A UN human rights expert yesterday urged Bangladesh to step up efforts to prevent human trafficking, particularly when it involves sexual exploitation, child marriage and forced labour.
UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons Siobhán Mullally called for greater accountability, and stronger regulation of the recruiting agencies while expanding livelihood opportunities and extending protection to victims without discrimination.
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“Child trafficking is a significant risk, which must be addressed through expanded child protection and increased efforts at birth registration. No community should be left behind,” the UN expert said at a press conference at a city hotel, concluding a 10-day visit in the country.
Mullally met top government officials, civil society groups and a range of survivors and victims of trafficking during her visit to Dhaka, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar, and to Rohingya camps.
The visit, the first ever by any UN special rapporteur on human trafficking, took place when Bangladesh played a leading role globally to promote safe and regular migration.
At home, the government has taken various steps to promote safe migration and prevent human trafficking. Yet, the risks of human trafficking remain high.
About 12 million Bangladeshis work abroad and the remittance they send plays a critical role in the country’s economy. Besides, climate change causes the displacement of thousands of people, making women and children especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Siobhan Mullally said significant measures have been taken to combat child labour, which can lead to increased risks of child trafficking.
“Therefore, continued development of exit strategies to eliminate child labour, in particular in high-risk sectors like hospitality and tourism, domestic work, brick kilns, and agriculture, is essential.
“Improving livelihoods for families, and expanding access to education, and training opportunities for children will be important.”
Trafficking of women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation within Bangladesh and cross-border, in particular to India, is a serious and urgent concern. Boys are also trafficked within Bangladesh, but receive limited assistance or protection from the state, and are often at risk of both sexual exploitation and exploitation in criminal activities, she said.
She said failures of identification and protection allow such trafficking to continue with impunity.
“More efforts to combat child trafficking are essential, including improving rates of birth registration for all communities and ending child marriage. We know that the children of sex workers are at great risk, and are often not registered at birth,” Mullally said.
She said there are serious concerns that trafficking for purposes of forced labour persists. False job offers, very high recruitment fees and failure to protect migrant workers in all stages of migration allow trafficking to persist.
“Returned migrant workers with significant debt are at continued risk of exploitation and face reprisals and threats because of difficulties in repaying debts and securing new employment.”
Pressures to settle complaints and accept low rates of the settlement also undermine the goal of accountability for recruitment agencies and intermediaries, the expert said.
While countries of destination have a responsibility to prevent trafficking and protect migrant workers, Bangladesh, as a country of origin, must also strengthen its action to prevent such recruitment practices and to remedy the gaps in protection, Mullally said.
Migrant women domestic workers are particularly at risk of trafficking for domestic servitude and suffer horrific abuses. This is an area that the international community has been neglecting, but needs stronger actions, she said.
Mullally commended Bangladesh for hosting nearly one million Rohingyas and called for more international support to help authorities to ensure their safety and well-being.
However, she said, the situation in the camps, with no access to employment or formal education and training, and restrictions on movement, led to increased frustration and risks of exploitation, including through trafficking for purposes of child marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour.
She suggested expansion of the protection of the Rohingya trafficking victims, within the camps is limited and must be expanded.