Bangladesh has upgraded its position to Tier 2 on a three-tier ranking but law enforcement agencies have decreased probes into trafficking cases, read a US State Department report
● Number of cases: 6,134
● Cases ended in conviction: 4%
● Cases disposed: 13%
● Cases ended in acquittal: 571
● Cases pending: 5,330
● Number of traffickers: 24,504
● Number of traffickers arrested: 10,928
● Number of traffickers' convicted: 409
The scourge of human trafficking continues in Bangladesh as the rate of case disposal is markedly low.
Only four percent of trafficking cases ended in conviction between 2004 and February this year, according to the Monitoring Cell for Anti-Trafficking at the Police Headquarters.
Although Bangladesh has made significant efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, the government has not met the minimum standards in several key areas to eliminate human trafficking, according to the annual report by the US Department of State published on June 27.
The issue of trafficking has come under intense discussion once again after the recent incidents of distressed Bangladeshis in Vietnam, North Macedonia and Libya were reported.
At least 26 Bangladeshis – who were being trafficked into Europe illegally via Libya – were shot dead in May this year, and 39 died in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe last year.
After finalising the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012, the first case was filed by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association.
The case was lodged with the Faridpur Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal early in 2013 on charge of trafficking four women into the Middle East.
Six people were named on the charge sheet submitted by police to court in 2017, but the trial has not finished yet.
Advocate Fauzia Karim Firoz, president of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association, said trials of thousands of such cases have not ended yet.
She said there should be a separate tribunal for these cases according to the law.
The law ministry issued a notification in 2012, empowering the women and children repression prevention tribunals to conduct trafficking cases.
"However, the tribunals are taking a long time to dispose of these cases as they have to hold trials for other cases too. Besides, criminals involved in trafficking are influential. Due to the sluggish progress of the trials, they get time to manage the plaintiffs by threatening them or giving them money," she added.
"After filing a case, both the plaintiff and the accused reach a mutual understanding through rural arbitration, which is another reason for uncertainty in such cases," she continued.
Around 6,134 cases were filed in connection with human trafficking between 2004 to February this year, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
Among them, 804 cases have been disposed of and only 233 have ended in conviction.
Around 24,504 traffickers were involved and half of them were arrested, but only 409 were convicted.
The US State Department report said Bangladesh's increased efforts helped the country upgrade to Tier 2 on its three-tier ranking of countries fighting human trafficking.
However, the law enforcement agencies decreased investigations into trafficking cases, it added.
"The four key features of trafficking in Bangladesh are: internal, cross-border, labour, and sea-route trafficking. Of these, labour trafficking is most common," said Shariful Hasan, head of the Brac Migration Programme.
The Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012 has provisions for the death penalty, life sentences, a minimum of seven-years of imprisonment and not more than Tk5 lakh for the crime of organised trafficking.
It says there should be separate tribunals to hold trials for these cases. There is also an obligation to finish trials within 180 days.
Section 19(6) of the law says there should be a central monitoring cell for the supervision of such cases.
Eight years have passed since the law was made but initiatives to form tribunals in each district and the monitoring cell have not been taken yet. There is not even one example of a case being disposed of in 180 days either.
At present, the women and children repression prevention tribunals in each district is holding trials of trafficking cases.
Teknaf in Cox's Bazar is an identified zone for trafficking. In June 2014, the Coast Guard intercepted a trawler carrying more than 300 passengers in the Bay of Bengal while it was on its way to Malaysia illegally.
At least five people were killed when traffickers opened fire on passengers before being detained. A case was filed in this connection with Teknaf Police Station, but the investigation has not ended yet.
The case is now being investigated by Shyamol Kanti Das, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) inspector of Cox's Bazar police.
He said investigation would be completed as soon as possible.
Mohammad Nurul Islam, public prosecutor of the Cox's Bazar Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal, said around 415 cases are pending with the tribunal.
Although only 11 cases have been disposed of in eight years, not a single case has led to conviction, he said.
"Police failed to file charge sheets in most of the cases. In many cases, investigations are not over yet. Additionally, trials have been postponed day after day due to absences by witnesses," Nurul explained.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants Development Foundation, said, "Traffickers have a large network. They do not receive due punishment. That is why the threat is still serious in the country."
The attempts of the government against trafficking are not sufficient or collaborative, he added.
The involvement of manpower recruiting agencies has often been alleged in trafficking cases, but Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, denied this.
He said creating mass awareness, ensuring training for safe migration, and punishing the middlemen and their bosses are the ways to prevent trafficking.
New tribunal yet to be active
The new human trafficking suppression tribunals have been set up in seven divisions: Rajshahi, Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Rangpur, Sylhet and Barishal.
However, they have failed to begin proceedings due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said his ministry is sincere to dispose of human trafficking cases.
"We have formed seven special tribunals at the divisional level and appointed judges in March, but the activities were halted due to Covid-19," he added.