ucanews.com reporter, DhakaUpdated: August 04, 2017 10:00 AM GMT
Two Rohingya fishermen seen on a boat at the Bay of Bengal, in Cox's Bazar district in this file photo. The coastal district across Myanmar is Bangladesh's main human trafficking hotspot. (ucanews.com photo)
Bangladesh activists have expressed dismay over low prosecution and conviction rates of human traffickers and blamed it on erroneous case filing, inadequate victim identification and lack of support for victims.
A total of 302 alleged traffickers were prosecuted in 2016, compared to 481 in 2015. Only three traffickers were convicted in 2016, down from four in 2015 and 15 in 2014, according to a study released on July 30.
The study found many cases were withdrawn or both the parties settled out-of-court to avoid lengthy and expensive legal procedures, difficulties related to appearing in distant courts and a lack of security for victims and witnesses.
The study was jointly carried out by 17 international and national agencies engaged in anti-trafficking campaigns and fighting for the rights of migrants. This included the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Since 2012, about 150,000 people were smuggled out of the country, an estimated 1,500 died on their way and 2,733 people were rescued, according to a report in the Daily Star newspaper on July 30. Some 3,500 cases had been filed against alleged traffickers since the introduction of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012.
However, only 30 have been convicted so far.
James Gomes, regional director of Caritas in the port city of Chittagong, considers shortcomings in the country's criminal justice system to be greatest impediment to punishing offenders.
He said many cases faltered because they were lodged at a district level, while the traffickers and victims were from areas far away. "The process is lengthy and expensive, so the victims, who are mostly poor rural people, find an 'out-of-court solution' the best option," Gomes told ucanews.com.
Often traffickers had political and financial clout, so victims compromised as they feared for their safety. There could also be financial inducements offered to victims not to give evidence in court, Gomes said.
Laws needed to be amended and 'fast-track' courts introduced to speed up prosecution, he added.
Abu Morshed Chowdhury is an anti-trafficking campaigner from Cox's Bazar district near Bangladesh, a people-smuggling hotspot on the Bay of Bengal. He told ucanews.com that there were major anti-human trafficking efforts amid the so-called 'Asian boatpeople crisis' of 2015.
However, he said enforcement and prosecution had subsequently slackened, allowing traffickers greater scope to ply their trade.