FIGHTING AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
PETTY DONE, THE UNDONE VAST
Mohammad Golam Sarwar
A number of human trafficking events are taking place which causes huge suffering to the victims of trafficking disregarding human rights values with dignity. While the government of Bangladesh pledges utmost commitment to combat human trafficking but ‘unfortunately’ reality suggests a shocking picture. The last week event on February 11 is the glaring example where 200 people were rescued. Among them 105 are Bangladeshis and the rest are rohingya citizens, thanks to the Coast Guard members. These recued people may have sense of solace and at least they are relieved from being trafficked. However, what would be the fate of their invested money which they may have collected by selling their last resort? This particular incident being part of series events propels us to revisit the issue of human trafficking with maximum care and attention.
What has been done
In response to pressing needs the government of Bangladesh enacted Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012. This Act complying with the International standards stressed on the protection and implementation of the rights of the victims of human trafficking ensuring safe migration. The Act categorically defined various terms related to trafficking like forced labour, exploitation, consent etc. Most significantly it provides provision of criminalising all forms of trafficking involving internal and transnational. This Act also widened the scope of beneficiary by incorporating the term “Person” that means natural person including company, firm which particularly indicates the inclusion of male victim in the law.
Prescribed punishment: The Act provides severe punishment for the trafficking offence committed individually (maximum punishment is an imprisonment for life) or as an organised crime (maximum punishment is the death penalty).
Anti-Human Trafficking offence tribunal: The Act calls for the establishment of tribunal for the purpose of speedy trial of cases which is accorded with wide power of taking evidence and other necessary tools to establish judicial accomplishment.
Protection of victims: The Act secured more significance than any other law, at least in letters, while addressing not only the preventive measures but also the protective measures for the victims of human trafficking. The measures include the identification, rescue, repatriation, rehabilitation, social integration, return (when the victim is found in foreign country) of victims of trafficking.
The core features of this Act, in my understanding that the Act pledges for the principle of equality and non-discrimination while dealing with the offenders, victims and witnesses. It also clearly affirms the constitutional commitment and International standard as well. National Plan of Action for combating Human Trafficking echoed with the Anti-Trafficking Act also focused on the following areas: prevention of human trafficking, holistic protection of trafficking victims, prosecution of traffickers, partnership & cross-country legal assistance, and monitoring & evaluation.
What has not been done
Though the Act calls for framing rules to implement the purposes of the Act which including the establishment of operating procedures but till date the rules are yet to be passed. This not only frustrates the effective implementation of the Act but also shows the gap between the enactment and the implementation of the law.
The Act makes provision for establishing Special tribunal for the purpose of speedy trial, in this regard the first point is that the wording of the provision i.e. ‘may establish’ indicates mere direction without obliging any compulsion for the formation of tribunal. Another important thing is that the Act itself assigns and empowers the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Tribunal in each District to act as the Anti-Human-Trafficking Offence Tribunal of that District. As it is well established that the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Tribunal in Bangladesh suffers from huge backlog of cases along with low conviction rate, so the extra burden of dealing trafficking offences might create pressure and hamper effective adjudication as well.
It not only vitiates the purposes of Anti-Trafficking law but remain the offenders of trafficking beyond conviction. On February 13 2014 The Daily Star published a report where organisers of the One Billion Rising movement informed that that 2 lakh cases filed in 11 years (2002-2013) relating to violence against women but few were adjudicated. Needless to mention that Low conviction rate accelerates the repeated commission of the offence where the victims can do nothing.
The Act also calls for other essential measures to establish for example, protective homes and rehabilitation centre, developing comprehensive data base etc, but after one year these measures still suffers from functioning and operating crisis. As the instrumentalities ascribed under this Act are not properly established and equipped as well, it can be reasonably said that battle against human trafficking still remains a far cry.
What needs to be addressed
After analysing the Act it can be reasonably deduced that the Act only talks about the post occurrence measures that will be applied only when the offences of trafficking are taken place. The Act does not focus on the preemptive measures that are essential to make people aware and capable so that they might not become the victims of trafficking.
Emphasis to be given with due care what are root causes of taking the risk of going abroad which turns them into victims of trafficking. At the same time what are the facilitating factor which influences the members of broker house to engage in this heinous job. Now the question is whether by imposing severe punishment on the offenders are we getting rid of this serous predicament? The social factors and economic insolvency are the influencing factors which propel them to go abroad even by illegal means. Lack of knowledge and isolation of information might be one reason which curtails their capability to bargain against the members of broker house to compel them for ensuring safe migration. The concerned authorities should identify the vulnerable sites where trafficking are often taken place.
Finally I want to underscore the role of NGO to protect the victims of trafficking. For the purpose of smooth functioning of the Act, the Act itself contains provisions for collaboration with non-governmental organisations. In this regard, Relief International (RI), a humanitarian agency, has undertaken a project titled as “Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking in Bangladesh”. The Project focused to protect the victims of trafficking with a special emphasis on unskilled male migrant workers. Dissemination of information regarding the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012 is one of the prior concern of RI and in this regard radio programme titled as “Our Rights” (airing on 2nd Tuesday in every month at Radio Today FM 89.6) is playing significant role to spread this legislation as well as to aware people about trafficking horrors. This effort is made possible with generous support from the US Department of states’ office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.
To ensure the benefits of the Anti-Trafficking law, the cumulative efforts from government as well as non-government organisations are to be immediately actualised.
The writer is Lecturer of law, eastern university.
FEBRUARY 27, 2014