USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
Bangladesh is primarily a source, and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Bangladeshi men and women who migrate willingly to work in the Middle East, East Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor. Before their departure, many migrant workers assume debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) and illegally by unlicensed sub-agents; this places some migrant workers at risk of debt bondage. Some recruitment agencies and agents also commit recruitment fraud, including contract switching, in which they promise one type of job and conditions, but then change the job, employer, conditions, or salary after arrival. Women who migrate for domestic work are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Some women and children are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor in India and Pakistan. Some NGOs allege instances of officials on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border allowing human traffickers to operate.
Within the country, some children and adults are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced and bonded labor, in which traffickers exploit an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment. Street children are sometimes coerced into criminality or forced to beg; begging ringmasters sometimes maim children to increase their earnings. In some instances, children are sold into a form of bondage by their parents, while others are induced into labor through fraud and physical coercion, including in the domestic fish processing industry, or exploited in prostitution. According to an international expert on debt bondage, Bangladeshi families and Indian migrant workers are subjected to bonded labor in some of Bangladesh’s brick kilns, some kiln owners sell bonded females into prostitution, purportedly to recoup the families’ debts, and some Bangladeshi families are subjected to debt bondage in shrimp farming. Some ethnic Indian families are forced to work in the tea industry in the northeastern part of the country. The Burmese Rohingya community in Bangladesh is especially vulnerable to human trafficking.
The Government of Bangladesh does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to prepare, but did not finalize, the implementing rules for the 2012 Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA) during the year. The government lacked a formal mechanism to refer trafficking victims to protective services; authorities rescued 2,621 victims and placed nine in government-operated shelters. The government continued to fund nine multipurpose shelters, drop-in centers, and safe homes for victims, including victims of trafficking. While the government reached a labor export agreement with Saudi Arabia requiring employers to pay certain recruitment costs, legal recruitment fees continued to be extremely high.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BANGLADESH:
Finalize, adopt, and disseminate the implementing rules for the PSHTA, and train government officials on its implementation; take steps to eliminate all recruitment fees charged by licensed labor recruiters, and enforce violations with criminal sanctions; increase prosecutions and convictions, particularly of labor trafficking, while strictly respecting due process; establish standard operating procedures for the referral of victims to protection services; thoroughly investigate credible allegations of government complicity in trafficking and prosecute offenders who are complicit; enhance the training provided to officials, including law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officers, on methods to proactively identify trafficking cases and refer victims to protection services; expand the support services available to victims within Bangladesh and at Bangladesh’s embassies abroad; use the PSHTA to prosecute fraudulent labor recruiters; improve quality of pre-departure trainings, including sessions on labor rights, labor laws, and methods to access justice and assistance in destination countries and in Bangladesh; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2012 PSHTA generally prohibits and punishes all forms of human trafficking, although it prohibits the fraudulent recruitment of labor migrants only if the recruiter knows the recruited worker will be subjected to forced labor. Prescribed penalties for labor trafficking offenses are five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) ($640), and prescribed penalties for sex trafficking offenses range from five years’ imprisonment to the death sentence. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued to prepare the implementing rules for the PSHTA but did not finalize them, and some NGOs reported PSHTA provisions had not been circulated widely among district and local officials. The government provided some anti-trafficking training at the police training academy. The government investigated 146 cases of sex trafficking and 12 cases of forced labor in 2014, compared with 84 sex and two labor trafficking cases in 2013. Authorities prosecuted 449 trafficking cases in 2014, compared with 215 in 2013. All cases were prosecuted under the 2012 PSHTA. The government convicted 15 traffickers in 2014, compared with 14 in 2013. The courts sentenced 12 of the convicted traffickers to life, two to 10 years, and one to seven years’ imprisonment.
Alleged official complicity remained a problem. According to one report, politicians, police, and border security forces on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border allegedly used a token system to allow traffickers to evade arrest. In 2014, a Bangladeshi national filed a suit in New York against his former employers, a Bangladeshi consular official and his wife, alleging violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, among other forms of exploitation; the case remains ongoing, and the official has since assumed another diplomatic post. The government reported it charged one public official in 2014 with visa fraud to facilitate human trafficking; however, no additional details were provided on any other efforts to address allegations of official complicity.
The government made limited efforts to protect victims of trafficking. The government reported the rescue of 2,621 victims in 2014, an increase from 1,090 in 2013; of those rescued in 2014, 2,218 were men, 227 women, and 176 children. Because the government continued to lack a formal mechanism for authorities to refer victims to care, only nine of the 2,621 victims identified were placed in government-operated shelters. The government did not provide services specifically designed for trafficking victims, but victims could access support services for vulnerable people through nine multipurpose shelters, drop-in centers, and safe homes administered by the Ministry of Social Welfare. NGOs provided shelter and services specifically for trafficking victims; police sometimes referred victims to these services on an ad hoc basis. The government continued to operate shelters in its embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Jeddah for female Bangladeshi workers fleeing abusive employers; however, overall, officials lacked resources in destination countries to adequately assist labor trafficking victims. Bangladeshi migrant workers could lodge complaints and seek government arbitration on labor and recruitment violations, including allegations of forced labor, with the Bureau for Manpower, Education, and Training (BMET). The arbitration process provided victims with remediation, but rewards were often minimal and did not adequately address illegal activities, including alleged fraud by licensed recruitment agencies.
The PSHTA provided for victim protection during judicial proceedings, including police security and the ability to testify via video, but it is unclear how frequently officials employed such protections. NGOs noted insufficient protection resulted in fewer investigations and prosecutions overall. The governments of Bangladesh and India coordinated the rescue and repatriation of child trafficking victims through established standard operating procedures; however, the PSHTA did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims of trafficking to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Unregistered Rohingya refugee trafficking victims may have been at risk of indefinite detention because of their lack of documentation.
The government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking, and continued to allow BAIRA to set extremely high and legal recruitment fees and did not exercise adequate oversight to ensure BAIRA’s licensing and certification practices did not facilitate debt bondage of Bangladeshi workers abroad. In 2014, BMET canceled four recruitment agencies’ licenses, the same number as in 2013, and awarded compensation of 1,393,500 BDT ($17,800) to seven trafficking victims who received legal support to file against the recruitment agencies from a foreign government. In February 2015, the government signed a labor export agreement with Saudi Arabia dictating employers should cover migration costs, including plane fare and medical tests; however, the government did not stipulate the maximum cost or eliminate the processing fee that remained the responsibility of the migrant. The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare’s Vigilance Task Force continued to operate with a mandate to improve the oversight of Bangladesh’s labor recruiting process. The government continued to facilitate the migration of willing Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia under a government-to-government agreement that aimed to mitigate the impact of private recruitment agencies’ high fees and sometimes unscrupulous practices. The government continued to require a 21-day pre-departure training course for Bangladeshi women going abroad to work as domestic servants; the training focused on learning practical skills such as using household appliances, but also included modules on trafficking awareness and self-protection.
The government drafted, but did not finalize and launch, the 2015-2017 national plan of action. The Ministry of Home Affairs published its annual report on human trafficking. The government did not fund anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. The government trained military personnel to recognize and prevent trafficking in persons prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. Bangladesh is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.