A Bangladeshi military guard stands beside three people arrested for human trafficking of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Teknaf in October 2017. Poor law enforcement is being blamed for the growing problem. (Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP)
Poor law enforcement and low prosecution and conviction rates in a culture of impunity are being blamed for an increase in human trafficking in Bangladesh.
About 7,340 men, women and children were trafficked out of Bangladesh from 2013 to June this year, according to Bangladesh police statistics. A total of 6,106 people were arrested in connection with trafficking and 25 were punished and jailed.
The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012 stipulates that human trafficking carries a maximum penalty of the death sentence. Other penalties are imprisonment of five to seven years and a fine of 500,000 taka (US$5,880).
Supreme Court lawyer Subroto Chowdhury blamed faulty police investigations for the trafficking problem.
"Police probes are often slow and flawed, largely because police officials are directly and indirectly complicit in the crime. In many cases, court judges don't order a reinvestigation once a flawed report is submitted. Suspects can secure bail easily and evade punishment," Chowdhury told ucanews.com.
Poverty, hunger for money and ignorance also drive trafficking, says Daud Jibon Das, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Khulna.
"Traffickers entrap people with lucrative job offers, so people from poor rural background become victims due to their ignorance. Poverty is a result of poor governance and the lack of rule of law and accountability, which must be fixed to curb trafficking," Das told ucanews.com.
The U.S. Department of State put Bangladesh on its Tier 2 Watch List in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, which meant the impoverished South Asian nation was vulnerable to trafficking.
The report also criticized Bangladeshi authorities for not fully meeting the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, and for a decrease in investigations, prosecutions and convictions of trafficking crimes.
Official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a serious problem, the report said.
Organized trafficking is a serious threat to Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees alike, says Abu Morshed Chowdhury, an anti-trafficking campaigner based in Cox's Bazar district, which shelters hundreds and thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
"Recently, there were anti-trafficking drives to thwart the possible trafficking of Bangladeshis and refugees, but these have slowed down," Abu Chowdhury told ucanews.com.
"Moreover, no mastermind or godfather was arrested — only dozens of end-of-the-line traffickers. As long as traffickers get bail easily and masterminds remain out of touch, Bangladesh will remain seriously vulnerable to trafficking crimes."
Traffickers have been adopting new techniques including using fake travel documents and education visas to take people away from Bangladesh and sell them as slaves, he said.
"Law enforcers need to be well equipped to resist various techniques traffickers use, and an awareness campaign is very important," he added.
The prosecution and conviction of traffickers is a challenging task, says Muhammad Shah Alam, deputy inspector general of the Criminal Investigation Department of Bangladesh police.
"Police nab traffickers and file cases against them, but often they secure bail from the courts. Often the trafficker is from one district and the victim is from another district, so it makes the trial process lengthy," Alam said.
"In many cases, we failed to get witnesses for the victims due to their reluctance, and sometimes victims are trafficked with fake names and addresses, making the process difficult for police."