Women and children are almost always the main targets for human traffickers
When Saleha Akter left her impoverished hometown in southwestern Satkhira district and headed to Dhaka she thought life was going to get better. At first it did.
After a few years, she married a man named Afzal and promptly headed off on her honeymoon to Mumbai.
“It was the gravest mistake of my life,” said the 21-year-old.
As soon as she crossed the border into India, her husband disappeared and mysterious men took his place. Before she knew it, Akter was in jail for overstaying in India. She had been trafficked.
“I came to know that my husband is actually a cheater and there are several trafficking charges against him,” she said.
She was one of 18 women and children repatriated last week in what has proven to be a reminder of just how much of a problem human trafficking still is in Bangladesh.
Compared to another woman, Hasina Khatun, Akter got off lightly.
“For nearly a year, I was forced to work as a prostitute,” Khatun says of her trafficking experience which saw her end up in Mumbai.
At first, she refused to work, she said, but then her captors locked her in a room by herself without food and water for three days. Eventually she caved in. She had no other choice.
Tauhida Khandker, the director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyer’s Association, says that between 500 and 700 women like Khatun and Akter are trafficked out of Bangladesh each year, most often to India, Hong Kong, Pakistan an even as far as the Middle East.
They end up doing manual labor, working in brothels and even in pornographic films.
Since Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, more than one million women and children have been trafficked from Bangladesh, says rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra, with almost half ending up in India.
UNICEF estimates that roughly 13 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh every day.
“Very few of them return home,” says Khandker.
So far this year, more than 100 trafficked women and children have made it back to Bangladesh.
“We have filed cases against the traffickers and will file more soon,” she adds.
One of the main causes, apart from grinding poverty, is the porous border, says Khandker. The Border Guards of Bangladesh declined to comment on border security.
Liaqat Ali, an assistant police commissioner and head of the Women and Child Trafficking Prevention Cell at the police headquarters in Dhaka, said that a lack of forces and finances is a major problem too.
He said new legislation designed to fight human trafficking and a national plan of action devised this year should help to tackle the problem. This includes steep fines of up to US$6,000 for those found guilty of trafficking people, life imprisonment and even the death sentence.
Too often though, he admits, the traffickers are very difficult to punish.
“In many cases, victims come to a mutual understanding with the traffickers and just don’t report the case to the police,” he says.
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