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Trafficking-prone zones lack special courts


Published : 08 Oct 2021 09:52 PM | Updated : 09 Oct 2021 02:48 PM

Special courts set up to dispose of the human trafficking cases within a short time and without any hassle have on the other hand, added to sufferings of the victims with delay and hassle in settling the cases as well.

Law experts and persons or officials concerned have suggested setting up of special courts or tribunals in the human trafficking–prone districts instead of the divisional headquarters.

A woman of Ramu upazila in Cox’s Bazar was lured with a better job in Nepal. Later, police rescued her from a brothel in Khulna in 2014. Family of the victim filed a case with Ramu Police Station on February 16 in 2015. 

The case has not been disposed of till today, while none of the accused was arrested. Like this one, about 600 human trafficking cases in Cox’s Bazar have been pending. There is no ‘Human Trafficking Crimes Tribunal’ there although the district is one of the dangerous human trafficking zones. 

Mass graves of migrants were found in a deep forest of Thailand on May 1 in 2015. At least 10 bodies of Bangladeshi nationals were found there. The government brought back 175 victims of human trafficking from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia that year. The victims filed three cases with the Airport Police Station in Dhaka. However, the cases are still pending.

A total of 30 migrants were shot dead in Libya on May 26 in 2020. Of them, 26 are Bangladeshis. On June 2 in 2020, a case was filed against 38 unidentified persons with Paltan Police Station in Dhaka. The investigation into this sensational case is not yet over.

Like these cases, thousands of human trafficking cases have been lying pending for years. However, as per Section 24 (1) of ‘The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012’, a case should be disposed of within 180 days. 

“No case has been disposed of so far in the stipulated time. Human traffickers are out of reach due to the lengthy trial process, loopholes in the law, scant financial support for victims and lack of investigation and proper evidence,” said Advocate Md Kamruzzaman, a lawyer in Dhaka. 

The law keeps the death penalty, life imprisonment and a minimum of seven years imprisonment and a fine of at least five lakh taka for human trafficking. 

The provisions of speedy trial and capital punishment were incorporated aiming to prevent human trafficking strictly as it is an offence against the humanity. The provisions were also included following the increasing rate of the offence related to human trafficking increasing day by day rapidly. “The increasing trend still continues,” said Advocate Kamruzzaman. 

Trial process of the human trafficking cases is not only going on slowly, but also the cases that are disposed of after a long process show that very few accused are convicted, while more than 99 per cent are acquitted.

The special court added to the procrastination and hassle for litigants and others concerned, said victims, policemen and lawyers. 

AKM Akteruzzaman Zaman, Additional SP at Human Trafficking unit of CID, said that the human trafficking cases are basically based on investigation. But it is a major challenge due to lack of evidence. Laws to prevent human trafficking are adequate but they are not being applied properly due to the limitation. It is difficult for the law enforcers to collect evidence from foreign countries. “We need a combined effort to stop the offence,” he added. 

Thousands of people, particularly women and children, fall prey to human trafficking in Bangladesh. It is difficult to have appropriate data. However, different sources cite innately different figures.

A UNICEF report says that approximately 400 women and children in Bangladesh become victims of human trafficking each month. According to a survey report, about 200,000 women and children became victims of trafficking in the last 10 years. 

The statistics indicate that human trafficking in Bangladesh is one of the major problems, but there is not enough data, said Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor at the Department of International Relations of Dhaka University.

Police now don’t provide information about how many people are trafficked and how many cases were filed in this connection. However, statistics of BRAC Migration Programme says that a total of 6,735 cases over human trafficking were filed at home and abroad from 2008 to March 2021. 

The number of victims in these cases is 12,324. The victims are men, women and children. A total of 9,710 people were rescued and brought back to the country. Most of the victims are trafficked to India, Pakistan and the Middle East countries.

About 2,000 women trafficked to India were brought back through the legal process in the last 10 years. However, many victims are still remaining trapped in that country, said sources of the National Women Lawyers’ Association. 

According to the statistics of the Public Security Division of the Home Ministry, at the end of 2020, the total number of pending cases stands at 4,886. Of these, 533 cases were filed in 2020. Of the total cases, only 14 were settled in 2020 where only one trafficker was given conviction in a case, while no one was punished in 13 other cases. 

A total of 24,549 persons were accused in nearly 5,000 cases after enactment of the specific law. Law enforcers arrested 10,727 of the accused persons, but only 261 cases were disposed of where only 55 people were convicted. As per the statistics in 2020, the settlement rate is very poor, while conviction rate is less than one per cent. Over 99 per cent accused in the human trafficking cases are acquitted. 

People are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ transplant business etc. The international trafficking ring is also involved in the criminal activities. Members of the gang in Bangladesh target the marginalised women and children of rural areas in a well-organised manner. The women and children are lured with a better life and more lucrative job opportunities abroad. The traffickers take them also by using various other criminal acts, including kidnapping.

There are about 1,200 authorised recruiting agencies in the country. Nasreen Jahan, a joint secretary of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said many people could not reach the agencies and rely on brokers to go abroad, while many recruiting agencies also rely on brokers to recruit customers. Many of the brokers are involved in human trafficking. Asad Uddin, Programme Coordinator at Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment (OSHE) Foundation, said that some recruiting agencies are also involved in the heinous acts.   

Earlier, the human trafficking cases were being tried at about 95 Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals across the country. However, special courts were set up in seven divisional cities in 2020 for speedy disposal of the cases. 

The ‘Human Trafficking Crimes Tribunal’ was set up in Dhaka, Chatttogram, Rajshahi, Khulna, Rangpur, Sylhet and Barishal. Many cases have already been transferred to the tribunals.

“How could only seven tribunals deal with so many cases? However, no tribunal was set up in the trafficking-prone districts. The trafficking incident would decrease if speedy trial is ensured. Tribunals should be set up in every district. In absence of special courts in localities, victims and witnesses are often reluctant to travel long distances to attend court hearings,” said Advocate Kamruzzaman.  

“Earlier I had to go to Cox’s Bazar town for the case purpose. Now I have to go to Chattogram as my case has been transferred to the special tribunal. This has increased my travel time, transport cost and also the hassle,” said the trafficking victim woman of Ramu upazila.

Rafiqul Islam, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, said that the number of human trafficking cases being filed in Cox's Bazar is less now than before. Most of the trafficking incidents happen in Cox’s Bazar, but now there is no court here. Special court is more essential in Cox’s Bazar than Chattogram.

Another police official said, “In addition to the victim, the law enforcing agencies’ officials not willing to go to court to handle cases. Since the special court is far away, many police officials now remain reluctant to record case under anti-human trafficking law to avoid hassle.” 

Most of the incidents of human trafficking happen in bordering districts. The ‘Human Trafficking Crimes Tribunal’ must be opened in all districts, particularly in bordering districts, said Abdur Rahman, executive chief of the Rural Development Centre (RDC), a Jhenaidah-based platform that works on human trafficking. 

Meanwhile, some are taking advantage of loopholes in the law and harassing many innocent people by filing false cases under the strict law. “A section of evil-doers is misusing the law if there is any conflict or distance with the recruiting agency,” said Abdur Rahman.

Moriom Akhter, 24, daughter of Kazal Mia in Narayanganj, went to Mauritius on February 5 in 2020 on work permit. There she joined an RMG factory. However, after reaching there, she began living with one Shah Alam, canteen director of the company, as ‘husband-wife’. Moriom also allegedly developed physical relations with Anil Kohli, owner of the company, or, according to her allegation, she was forced into an immoral relationship with the duo. 

She returned to the country in December 2020. A few months later, she filed a case with the Rampura Police Station in Dhaka on July 7 in 2021 under anti-trafficking law. She named the owner of the recruiting agency through which she went to Mauritius and his son as the main accused. Among the eight accused, Anil Kohli and Shah Alam were not mentioned as prime accused. The anti-human trafficking law does not cover the allegations. However, the case was recorded under Sections 7, 8 and 9 of the law. 

Moriom said that she named the agency owner and his son in the case, as she believes that they are involved in trafficking gang. She, however, said she doesn’t know about the case statement properly as she filed the case with the support of BRAC Migration Programme.

Noyon of BRAC Migration Programme said that he looks after the issue of Moriom. When asked about the logic for implicating the recruiting agency, he said that he is now busy. He told this correspondent that he would call back later. But he did not call back. Later, he also did not receive the call from this correspondent.

Talking to the Bangladesh Post, Aktar Hossain, the owner of Rabbi International, the company that had sent Moriom abroad, said, “If Moriom develops extra-marital relations with someone due to her moral degradation after going there or she was violated, we are not responsible. However, I was arrested on charges that I knew nothing about.” 

He said that this incident had a negative impact on the labour market in Mauritius. “Our company was supposed to get 500 more visas through the Mauritius company. However, after this incident we were deprived of the visas. The country was also deprived as the visas went to India,” he added. 

Aktar Hossain demanded fair investigation. He also demanded amendment to the law, saying “We want human traffickers to be severely punished and innocent people not to be harassed due to loopholes in the law.”

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, Advocate Kamruzzman and Abdur Rahman said that law enforcers can misuse the law through using the Section 20 of ‘The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act’. The section allows law enforcers the power to conduct preventive search without warrant, to enter any premises and to seize any equipment or proof or document used or likely to be used in the commission of any offence under this Act. Amendments to the law are needed to avoid its misuse, they said.

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