable official statistics on human trafficking, the US Department of State estimates that around 820,000 people are trafficked globally each year, while the IOM cites a rough figure of 800,000. According to ILO, there are around 240 million people in the world subjected to exploitation due to trafficking. Human trafficking by sea has become a catchphrase in Bangladesh. It is treated a ‘high profit-low risk’ crime that hampers the right to life and liberty of its victims. Interpol notes that it is the third most prevalent global crime bringing big profits for organised groups of criminals. It would not be exaggeration to say that this crime is like the modern-day slavery of most vulnerable people. Extreme poverty, poor living standard and frustration resulting from unemployment make people victims to trafficking as they look for jobs elsewhere.

Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, 2000 on July 13, 2011. Bangladesh has taken the issue of trafficking seriously and has enacted several legislations since 1933. In order to strengthen protection and prosecution, the government has enacted the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Ordinance, 2011 and the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act, 2012. Some action plans have also been initiated by the government to protect women and children from trafficking.

In Bangladesh, the crime of trafficking can be prosecuted, inter alia, under the following legislations:

1. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (1972).

2. The Overseas Employment and Migration Act (2013).

3. The Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act (2012).

4. The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act (2000).

5. The Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Ordinance (2011).

6. The Penal Code (1860).

7. The Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act (1933).

8. The Children Act (1974).

9. The Extradition Act (1974).

10. The Bangladesh Labour Act (2006).

There are several landmark cases relating to human trafficking in Bangladesh. One of them was the case between Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights and the Government of Bangladesh and others. It was regarding a ‘raid and rescue’ action by Bangladesh police, in which certain specific rights of sex workers were recognised. This case was the outcome of a PIL lodged for women and children by a group of NGOs working with sex workers. This case mainly underlines that women and children who are the victims of trafficking are supposed to enjoy the same right to life and liberty as other citizens of Bangladesh do.

Again, in the case of Abdul Gafur vs Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the government of Bangladesh, a 15-year old Bangladeshi girl disappeared from her locality. After a few years, her family found that she was abducted by child traffickers, was sold in India and subsequently rescued. Finally, her father, after writing to the Bangladesh government asking authorities concerned to take steps for her repatriation, lodged a writ petition with the High Court seeking an order to the related department to take rapid action. This is a significant case of cross-border trafficking. It was argued that the girl was entitled to protection under articles 27, 31 and 32 of the Constitution.

Prevention, protection and prosecution are the key ways applied by states to combat trafficking worldwide. Thus attempts to combat trafficking in Bangladesh also should focus on: (1) Prevention of trafficking at its source by addressing the root causes of the crime; (2) Providing redress to the trafficked persons through viable sustainable livelihood options; and (3) Efforts on the part of the criminal justice system to prosecute and penalise the traffickers.

Identification of legal obligations, review of national laws and their implementation as well as review of administrative arrangements are essential for drawing up a complete plan for combating this crime in Bangladesh. Raising awareness among the common people as well as the targeted sections of people also can play a pivotal role in getting rid of this curse.

Updated On:  05 Aug 2016