- 5738 cases filed since 2012
- 282 cases cleared
- Only 36 ended in conviction
- Case settlement rate 4%
- 24,500 traffickers involved with cases
- Only 10,500 traffickers were arrested
- Only 71 of them were convicted
Md Babu from Naogaon was the first person to file a case under the Human Trafficking Act on 7 April 2012, alleging that he had been tortured after being taken to Egypt on the promise of work. Even though the charge sheet of the case was submitted in court, the trial has not ended even after nine years. The accused in the case is free on bail.
Babu's situation is not unique in the context of Bangladesh.
At a webinar on Thursday on combating human trafficking, Brac's Migration Programme said that between 2012 and March this year, less than 1% of human trafficking cases ended in conviction.
Around 5,738 cases were filed in connection with human trafficking after the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act was enacted in 2012. Among the cases, only 282 cases have been cleared so far and only 36 have ended in conviction. The remaining 5,456 cases are still pending, meaning that the case settlement rate is 4%.
More than 24,500 traffickers were involved in the cases, of whom around 10,500 were arrested but only 71 were convicted. The rest of the accused obtained bail.
Alfai Al Hossain, a victim of trafficking from Sitakunda, said, "I left home on 22 February this year to go to Croatia via Turkey through a recruiting agency. As per the verbal contract, I was to get a construction job which I was not given. Instead, the traffickers put pressure on me to go to Italy. When I resisted, they physically tortured me."
Hossain escaped and returned to Bangladesh on 12 May and filed a case against 12 people at Sitakunda police station. Police arrested four of the accused but they obtained bail within a month.
Saidur Rahman, special superintendent of police, Criminal Investigation Department (CID), while speaking at Thursday's webinar said, it is relatively easy to investigate trafficking cases in the country but when it becomes transnational, access to information becomes difficult. In some cases, victims themselves become unreachable.
"Sometimes, after filing the case, the plaintiff and the accused reach a mutual understanding through rural arbitration, which makes the cases more uncertain," Rahman added. He said that the law enforcers, however, are working hard to locate the trafficking networks both at home and abroad.
Sea-route trafficking increased amid pandemic
The rate of human trafficking continues to rise in Bangladesh amid the pandemic with at least 707 cases filed from January 2020 to March 2021.
Shariful Hasan, head of the Brac Migration program, while speaking at the webinar said, "The four key features of trafficking in Bangladesh are internal, cross-border, labour and sea-route trafficking. Of these, perilous journeys to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea route have reached an alarming level amid the pandemic."
Bangladesh is already top among the common nationalities taking risky journeys crossing the Mediterranean Sea and going through land routes to reach Europe in the first six months of this year, according to an estimate by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
New tribunals not functioning fast
Under the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012, human trafficking suppression tribunals have already been set up in seven divisions of the country but they are yet to function properly and the pandemic has further slowed the process.
According to the law, the trials of trafficking cases need to be completed within 180 days but, unfortunately, there is not a single example of a case being disposed of within the stipulated timeframe.
To help with the caseload, the law ministry issued a notification in 2012 empowering the women and children repression prevention tribunals to conduct trafficking cases.
But human trafficking cases are being delayed even in the women and child repression prevention tribunals as the latter have their own caseloads, according to Advocate Salma Ali, president, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association.
"The fact that many influential persons in society are involved in human trafficking makes it even more challenging for the courts," she added.