Web Of Human Trafficking
On lure of creature comforts, girls, boys and women from India and Bangladesh are tricked by traffickers into prostitution, camel racing and begging in the Gulf countries, writes Shib Shankar Chatterjee from India-Bangladesh border
“We enticed two girls— Khusiman (10) and Nabiran (12)—from Barpeta district of Assam on promise of decent jobs in Delhi, but later they were handed over to two pimps for Rs 10,000. The girls were taken to West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and then New Delhi. Finally, a plan was made to transport them to Middle East for begging, but the move was foiled by Delhi police,” confesses Mafiza Begum (24) after she was interrogated by police along with her another accomplice. Needless to say, such reports appear almost daily now, which hardly attracts much attention.
“I eloped with Muhammad Abu Siddiqui Mali, who had promised to marry me. We came to India, where he started abusing me. When I could not bear the trauma, I fled from his clutches,” recalls a victim from Bangladesh.
It is a common knowledge that girls from Bangladesh after being lured for easy life are forced into prostitution in India. They are even transported to countries like, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman, where they are physically abused.
It was sometime in second week of November 2008 when Abdul Malik (22), a Bangladeshi youth, and 447 members comprising Bangladeshis and Mayanmarese set sail for foreign soil on a boat owned by Maulaya-a-Durugib. Durugib, a notorious human-trafficker of Bangladesh, had promised all of them good jobs in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
But, the dreams of Malik and others turned into a nightmare in the Bay of Bengal on December 25, 2008. He luckily survived, but many others, including women and children, were not as lucky. The 103 people were now behind the bars after being rescued by the Indian Coast Guards near Little Andaman. They included 68 Bangladeshis and 35 Myanmar nationals. The remaining 344 were missing and all of them are considered dead.
The horrible incident once again brought under focus human trafficking in South Asia. It has been taking place for long due to shattered socio-economic infrastructure of these countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and others South Asian countries.
At present, children and women trafficking is a common problem of South-East Asia and South Asian countries. Day by day, this problem is becoming complicated. Every year a large number of children, women and girls are forcibly taken across the borders of India, Bangladesh or other countries for not only camel racing, begging, circus activity, industrial or bonded labour, maidservant, child care, dancer, but also are used for different purposes like prostitution, bogus marriage, bar dancing, porn films and human organs.
Nowadays, in the world, children and women trafficking have become a profitable business. It is an easy way to make quick money. It is the third largest organised crime after arms and narcotics.
In United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia, Oman, Middle East, West-Asia and South-West Asia, South Asian countries, camel racing is the most popular game. In some places, however, the sport takes a cruel form. In place of trained camel-riders, young children, both boys and girls, are used. The children often between 3-10 years and light in weight are strapped to the camels. The animals are then whipped to set them running and the terrified cries of the children spur the animals on. Unscrupulous middlemen bring the child-jockeys often illegally, from impoverished countries.
A special ‘circle’, as they are locally called dalal in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are found active in connection with child trafficking in states like West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and the districts like Dhaka, Jessore, Rajsahi, Khulna, Satkhira, Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Comilla, Sylhet and Brahmanberia of Bangladesh, which are the land routes of this odd business.
More interesting fact is that especially in Bangladesh, there are some female human traffickers, who are locally called Jhumkawali. Their role is crucial as they have links with the BDR and other mediators of India and Bangladesh.
The Indian police have information of a number of dubious institutions, travel agencies, commission agents and touts involved in procuring and transporting children to the West-Asia, South-West Asia, where they are used in camel race to extract huge amount of money from Ameer (rich men). For this reason, they often purchase children from parents suffering from poverty and later sell them in Arabian countries at high prices.
According to Indian police, parents are usually offered Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 for a child and for a handicapped, it is about Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 (depending on age, health and submissiveness), while for the girl child and young woman, it is around Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000, depending upon looks, submissiveness, age and health.
When the agents find that they are unable to carry out the children, minor girls and young women to their destination, they arrange false nikah for minor girls and young women and false parents for children to make the trafficking look legal.
Apart from this, sometimes step-father or step-mother sell their children and minor girls to touts, while on the other hand, the children and young women are also forcibly sold as false wife to men, who may resell them to other persons. Sometimes, the young women and minor girls are sold as maidservants for domestic purposes or household works.
On the other hand, sometimes the children transported to foreign lands are often accompanied by their parents, who usually pay agents Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 for a job in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
As a result, sometimes, Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 is required to be paid to the agent for a deal. For this, these people require to sell something to arrange the money. The agents make them believe that they can earn around 10,000 to 15,000 takas (Bangladeshi currency) or rupees a month if they can go to foreign countries with their children. Sometimes, the parents are lured on the pretext that they can earn more if they allow their children to take part in camel-riding.
Sometimes, maidservants are employed to woo the parents. They are taught that life in Arabian countries is comfortable and those who go there, can enjoy the same. The ‘gang stars’ comprising local agents (especially, village-broker of India and Bangladesh) end their work after handing over the children and women to the agents of the Arabian countries after receiving award.
The children and women trafficking are done in three ways. Firstly, the local agents move round the region, where the poor and the destitute families live and make contacts with them. These agents live in and around the Brahmaputra riverine char or river island under Dhubri, Barpeta, Kamrup, Goalpara, Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts of Assam and under Burdhman, Nadia, Birbhum, Maldaha, Murshidabad, Baharampur districts of West Bengal and several districts of Bangladesh.
Secondly, another group of trackers live in and around important Indian cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennei and New Delhi and Dhaka in Bangladesh, who had contacts with persons connected with the operation.
Thirdly, there is another group, staying in foreign countries like, UAE, Saudi Arabia. They prepare a list of children and women to be engaged in unsocial work by offering various temptations, including money, ornaments and good jobs.
“In the village of India and Bangladesh, most of the parents are illiterate and ignorant of the consequences of such deal. They are poor agriculturists, daily wage earners, rag pickers, daily labourers, who have no other means to support themselves. Their monthly income is about Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500”, claims a social activists of northeast India.
Barring a few parents, who are accompanied by their children, the others give charge of their children to agents.
The agents are always alert of their works. The passports and visas are acquired for children and women to be transported. The passports are made after false names and are given to the persons on the spot. Later, the victims are sent to foreign lands, where the local agents decide their fate. The victims are engaged in begging, camel racing, household works.
In Arab countries, these unfortunate women and children are kept in a dormitory. In a room, as many as 25 to 30 children stay. Every day, from 8 am to 6 pm, they go on begging earning Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day.
In the Gulf, begging is illegal. It is forbidden for they have to obey their religious bounding jakat, which is in vogue there. The children are brought here for begging. According to jakat law, no capable man has the right to get jakat.
Astonishingly, the fact is that many of these beggars are suffering from polio, thalassaemia, malnutrition, and so it is not difficult for the agents to use them for begging.
Camel race across the desert is old Bedouin tradition, which has become a money-spinning sport in the Middle East.
“At times, we are so weak that they keep stones in our pockets to raise our weight at the weigh-in before the runs, because anybody whose weight is low cannot take part in the race”, reveals Muhammed Munir from Pakistan.
Sometimes, a female representative is selected to become foster-mother for a few children. This foster-mother then is engaged in temporary marriage with a male head for three months or so. It is nothing but sex trade and for this around Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 is usually paid.
Observers are of the opinion that the chief cause of children and women trafficking lies in the present population explosion, unemployment, poverty, abuse, divorce, lack of alternative source of income, polygamy in Bangladesh and India.
According to observers and NGOs in North-East India, trafficking of women and children in South-Asian countries has been acquiring phenomenal proportions. In the absence of data, woman’s groups have made a rough estimate that Indian and Bangladeshi women are held in bondage in Arabian countries, including the harem of the rich.
Apart from this, in Bangladesh, it has been estimated that around 4,500 to 5,000 women and children are smuggled to Pakistan every year. But, as per estimate by the human rights activists, around 200 to 500 young women and children are smuggled every month from Bangladesh to Pakistan, while according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), nearly 4,000 to 5,000 women and children from Bangladesh are being deported to Pakistan every year.
As per another report, in 1992, there were 1,65,000 Bangladeshi women engaged in flesh trade in Pakistan. The figure is expected to have crossed 2 lakh at present. The lawyers for human rights & legal aid and the NGOs have calculated that approximately 1,000 to 2,000 Indian and Bangladeshi women are brought into Pakistan every month as human-cargo. More than 2,000 Bangladeshi women have been languishing in Pakistani jail and charged under Pakistan’s Foreigner’s Act of 1946 or have booked under the Hudood Ordinance that prohibits extra-marital relationships.
Archana Tamang, who has been associated with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), feels, “Trafficking of minor girls and women from the South Asian countries into the Middle East for prostitution is almost certainly the busiest ‘slave traffic’ of its kind anywhere in the globe.”
Their plight has no solution, because, if they are repatriated to India and Bangladesh, they can be persecuted. As many as 20 per cent of Indians and Bangladeshis earning livelihood in West-Asia and Pakistan are under 18 to 20 years and nearly 35 per cent of them have been brought to the foreign soil on pretext of marriage and good jobs.
From North-East India and Bangladesh, women are being sold for marriage at the rate of Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 to men, who can’t afford ‘dowry’ both in North-East India and Bangladesh.
Another aspect of trafficking that has recently been discovered is in the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar. A large number of them have settled in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Lots of women from this refugee groups have joined flesh trade due to rampant poverty.
“In the recipient countries as sex workers, the demands for Indian and Bangladeshi women and minor girls are more than Nepali, Bhutanese, Mayanmarese, Malaysian and Indonesian girls as they are comparatively safe and free from HIV and AIDS. So, it is easy to realise why the Indian and Bangladeshi girls have become a prime target for women and child traffickers. They can easily allure the poverty-stricken and illiterate rural girls by promising them to give better life in towns and cities. That is why, women and children trafficking have been rising gradually in an alarming rate in these two countries”, says a report.
The traffickers keep their eyes especially upon young women, minor girls and children in the backwards regions of Bangladesh and India.
The irony is that even when the girls or women escape from the clutches of traffickers, they fail to regain their ‘status’ in the society and they end on turning commercial sex workers.
The poor parents keep mum about missing of their girl children fearing police interrogation. Sometimes parents refuse to accept their rescued girls fearing social stigma, reveals Shyamal Saikia, a police officer.
In the brothels of the South-East Asia, West-Asia and South-West Asian countries, Indian and Bangladeshi women and girls are marked with labels to draw attention to the clients. Another international gang is reportedly engaged in human trafficking for business of human organ transplant.
“It’s a shame that every year about 20,000- 25,000 women and children are smuggled out from Bangladesh. So far around 5-8 lakh women and children in various ages have been trafficked to the South-East Asia, West-Asia and South-West Asian countries, including Pakistan, UAE, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Malaysia, Indonesia since 1980s. The sharp increase in women trafficking from Bangladesh are for various social problems like early marriage, torture for dowry, polygamy, <tallaq> and the traffickers take advantage of the situation,” rues executive director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association, Salma Ali.
All international human rights charters are also strictly against human trafficking, but its rise could not be stopped because the international racket of traffickers is very strong and the law has limitations.
In most cases, these traffickers spend some days in jail custody and then are released on bail through the loopholes of the existing law.
“Whenever human traffickers are arrested from international border areas, the law enforcers file cases against them under Foreigners Act or Passport Act. As a result, their offences regarding human trafficking do not come under legal procedure”, claims the noted lawyer of Supreme Court of India, Arun Jaitley.
In 2000, the government of Bangladesh had enacted a new law with the provision of harsh punishment for the traffickers. In this law, the maximum punishment is death sentence, while the minimum is 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking minor girls, women and children.
The various woman groups of South-East Asian countries have demanded that the SAARC nations should not only set up a commission to investigate the trafficking of women and children, but also make fact-finding missions to investigate and identify the trafficking syndicate and the criminal nexus surrounding the trade.
(All pictures by Shib Shankar Chatterjee)