‘Forced Prostitution and Human Trafficking in Bangladesh: A Critical Analysis of Legal and Infrastructural Framework’
Labeled as ‘Modern Slavery’ human trafficking is a crime against humanity which undermines the rule of law and threatens the political foundation of a nation. It is an organized crime involving different actors and it violates a plethora of basic human rights as enshrined in the universal human rights documents which includes but is not limited to the right to life , right to liberty and security, right to freedom of movement, right to be free from gendered violence and right to social security and right to adequate standard of living. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights addresses that there must be three key elements present in a situation of a trafficking in person. The three key elements consist of action, means and purpose. Actions refer to the recruitment of persons who are intended to be trafficked, means refer to either threatening or coercing the person who will fall victim to the act of trafficking and purpose refers to the exploitation of the victim in question in various form such as forced prostitution, forced labor, subjugation and removal of organs. According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, when all of these elements are present in a situation only then trafficking in person occurs. This protocol notes the difference of trafficking from migrant smuggling and also clarifies that any consent acquired when the three key elements are present does not amount to any consent at all. In Bangladesh the lion’s share of the victims of trafficking are women and mostly underage girls. According to the recent 2019 report, among these women most of them are sold and forced into prostitution pursuant to internal or external trafficking where the destinations include Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan and Gulf states. The act of human trafficking is marginally a global problem where operations and interests of various nation states are at stake. However, predominantly it is the responsibility of Bangladesh to curb the growing manifestation of forced prostitution and human trafficking which can be subdued by implementing proper actions and by bringing change in terms or endeavors, policies and undertakings.
2. The Magnitude of forced prostitution and human trafficking in Bangladesh
From the different assorted reports from nongovernmental organizations and other international human rights groups the escalation in recent cases of human trafficking for forced prostitution can be distinguished and these reports paint a scenario which needs immediate attention. The 2019 trafficking in persons country report of Bangladesh by the United States department of state puts Bangladesh in tier two watch list. Bangladesh is now housing almost a million of undocumented Rohingya refugee’s most of who have arrived here before 2017. The arrival of a large population of 700,000 Rohingya put forth a substantial challenge towards the government of Bangladesh. Undocumented and unsolicited, these people who have escaped near death situations were only looking for a better living situation which cannot be provided in the refugee camps of Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar. As a result, they became easy prey of the trafficking rings and actors who lured in a lot of them by manifesting the dream of a better future. Various rackets operating from different countries have been growing in the border areas adjacent to the refugee camp and not only Rohingya girls but also Bangladeshi girls are being trafficked for sex in countries like Malaysia, Kathmandu, India and Thailand. Sometimes, these girls are even traded for sex online by the criminal rackets. Since 2016 after the arrival of Rohingyas the percentage of trafficking women for forced prostitution has increased to sixty-one percent. The growing number and cluster of people around the border actually created an opportunity for trafficking rackets to operate more efficaciously since the law enforcement authority had their hands full with the waves of refugees coming in. Besides external trafficking, the internal trafficking also saw a rapid increase as Rohingya girls were trafficked to the capital from the refugee camp. The criminal rings often take the Rohingya women from the refugee camp at night, force them into prostitution and return them in the camp the next morning. The refugees are highly vulnerable to human trafficking since their stateless status acts as a major impediment in securing a standard life and thus they are prone to the deception and deceitfulness of the criminal rackets. According to varied reports, increase in the existent demand has been noted among Bangladeshis and foreigners for child sex tourism which has over the years created a vast market of forcefully sexually exploiting minor Rohingya and Bangladeshi girls in the border areas. This phenomenon is termed as ‘reverse trafficking’ where instead of trafficking children; pedophiles visit the countries which are vulnerable to trafficking. Observing the recent reports and news it is evident that forced prostitution and human trafficking has reached to a magnitude which is alarming to say the least and it is perceptible that there lies problems within the system for it to reach to such an exponential extent.
3. Understanding the problem and the causation
To minimize the problem the initial step is to understand the causation and factors that triggered this situation in the first place. The problem of human trafficking is a response to the multi-tiered mishandle of a wide range of factors which involves the socio-economic dynamics of a region. Bangladesh, much like any other country is prey to the mismanagement and colligation of the actors that profit primarily from forced prostitution; predominantly subjected to vulnerable women and children.
3.1 Push and pull and actor-factor nexus
Push and pull factor is one of the main element which makes the victims susceptible to fall prey to the scheme of the traffickers. The push factors consist of the impulse of escaping from economic destitution, dysfunctional family and social exclusion. These situations push the victim to believe the false claims that the criminals make which acts as the pull factor. The pull factors in this scenario are incorrect promises for a job, a better life, work environment and the security of a good income which pulls the victims into the trap set by the trafficking rackets. It shall be noted that the trafficking and forced prostitution of women are not an autonomous occurring rather different actors and factors are closely connected. The global market and demand in the sex industry is one of the vital points for increase of this dynamics. The rise of the demand creates the need of the supply and establishes a lucrative business module for the criminals to invest in. From the arrested gang members who have been working with the sex trafficking ring RAB reported that each women and children are sold for at least 22,000 to 25,000 Malaysian Ringgit if they are being trafficked to Malaysia. The prospects of this criminal activity have been on the rise creating a market which consists of a large number of actors simultaneously fueling, elevating and augmenting the problem. There are also various macro factors like unemployment, trade policies, migration policies, sex tourism, vulnerability to environmental disasters in coastal areas are at work which contributes to part of the problem.
3.2 Vulnerability of women and children in the face of deceit
The worst form of trafficking in Bangladesh is the exploitation of women and children by integrating them forcefully in the commercial sex industries. The action of trafficking is predominantly a gendered violation because of the supply and demand dynamics and implications of the predicament of women in the society. Women and children are specifically vulnerable to forced prostitution and human trafficking because of the gender dynamics of Bangladesh and the feminization of poverty. Since they experience poverty more intensely than men and are systematically placed in a lower tier than men they become vulnerable to the remunerating offers from the trafficking rackets. Since particularly women in Bangladesh in essence own far less assets than men and also are struggling in terms of skills development because of inaccessibility to education and resources. Most of the women trafficked consist of adolescent girls since they can be manipulated easily and their vulnerability is used by thoughtless criminal who use to procure dividend.
3.3 The Rohingya Question
Bangladesh has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and either has ratified any of the two Statelessness Conventions. This implies that Rohingyas living in Bangladesh are deprived of any status and are not protected under any international instrument which binds Bangladesh. Moreover, since there are no domestic laws governing the refugees Rohingyas are completely unprotected. Despite some protection granted by the Constitution of Bangladesh Rohingyas are not subjected to other legal protection. Since most of the Rohingyas living in the refugee camp is undocumented it is very hard to identify or track the missing persons who are being subjected to forced prostitution and human trafficking let alone taking actions against these abominations. This is one of the primary reasons for rise in the human trafficking and sex exploitation of the Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh. As a result the trafficking rings are expanding their business and growing their reach and it is directly affecting the citizens of Bangladesh becomes a hub for ‘sex tourism’ and ‘reverse trafficking’.
4. National framework for prevention, protection and punishment
Trafficking is strictly prohibited in Bangladesh. In terms of national framework for persecution Bangladesh has various legislations enacted which contains some tough laws and if implemented properly can help diminish the complication on a national level. However, when it comes to protection and prevention there are implementation complications and along with proper administrative oversight.
4.1 Laws and policies at force in order to tackle the problem
The latest enacted law the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012 is applause worthy action on part of the government to prevent and punish human trafficking. This Act criminalized sex trafficking and other forms of trafficking by introducing harsh punishments such as five years to lifetime imprisonment and a fine not less than 50,000 taka. There are provisions for organized crime of human trafficking, for importing or transferring for prostitution, for keeping brothels, for threatening the victim and even for filing false complaint against anyone. Overall this legislation is very well made and deserves appreciation for its critical standpoint. Moreover, the rules under this law were also formulated later by 2017. Before the enactment of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012 the crimes of human trafficking were persecuted under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Amendment Act, 2003. Moreover, the Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act, 1993, was adhered to provide stringent penalties for forcing women into prostitution and the Anti-terrorism Ordinance of 1992 listed the abduction of women and children a punishable offence as a type of terrorism. Besides these legislations, traffickers could also be punished under the Penal Code, 1860. The 2012 prevention Act successfully combined the laws which were disseminated among various legislations and assembled them under the umbrella of one legislation for the betterment of execution. Besides this commendable undertaking, Bangladesh launched a National Action Plan for five years in 2018 ranging to 2022 for combating and preventing the crime of human trafficking. This exhibits that Bangladesh indeed has commendable amount of legislations and policies to combat forced prostitution and other forms of human trafficking, the question remains as to why the problem still persists discernable and at such an alarming rate. Despite taking up all these policies questions remain as to why Bangladesh is still at tier two watch list of United State Government for the third consecutive year.
4.2 Lack of implementation and other drawbacks
The complications are embedded in the lack of the implementation of the rules and regulations, not the rules and regulation itself. Firstly, under the 2012 prevention Act there does not exist any tribunal, which is required by law for trying cases under this Act but has not been established till date. The women and children violence protection tribunal has been hearing cases under the 2012 prevent Act in the interim period which is creating pressure on this special tribunal where presiding judges were not even trained before handling such cases. The government does have training facilities for police and law enforcement agencies in order to tackle human trafficking but no training facilities have been set up for implementation of the rules under the 2012 prevention Act which were disseminated in 2017. Many law enforcement officials still cannot distinguish between human smuggling and trafficking, creating a gap in the investigation and persecution process. There have been reports from international organizations about the involvement of some law enforcement officials and local politicians with the trafficking rings and according to the United State Government Report police arrested a law enforcement official allegedly recruiting two young girls for trafficking and sex exploitation. A significant decrease in the victim protection and identification efforts can be seen. There has been a lack of co-operation with NGOs who work in this particular sector. However some assistance of temporary shelters were given by the police which is a commendable effort but the policies guidelines from the government are lacking and these were only set up on the own accord of the local police departments. Prostitution is a legal profession as per the ruling of the high court case, however, keeping brothels or transferring for prostitution is illegal according to the 2012 prevention Act. This legality is sometimes discernable from the illegality and hard for the police to differentiate between the acts. Hence, the police let the brothels operate apart from occasional raids. This is another problem in regards to the women who are internally trafficked and entered into forced prostitution to be able to seek help while remaining in the hands of the perpetrators.
As discussed before, because of the statelessness and lack of status for the Rohingya women and lack of identification most of these women cannot be protected when they fall victim to the prey of the trafficking rings. Although, government has increased law enforcement officials in the adjacent area of the camp along with the configuration of biometric registration for some of them has been ensured and few international organizations are given access to the infrastructure of the camps but it is still not enough to protect these refuges since reports of Rohingya women being trafficked keep on appearing in media. Proper documentation and creation of checklist along with including awareness raising programs may be able to minimize the problem at hand.
In regards to the prevention method the action plan contains various efforts such as inter-ministerial committee for overseeing the implementation of the plan and investigation the increase of trafficking in the refugee camps however, fruition of these policies are yet to be seen and some of these policies heavily rely upon the effort of international organizations and NGOs rather than setting up administrative oversight. Meanwhile reports suggest the lack of funding in terms of awareness raising programs and victims referral to care.
5. International obligations subjected to Bangladesh and the complications within
The biggest obstacle in terms of international obligations is that Bangladesh is not a party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. However, Bangladesh is a party to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), SAARC Convention of Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution 2002 and SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia. Since Bangladesh is not a part of the protocol several objectives of it which could have been able to help Bangladesh combat the forced prostitution and human trafficking are not subjected to obligation. Firstly, the newly enacted domestic laws and rules are able to give proper definitions and are able to persecute the criminals. However, the laws and rules are lacking to some extent in regards to the protection and assistance of the victims. Moreover, the third objective of promoting co-operation among the state parties cannot be fulfilled because of the non-ratification of Bangladesh. The existing domestic legal framework also do not address the repatriation and rehabilitation of the victims of human trafficking and it is one of the aspects which needs much work and would have created an obligation on Bangladesh if it was party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Since Bangladesh is surrounded by the borders of Indian territory from three sides and Indian law enforcement agencies stationed in the border treat the victims of trafficking as smuggled individuals, the return of victims become somewhat impossible, co-operation measures detailed in Article 9 are unattainable and taking border measures is unachievable since Bangladesh is not party to the protocol. Since, forced prostitution and human trafficking is a global problem where various nation states are involved Bangladesh should ratify the relevant important international legal documents if they want to ensure co-operation in order to fight against the obstacle of human trafficking presented in front of them.
6. Suggestions and policy recommendations
There are indeed some impediments when it comes to handling the forced prostitution and human trafficking problem of Bangladesh and there are specific areas which need to be worked on. The policy recommendations for reducing forced prostitution and human trafficking are suggested below:
• Ratification of Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime for creating a common blueprint in terms of collaborative effort.
• Setting up the tribunal under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012 so that, the issues are dealt by judges who are sensitized with gender issues.
• Introduction of training program for the criminal justice system including, law enforcement officials the public prosecutors and the judicial officers in order to ensure the implementation of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking rules, 2017.
• The state must take back the victims who have been trafficked to other countries and emphasis should be put on the protection of the victims after rescue. This whole process should be gender sensitive and more effort should be put in rehabilitation of the victims.
• Documentation of Rohingya refugees and biometric registration for all of them should be ensures to keep the population in check and increasing the dispatch of law enforcement officials in the adjacent areas of Rohingya camps.
• Strongly persecute and investigate the police and border guards who have been involved in the corruption and implement rule of law so that the officials adhere to their responsibilities properly
• Awareness building from root level of the community and mass education program for disseminating knowledge about forced prostitution and human trafficking.
• Create opportunities and construct resources for women to lift them up from extreme poverty. Train and equip them with knowledge to empower and get rid of their vulnerability.
Legislations, policies and regulations only look good on paper but amount to nothing if they are not properly administered and implemented. The effort that Bangladesh is making in tackling the forced prostitution and human trafficking complication is visible but unfortunately is not enough. It needs to be understood that, when a problem like this takes root in the community it spreads like a cancer. It is the duty of the state to make sure that the gremlin is butchered from the root, especially when it can easily heighten its ascendency. A reform in terms of implementation and execution in addition to some changes in the policy along with a nationwide awareness raising campaign can be triumphant in terms of handling this predicament. Since, Bangladesh has wholeheartedly opened the door for the Rohingya refugees it falls under their solemn duty to protect the life and liberty of these people and the Constitution of Bangladesh indicates such duty to be the responsibility of the state. Therefore, Bangladesh needs to accrete and put its affairs in order for robustly fighting against this circumstance which can easily be compared to modern day slavery.
8.1 National Legislations
• Anti-terrorism Ordinance, 1992
• Constitution of Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh.
• The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012.
• The Penal Code, 1860.
• The Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act, 1993.
• Women and Children Repression Prevention Amendment Act, 2003.
8.2 International Legislations
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (adopted 18 December 1979, entered into force 3 September 1981 UNGA A/RES/34/180) 1249 UNTS 13.
• Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 150.
• Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (adopted 28 September 1954, entered into force 6 June 1960) 360 UNTS 117.
• Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (adopted 30 August 1961, entered into force 13 December 1975) 989 UNTS 175.
• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR).
• Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (adopted 15 November 2000, UNGA Res 55/25).
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR).
• UNHCR, United Nation Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Human Rights and Human Trafficking Fact Sheet no. 36 UN Doc E/2014.
• Women and Children and UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (adopted 8 January 2001, UNGA A/RES/55/25).
• Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) and others vs. Government of Bangladesh and others (2001) 53 DLR (HCD).
• Ahmed I., The Plight of the Stateless Rohingyas: Responses of the State, Society & the International Community (The University Press Limited, 2010).
• Cassese A., The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: a Commentary, (1st edition, Oxford University Press, 2002).
8.5 Journal Articles
• Abramson K., ‘Beyond Consent, Toward Safeguarding Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations Trafficking Protocol’  44(2) Harvard International Law Journal 473.
• Afza R. R., ‘Human Trafficking in Bangladesh: An Overview’  25(4) Journal of Asian Affairs 49.
• Amin R. and Md. Sheikh R. I., ‘Trafficking Women and Children in Bangladesh: A Silent Tsunami of Bangladesh’  2(4) Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development 202.
• Azad A., ‘Legal Status of the Rohingya in Bangladesh: Refugee, Stateless or Status Less’  13 Equal Rights Trust 57.
• Bishwas A., ‘Human Trafficking Scenario in Bangladesh: Some Concerns’  1(4) International Journal of Humanities & Social Science Studies 85.
• Dey S. M., ‘Women & Children Trafficking in Bangladesh: Historical Significance & Current Challenges’  1(9) UPBIL 68.
• Grundy-Warr C. and Wong E., ‘Sanctuary under a Plastic Sheet –The Unresolved Problem of Rohingya Refugees’  5(3) IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin 81-85
• Haider H. U., ‘Dynamics of Trafficking in Women and Children’  54(4) The British Journal of Criminology 700.
• Islam J. and Ahmed Z., ‘Recent Human Trafficking Crisis and Policy Implementation in Bangladesh’  3 Journal of Social Advancement 275-291.
• Murray F. and others, ‘Study on Modern Slavery in Bangladesh’  3(5) DFID 3.
• Obokata T., ‘Trafficking of Human Beings as a Crime against Humanity: Some Implications for the International Legal System’  54(2) The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 445-457.
• Rahman M., ‘Human Trafficking: A Security Concern for Bangladesh’  9 Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies 1.
8.5 Reports and Others
• Ahmed K., ‘Rohingya women, girls being trafficked to Malaysia for marriage’ Al Jazeera (Kuala Lampur, 8 May 2019)
• Amin M. A., ‘Human trafficking cases: No tribunal in six years, conviction rate less than half percent’ Dhaka Tribune (Dhaka, 21 April 2019)
• Bangladesh Country Report, 2016 Combating Human Trafficking, Public Security Division Ministry of Home Affairs Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Dhaka, Bangladesh.
• Chowdhury Z., ‘How Rohingya girls are trafficked as prostitutes’ The Business Standard (Dhaka, 12 February 2020)
• Country Narratives, Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons, US Department of State 75-77
• Country Narratives, Trafficking in Persons Report: Bangladesh, 2019, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, US Department of State,
• Corraya S., ‘Prostitution and forced labour: trafficking in human beings in Bangladesh’ Asia News (Dhaka, 26 February 2015)
• Hasan K., ‘Five year NPA for fighting human trafficking launched’ Dhaka Tribune (Dhaka, 3 December 2018)
• ‘Implement the National Plan of Action to prevent human trafficking’ The Business Standard (Dhaka, 20 September 2020)
• Redfern C., ‘The living hell of young girls enslaved in Bangladesh’s brothels’ The Guardian (London 6 July 2019)
• Sakib N. SM., ‘Bangladesh: 22 Rohingya detained before trafficked’ Anadlou Agency (Ankara, 21 January 2020) < https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/bangladesh-22-rohingya-detained-before-trafficked/1708930> accessed 26 September 2020.
• Tayeb T., ‘Trafficking in Rohingya: Exploiting the desperate’ The Daily Star (Dhaka, 7 December 2019) < https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/closer-look/news/trafficking-rohingya-exploiting-the-desperate-1836772> accessed 26 September 2020.
• Thomas S. E., ‘Responses to Human Trafficking in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka’  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
• United Nation High Commission for Refugees, The UN Refuge Agency, ‘Bangladesh: Analysis of Gaps in the Protection of Rohingya Refugees’ 2017.