Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term in a December 2018 parliamentary election that observers considered neither free nor fair and that was marred by irregularities including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven seats. Parliament conferred the official status of opposition on the Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led governing coalition, which seated 22 members in parliament. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, or campaign freely.
During the 2018 national elections, the government did not grant credentials or issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to most international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to observe the domestic election.
Low voter turnout, intimidation, irregularities, and low-scale violence targeting opposition-nominated candidates during campaigns and voting marked several local government elections during the year. On February 28, the main opposition BNP announced it would boycott municipal elections countrywide on the grounds the Election Commission had “destroyed” the electoral system. The BNP also refrained from nominating candidates for parliamentary by-elections held during the year. The elections drew few voters, and in some constituencies the ruling AL candidates were “uncontested winners.”
In subdistrict (Upazila) elections from June through December, media reported intraparty violence between AL-affiliated candidates and their supporters left more than 50 individuals dead. Human rights organization ASK stated 157 persons died and 10,833 were injured in a total of 932 political clashes during the year. One candidate publicly boasted government officials and security services supported him, and he threatened ballots would not be secret. Media reported the Election Commission took virtually no action to address violations of the electoral code of conduct by ruling party leaders. AL officials downplayed the violence as the byproduct of “overly enthusiastic” candidates.
The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders. The BNP claimed police implicated thousands of BNP members in criminal charges prior to the 2018 national election and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated.
Opposition activists faced criminal charges. Leaders and members of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat), the largest Islamist political party in the country, could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement. Jamaat was deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name, and the fundamental constitutional rights of speech and assembly of its leaders and members were denied. Media outlets deemed critical of the government and the AL were subjected to government intimidation and cuts in advertising revenue and thus practiced some self-censorship.
AL-affiliated organizations such as its student wing the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups. On August 18, the BCL attacked a BNP organization’s assistance event for COVID-19 pandemic victims in Manohardi, Narsigndi District, leaving 20 persons injured, including two journalists. On August 29, BCL attacks on a BNP student procession at Dhaka University injured 19 students.
In September 2020 a speedy trial tribunal in Dhaka indicted 25 ruling party student activists for the 2019 killing of Abrar Fahad Rabbi, a student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Rabbi was beaten to death due to suspected involvement with the group Shibir, Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing, and following several Facebook posts criticizing recent bilateral agreements with India. The trial continued as of September.
The 86 criminal charges filed by the government against BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in previous years remained unresolved; Alamgir remained free on bail. The charges involved attacks on police, burning buses, and bombings.
In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted broadcasting of opposition political events. Political parties, however, had limited outdoor activities as the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to go virtual or stay indoors.
No laws limited participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. In 2018 parliament amended the constitution to extend by 25 additional years a provision that reserves 50 seats for women. Female parliamentarians are nominated by the 300 directly elected parliamentarians. The seats reserved for women are distributed among parties proportionate to their parliamentary representation. Political parties failed to meet a parliamentary rule that women comprise 33 percent of all committee members by the end of the 2020, leading the Electoral Commission to propose eliminating the rule altogether.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law only prohibits rape of girls and women by men and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the girl or woman is older than 13. Conviction of rape may be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Credible human rights organizations found rape remained a serious issue in the country, with reported rapes throughout the year roughly keeping pace with previous years. Domestic human rights group ASK reported at least 1,321 women were raped during the year. In comparison Odhikar reported 1,538 women and children were raped in 2020; among them, 577 were women, and 919 were younger than age 18. There were allegations of rapists blackmailing survivors by threatening to release the video of the rape on social media.
Rights groups reported violence against women in all forms increased throughout the pandemic. ASK reported 640 women were survivors of domestic violence during the year, including 372 who died as a result of the violence. NGOs mobilized to address an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. There were reports of sexual violence committed with impunity. On June 14, actress Shamsunnahar Smriti, popularly known as Pori Moni, filed a case alleging businessman Nasir Mahmood and five other men attempted to rape and kill her at the Dhaka Boat Club. On August 4, the RAB removed Moni from her apartment during a raid in which agents allegedly found illegal substances including alcohol and narcotics. Some activists stated the police raid was in response to her filing a rape case against a powerful businessman.
On April 26, college student Mosarat Jahan Munia was found dead in her apartment in Dhaka. Nusrat Jahan, Munia’s sister filed a case against Bashundhara Group managing director Sayem Sobhan Anvir Anvi, alleging he abetted Munia’s reported suicide. On July 19, police submitted the final probe report exonerating Anvir of involvement in Munia’s death. On July 26, 51 activists and leaders across the country demanded a reinvestigation into her death, stating, “We believe a proper investigation and appropriate trial for Munia’s suicide or murder is essential in maintaining public confidence in the rule of law of the country.”
In response to a September 2020 gang rape case in Sylhet, Feminists Across Generations, a local group working against gender-based violence and abuse against women, launched “Rage Against Rape,” a movement declaring gender-based violence a national emergency. The organization’s 10-point plan urged for reform and argued the death penalty for conviction would not solve rape culture or gender-based violence. The organization advocated for women and girls’ safety from violence and raised awareness of individual cases of rape. Separately the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 17 organizations, continued to advocate for its “Rape Law Reform Now” campaign, another 10-point plan urging for legal and institutional reforms.
According to guidelines for handling rape cases, the officer in charge of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests must be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. Guidelines also stipulate every police station must have a female police officer available to survivors of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the survivor must be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the survivor deems appropriate. Survivors with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the survivor to a timely medical examination.
A collection of political, sociocultural, and human rights groups stated incidents of rape continued to occur due to a culture of impunity. According to human rights monitors, many survivors did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape survivor to prove a rape occurred, using medical evidence.
Some media and NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes concerning dowries, despite recent legal changes prohibiting dowry demands. By law an individual demanding or giving a dowry may be imprisoned for up to five years, fined, or both. ASK found 210 incidents of dowry-related violence against women, with 72 women killed because of dowry disputes during the year.
On February 17, Lima Khatun was allegedly beaten to death by her husband and his relatives in Sirajganj for not giving them gold as dowry. On March 1, Runa Begum was allegedly beaten to death by her husband for continued dowry demands even after taking an initial dowry of 100,000 taka ($1,163) from her. Media reported police arrested the husband. On April 9, a rickshaw puller with disabilities named Jamal committed suicide at his residence in Chittagong due to the constant pressure from his daughter’s father-in-law for dowry.
A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.
Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence.
Assailants threw acid in the faces of survivors, usually women, leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were frequently related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land or other money disputes. A total of 11 acid burns were reported during the first six months of the year.
Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court ruling, harassment, also known as “Eve teasing,” was common according to multiple NGOs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manusher Jonno foundation, a local human rights group, found multiple instances of women reporting sexual harassment while receiving food assistance. A total of 101 incidents of sexual harassment against women were reported during the first nine months of the year.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Civil society organizations reported that survivors of child marriage had less negotiating power to make family planning choices. According to the 2017-18 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), three of five girls were married by age 18, with an adolescent birth rate of 28 percent. UNICEF also found nearly five in 10 child brides gave birth before age 18 and eight in 10 child brides gave birth before age 20.
LGBTQI+ groups reported lesbian and bisexual women lacked access to basic sexual and reproductive health care.
A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO, and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Low-income families were more likely to rely on public family planning services offered free of cost. Religious beliefs and traditional family roles served as barriers to access. Government district hospitals had crisis management centers providing contraceptive care to survivors of sexual assault.
Effective access to information on reproductive health, including family planning, is one of the prime objectives of the National Population Policy (2012). Aligned with the national policy, family planning services were supported by programs that emphasized informed choice and voluntarism. To aid these practices, the National Family Planning Program used a job aid on clients’ eligibility criteria, a family planning manual, and clients’ consent forms for long acting and permanent methods of family planning. Family planning service providers were trained on reproductive rights and choice.
According to the World Bank’s most recent estimates, maternal mortality rate declined from 2000 to 2017. During that timeframe the rate dropped from 434 to 173 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the BDHS, 12 percent of married women of reproductive age had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public-health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in rural areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services.
Taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation created social and religious barriers for menstruating women. In conservative communities some menstruating women could not use the kitchen or observe religious practices due to fear of contamination.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in child marriage resulted in girls leaving school at a higher rate than boys. UNICEF noted that girls who marry in childhood are less likely to remain in school.
The constitution declares all citizens are equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection under the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. According to traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit half of what sons do. According to Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death. In September 2020 the High Court ruled that Hindu widows in the country were entitled to all properties of their deceased husbands, including agricultural property. Previously Hindu women were entitled only to their husband’s homestead properties.
There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for political and economic reasons, and some of these faith groups stated attacks on religious structures increased during the pandemic.
On March 17, an estimated 89 houses and eight temples in a Hindu village in Sylhet were vandalized. Media and civil society attributed the attack to hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters triggered by a resident’s Facebook post criticizing a Hefazat leader for condemning Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit. After the incident the organization released a YouTube video rejecting responsibility for the attack. The government expressed regret and sent the RAB to the village. As of March 23, police had arrested 35 individuals in connection with the attack. Members of the Hindu minority community blamed religious fundamentalist groups for the incident, while some civil society and opposition leaders blamed the ruling party. Some other human rights groups blamed local law enforcement and administration officials for not preventing the attack.
On October 13, media reported anti-Hindu violence broke out following a social media post that went viral depicting a Quran in the lap of a Hindu deity in the city of Cumilla during the Hindu Durga Puja festival (see sections 1.d. and 2.a.). Muslim protesters allegedly attacked Hindus, Hindu temples, and damaged property in several cities. Six persons died in ensuing violence, mostly due to clashes with security forces deployed to restore order. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior officials condemned the violence, emphasized the country’s secular identity superseded religious identity, and the government took measures to compensate Hindu victims.
NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) suffered from restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.
The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the Bangladesh Liberation War) were formerly stateless, and members from this community stated their requests to obtain passports were often rejected by immigration officers due to their lack of a permanent address. Almost all this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1970s, when Biharis believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 war. A December 2020 International Republican Institute (IRI) study claimed living conditions for Biharis in the camps remained poor, with many camps containing fewer than 10 public toilets serving hundreds of residents. The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, for example, held an estimated 30,000 residents as of January. While older Biharis may have had an affinity to Pakistan, many participants in the IRI study stated they identified as Bangladeshi, particularly those who grew up after the Liberation War. In 2008 a High Court ruling that the Bihari community had rights as citizens prompted the international donor community to cease support as the community was technically no longer stateless. While the government provided some basic services, including water and electricity, Biharis reported social and economic discrimination as well as a lack of initiatives integrating them into society, leaving them isolated in crowded camps.
In September some Biharis expressed concern officials would reject their official status as Bangladeshis, expropriate their land, and implement policies to force the Biharis to return to Pakistan.
The indigenous community of the CHT experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which has not been fully implemented, specifically the portions of the accord empowering a CHT-specific special administrative system consisting of the three Hill District Councils and the Regional Council. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.
An August 2020 study found land confiscations, livelihood risks, and violence against indigenous women increased during the pandemic. While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. The study also found a lack of health care for indigenous persons. Other organizations corroborated health care available to indigenous persons was well below the standard available to nonindigenous persons in the country. In October 2020 a group of indigenous tribal leaders presented a memorandum to the government stating a significant portion of the food security needs of marginalized communities in CHT remained unmet.
Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.
In November 2020 business conglomerate Sikder Group, in partnership with the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust, started constructing a five-star hotel and tourist resort on Chimbuk Hill, located in the CHT, despite protests from the Mro, the resident indigenous community, regarding resulting evictions. According to activists, the project would displace 115 Mro families in four villages and lead to a larger estimated displacement of 10,000 persons. Indigenous rights groups stated the land in question is held under customary law by the tribal community for its own use, and transfer of such land may only take place with the informed consent of the indigenous residents. According to these groups, the proposed project site was critical to subsistence crop cultivation, the sole source of livelihood for the Mro people. In January a video circulated showing a confrontation between Mro villages and persons at the hotel construction site.
Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported deforestation to support Rohingya refugee camps and other commercial pursuits caused severe environmental degradation in their land, adversely affecting their livelihoods. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.
The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. According to one organization, Naika Mardi, an indigenous person and Liberation War fighter, was unable to register 0.04 acres of land to his name, even after trying for 10 years. Madi had been living on this land since before independence in 1971.
The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intra-indigenous community violence. The factional clashes between and within the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reported many leaders of these factions were engaged in extortion and smuggling of money, drugs, and arms. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remained unresolved. NGOs and indigenous persons familiar with the situation warned intraparty violence in the CHT had risen sharply.
Reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.
Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that were previously not part of the country. The government did not register births for nor extend citizenship to Rohingya refugees born in the country, although it permitted UNHCR to register births within the refugee camps. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through eighth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, despite free classes, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school. Numerous civil society organizations stated many families of school-aged children struggled to find access to the internet in order to benefit from online schooling during the pandemic.
Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. The law prohibits child abuse and neglect with the penalty for conviction up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. According to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), a network of child rights NGOs, the law was not fully implemented, and juvenile cases – like many other criminal cases – often lagged in the judicial system. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, operated “Child Helpline – 1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation. The hotline received approximately 80,000 calls a year on average and was accessible from anywhere in the country. The hotline center provided services such as rescue, referral, and counseling.
ASK reported a total of 453 cases of violence against children were filed in the first half of the year.
Odhikar reported child rape increased alarmingly during the year. According to a survey, 64 percent of rape survivors in Chittagong were children and adolescents. A 2019 BSAF report on child rape stated children as young as two were among the rape survivors and cited a failure of the law-and-order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape. In BSAF’s 2020 report, the domestic organization Human Rights Support Society reported 850 children were raped and 136 violent incidents were committed against children.
During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassas. In May a former leader of the Chhatra League raped a ninth-grade madrassa student. Family members later rescued the girl, finding her in critical condition. The man beat the girl’s father when he demanded justice. In September a father of a nine-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar accused his daughter’s teacher of raping her inside a local madrassa. Many smaller schools had few teachers and no oversight from governing bodies.
Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.
The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. The law includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.”
In a 2020 report UNICEF reported 51 percent of women married before age 18, down from 59 percent estimated in its 2018 report.
On June 26, media reported Shahin Hawladar, a 60-year-old man and Kanakdia union chairman and member of the ruling party, married a 14-year-old girl after he arbitrated the girl’s and her 19-year-old boyfriend’s elopement. Hawladar, who was already married with two children, presented legal documents alleging the girl was 18. On June 28, he divorced the girl and handed her over to her father. On June 29, a case was filed against Hawladar and five others for forcibly marrying the underaged girl. Police were instructed to investigate the case, and a court initially suspended Hawladar from his chairmanship, but the decision was stayed on appeal.
To reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The government also launched 4,800 clubs around the country, reaching more than 150,000 adolescents. The structure of each club included approximately 20 young girls and 10 boys, who worked together on their own empowerment projects. Activities included educational awareness, advocacy, and life-skills training.
According to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, two mobile services were available to report cases of child marriage and other services: the Joya App and a “109 Hotline.” According to the ministry, more than 1,000 girls used the hotline every day.
Numerous civil society organizations cited cause-and-effect relationships between the extended school closures due to the pandemic and an increased risk of school dropouts and child marriage. According to these organizations, child marriage increased by 13 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. On July 29, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs in partnership with international and local partners, launched an “Actions to Prevent Child Marriage in Bangladesh” campaign designed to encourage families to condemn the harmful practice of child marriage and help advance the objectives of the government’s 10-year National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage (2018-2030). Part of that campaign includes the “One Million Pledge to End Child Marriage in Bangladesh,” a pledge drive focused on community engagement, capacity development, mass media mobilization, and advocacy.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for conviction of sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and selling or distributing such material is prohibited. A 2019 report of the NGO Terre des Hommes-Netherlands stated street children were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation but had little legal redress due to a lack of social and financial support and a lengthy criminal justice system. The report stated although the government took “necessary legal and institutional measures to combat commercial sexual exploitation, children face multiple challenges in accessing justice.” The report found 75 percent of female children living on Dhaka streets were at risk of sexual exploitation, with an estimated 30,000 girls sexually exploited. The government, through the help of several organizations, worked to improve the quality of life of the country’s estimated 1.5 million street children and provide them access to education, health care, shelter, and safe employment opportunities.
Underage girls trafficked in brothels were able to produce notarized certificates stating they were older than age 18, and some NGOs claimed corrupt government and law enforcement officials condoned or facilitated these practices. In addition to cross-border trafficking, traffickers lured girls from around the country into domestic commercial sexual exploitation in legal and illegal brothels and hotels.
Displaced Children: See section 2.f.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was no Jewish community in the country. Politicians and imams used anti-Semitic statements, reportedly to gain support from their constituencies.
See the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took mostly effective measures to enforce these provisions. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against persons with disabilities seriously, and it acted to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities. Nonetheless, civil society reported those with disabilities were the most vulnerable group throughout the pandemic, especially women and girls.
Executive Director Badiul Alam of Bangladesh Protibandhi Unnayan Sangstha (BPUS), a local NGO that has supported more than 7,000 persons with disabilities, estimated 15 to 20 million individuals, or 10 percent of the population, possessed some form of disability. BPUS estimated more than 60 percent of the disability population lived in rural areas without access to government support.
In 2020 the government passed the National Building Construction Act. Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for persons with disabilities. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In some cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law.
The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. The law states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for conviction of not giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. Local NGOs estimated 50 to 60 percent of those with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as voting centers lacked accommodations for persons with disabilities. Most polling centers had no access to priority voting and no assistive tools such as braille ballots for visually impaired persons to vote confidentially. A 27-member National Coordination Committee is charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation. Civil society organizations advocated the inclusion of those with disabilities in the national parliament, stressing representation would ensure their needs are taken into consideration during decision making.
According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of accommodation, but data were not readily available. The government trained teachers on inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities. A peer-reviewed study released in July 2020 found many families with children with disabilities lacked knowledge and access to government programs and benefits.
The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as other persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. Additionally, many organizations reported persons with visual disabilities experienced difficulties accessing technology, depriving them of equal access to education, information, health, and other basic human rights. While individuals reported government websites contained more user-friendly services for persons with disabilities, they also reported information for persons with disabilities was usually uploaded on portals as scanned documents, which made it incompatible for software used by visually impaired persons. Community members reported documents uploaded in formats readable by assistive technology would make a positive difference. The government provided visually impaired students with accessible books every year and was working on a National Web Accessibility Guideline to make all government services accessible to persons with disabilities through a national web portal.
The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Activists reported the government’s plan of action for ensuring rights of women and girls with disabilities needed strengthening.
The government took action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. The government plans to make its national helpline more inclusive and accessible.
Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government operates 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances. Activists reported the monthly government allowance for persons with disabilities was 775 taka (nine dollars) and requested the government consider increasing the allowance in the national budget.
Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility during elections.
Civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ activists often cited social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations as a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Mental health care was a top concern, and according to these groups, mental health-care providers tended to use moralistic terms to shame LGBTQI+ persons. In terms of physical health care, many practitioners expressed discomfort in discussing sexual activity, and shamed patients who discussed sexually transmitted infections. Neither PrEP nor PEP, pre- and post-exposure medications that prevent transmittal of HIV during sex, were available in the country. The government made HIV testing free of cost, but stigma regarding testing and seeking treatment remained strong. On October 19, the government published national antiretroviral therapy guidelines to outline efforts to increase treatment availability around the country.
Same-sex sexual conduct is illegal under the penal code. The government did not actively enforce the law. LGBTQI+ groups reported the government retained the law because of societal pressure. LGBTQI+ groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTQI+ individuals and individuals who were perceived to be LGBTQI+ regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious-behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized but recognized as part of society. Nevertheless, it experienced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks. Police investigation and prosecution of those complicit in violence or crimes against LGBTQI+ individuals remained rare.
Members of LGBTQI+ communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police. They stressed the need for online and physical security due to continued threats of physical violence. In August an antiterrorism tribunal sentenced six individuals to death in the killing of two gay men five years ago, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of the country’s first gay rights magazine and a prominent gay rights activist.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services including health care and access to justice.
While some transgender women in the country identified as hijra (a cultural South Asian term for some transgender women as well as some intersex and gender non-conforming individuals), due to an affinity for the hijra subculture or a desire for increased social protection, not all chose to do so. Many transgender women asserted their transgender identities and corrected those who identified them as hijra. Meanwhile, transgender men received little support or tolerance, particularly in poor and rural communities. Some conservative clerics decried the transgender community and sharply distinguished it from the hijra identity, saying the latter would be tolerable while the former remains unacceptable.
Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.
Although the government made some progress in promoting social acceptance of hijra persons, a small segment of the community, the government made limited efforts to promote the rights of others in the LGBTQI+ community. On September 16, the director general of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics announced the national census would include hijra as a “third gender” category; the census was scheduled to be conducted in 2022.
The issuance of illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations reported high levels of rejections for trade union registration and an overly complicated registration process. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Department of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) may grant approval for registration of a union. The department may request a labor court dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the Registrar of Trade Unions regularly abused its discretion and denied applications without reason, for reasons not recognized in law or regulation, or by fabricating shortcomings in the application. One union representative explained she had completed all paperwork to form a union and had support from 30 percent of workers, but the union registration was rejected by the Department of Labor because the factory claimed it had hundreds of additional employees. Organizers’ names were shared with the factory owner, and all were fired. Furthermore, the department did not allow more than one union per garment factory. Labor leaders reported unions sympathetic to management received quick approvals to organize
The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions.
The law continued to ban trade unions and severely restricted the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 430,000 workers in export-processing zones (EPZs). Worker welfare associations (WWAs), dominated by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), continued to replace the function of independent, democratically elected unions in EPZs. The law limits inspection and greatly restricts the right to strike, giving BEPZA’s chairperson discretion to ban any strike viewed as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. More than 50 percent of WWAs in one zone of the EPZ must approve a federation, and they were prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. Except for limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.
The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Unfair labor practices, including antiunion discrimination, were expressly prohibited, but 2018 amendments to labor law halved penalties for both employers and workers. The labor law and rules amendment process continued, as indicated in a roadmap the government submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Workers were often charged with unfair labor practices; employers rarely were. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.
The law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. The Department of Labor has the authority to deal with unfair labor practices, while the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has the authority to mediate wage-related disputes, but their decisions were not binding. The government reported 20 complaints were filed for unfair labor practices from January to December 1; six were resolved according to the law and standard operating procedures, four investigations were completed, and 10 remained open. Trade union federations reported they have stopped filing unfair labor cases due to the enormous backlog of existing cases in labor courts.
The law establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously. According to the law, at least 75 percent of union employees must support strike action. Work stoppages, strikes, and workplace actions were prevalent during the year in several sectors, and they generally concerned past-due wages, improper or illegal shutdowns, layoffs, terminations, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems.
In July the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur agitated in front of the Labor Ministry building for 10 days, demanding arrears. Despite repeated meetings of MOLE with the employers, there was still no progress as to the payment of the arrears. According to the Industrial Police, the factory had 3,200 workers who did not receive wages after the factory announced sudden closure of its operation. The workers stated wages were in arrears for four to nine months and that their total due was more than 700 million taka ($8.14 million); however, the factory owner wanted to pay less than 25 million taka ($290,698).
On June 13, a female ready-made-garments (RMG) factory worker, Jesmin Begum, died and 35 others were injured as police clashed with 500-600 former workers demonstrating peacefully for the payment of arrears in front of the Dhaka EPZ. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and used charged batons and water cannons to disperse the workers of Lenny Fashions Ltd, Lenny Apparels Ltd and A One Fashions Ltd., some of whom in return threw bricks at police, according to a local trade union leader. Union leaders said Begum died after being hit by rubber bullets, although police alleged she critically injured her head as she bumped into a pole while fleeing. In January the three referenced factories allegedly closed without clearing workers arrears, and thereafter former workers periodically demonstrated to protest. Dhaka EPZ authorities stated they were trying to sell the closed factories to clear the workers’ arrears.
On April 17, media reported at least seven workers were killed, and dozens injured after police opened fire on a crowd of workers demanding payment of unpaid wages and a pay raise at a Chinese-backed power plant. Police opened fire after approximately 2,000 protesters began hurling bricks and stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The workers were protesting regarding unpaid wages, a pay raise, and reduced hours during the holy month of Ramadan, which started the same week as the protest.
According to the labor rights organization Solidarity Center, union registration applications and approvals have declined significantly since 2013 and that workers faced significant challenges registering unions. Despite the adoption of standard operating procedures for union registration in 2017, Solidarity Center reported the process routinely took longer than the 60-day maximum time, and nearly half of all union applications were arbitrarily denied. From January to December 1, Solidarity Center’s partners assisted 10 unions with their registration, and to date only one was approved, three were rejected, and six were pending approval. The government reported receiving 233 total valid applications during the year and approved 190, rejected 31, with the remainder still to be reviewed.
Workers in the RMG sector reported resistance when seeking to establish unions and engage in collective bargaining. In a 2018 survey, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think tank, collected data from 3,856 RMG factories employing 3.6 million workers and found 97.5 percent of them had no union. During the year MOLE reported the RMG sector had 1,006 active trade unions and 1,951 participation committees. Labor leaders claimed much lower numbers of trade unions and asserted while there are perhaps 80 to 90 active unions, only 30 to 40 actually negotiated because intimidation, corruption, and violence continued to constrain union organizing. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions. Only 70 tanneries were unionized under the sector’s single union. The tea sector had one union, the largest in the country, representing 95,000 to 100,000 workers. Labor regulations do not clearly provide a legal basis for collective bargaining at the industrial, sectoral, and national levels.
Labor rights groups reported workers routinely faced retaliation and violence for asserting their rights under the law, including organizing unions, raising concerns, or even attending union information sessions. For example, on August 6, the Bangladesh Industrial Police (BIP) filed a criminal case against the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and other union leaders and members that the Solidarity Center characterized as a case of retaliation for attempting to organize. Workers at the Crossline garment factories in the city of Gazipur failed to register two unions and accused factory management of violating labor laws. These deep disagreements with management led to protests, BIP intervention, and violence on both sides; in response, Crossline filed criminal charges against up to 200 of its factory workers and dismissed others who had led the push to unionize.
Workers in unions were subjected to police violence, mass dismissals, and arrests of union leaders for asserting their rights to protest. Police intimidated unions in the RMG sector by frequently visiting their meetings and offices, photographing or recording meetings, and monitoring NGOs supporting trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted major discrepancies in labor legislation that do not align with the standards of the ILO and emphasized concerns regarding police crackdowns on workers protesting wages. ITUC also called for more measures to restrain interference in union elections. In September Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union reported police first banned several union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council was to be formed. According to labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). The law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations that provided for the effectiveness and independence of PCs.
Workers from several factories also asserted that since August 2018, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and factory owners allegedly used a database of RMG workers to blacklist those who brought demands to management or tried to form unions. Although created after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse to have a record of workers (and potential victims of future disasters), the database served to track known union organizers or anyone who has brought a complaint to management to prevent these staff from finding employment at any other factory. Labor organizations also cited examples of factory owners willing to pay up to one million taka ($11,628) to the Department of Labor to dismiss a union registration application, or to share the names of organizers.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor outside prisons, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also requires that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims, but the government did not always provide such services.
During the past year, law enforcement conducted fewer investigations and denied credible reports of official complicity in hundreds of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation cases. The government did not provide sufficient victim protective services, nor did it consistently follow victim identification procedures. There were no government-owned shelters for adult male victims.
Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.
Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.). In December 2020 police rescued four workers who were being tortured in confinement at a brickfield and arrested seven individuals, including owners of the kiln. According to DIFE, at least 297 abuse cases were pending at labor courts across the country, while 106 cases were pending in Dhaka and 60 in Narayanganj. The cases were mostly filed under Section 326 of the penal code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, assault, and torture at brick kilns. According to the ILO, significant number of child laborers were employed in the various chores at the brick kiln. To complete these tasks, which required no special skill, kiln operators and their agents targeted poverty-stricken villages and urban slums to recruit unskilled laborers.
Traffickers exploited workers in forced labor through debt-based coercion and bonded labor in the shrimp and fish-processing industries, aluminum and garment factories, brick kilns, dry fish production, and shipbreaking. NGOs reported officials permit traffickers to recruit and operate at India-Bangladesh border crossings and maritime embarkation points.
The more than 907,000 Rohingya men, women, and children in refugee camps, who did not have access to formal schooling or livelihoods, were vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly by local criminal networks. International organizations reported that officials took bribes from traffickers to access refugee camps.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depended on the type of work and the child’s age. The law establishes the minimum age for work at 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, with no exceptions. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 hours per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade.
In accordance with the law, the government has declared 38 hazardous sectors where child labor is prohibited, but hazardous domestic work, fish drying, brick production, stone collection, and brick and stone-breaking sectors were not included in that list. Even in sectors declared hazardous, child labor persists, with the government declaring only eight of the 38 listed sectors free of child labor. Trade union leaders pointed to domestic work, local garments production for domestic consumption, fish drying, and brick kilns as the biggest users of child and bonded labor.
The government continued to fund and participate in programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including building schools and a three billion-taka ($35 million) government-funded three-year project that began in 2018 and removed approximately 90,000 children from hazardous jobs. In 2019 the program reintegrated 1,254 children into schools and provided rehabilitation for 3,501 children as well as livelihood support for their parents. In July DIFE stated that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, DIFE had already removed 5,800 child workers. On October 26, MOLE signed agreements with 112 NGOs to eliminate risky child labor. According to the agreements, 100,000 children would be removed from hazardous work in the fourth phase of the project, at a cost of more than 2.85 billion taka ($33.1 million).
MOLE enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. DIFE enforced child labor laws in 42 sectors, and during the 2020-21 fiscal year it targeted six hazardous sectors, engineering workshops, bakery, transport, plastic, food-processing factories, and restaurants, for complete elimination of child labor. Labor inspectors were not authorized to assess penalties; they have the power only to send legal notices and file cases in court. Even when the courts imposed fines, however, they were too low to deter child labor violations.
Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children. The government found children working eight to 10 hours per day in restaurants, engineering workshops, local transportation, and domestic work. The government also reported underage children were found in almost all sectors except the export-oriented RMG, shrimp, tannery, ship breaking, silk production, ceramic, glass, and export-oriented leather goods and footwear sectors.
Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the production of bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), furniture and steel, matches, poultry, salt, soap, textiles, and jute, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods bound for the local market, where the Bangladesh Labor Foundation reported 58 percent of workers were younger than 18, and 18 percent were younger than age 15.
According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of children ages six to 14 were engaged in full-time work and not in school. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. In a 2006 survey conducted by an international organization, more than 400,000 children were found engaged in domestic work. Children engaged in forced labor in the leather industry and in criminal activities, such as forced begging and the production and transport of drugs. In begging rings, traffickers abused children to increase earnings.
Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or foreign countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reportedly underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor as shop hands, domestic workers, fishermen, and rickshaw pullers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
The labor law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations. The law does not describe a penalty for discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.
The garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented most garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total RMG workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics were unreliable and varied widely due to a lack of data. Women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Oxford University and Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Additionally, former BGMEA president Rubana Haq noted the perception women were less able to adapt to increasing automation in the garment sector, leading factories to lay off many female workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. Solidarity Center partners reported there were no antiharassment committees in garment factories, but the Garment Exporters’ Association announced it had visited more than 1,100 factories to confirm the committees had been established.
In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea-workers’ spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.
Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).
The laws prohibiting adolescents from participating in dangerous work specify that women are equal to adolescents and are, therefore, prohibited from working with hazardous machinery, cleaning machinery in motion, working between moving parts, or working underground or underwater.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation, but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers, but many were above the poverty level. Failure to pay the specified minimum wage is punishable by a jail term up to one year, a fine, or both, and the employer should have to pay owed wages. In March the government identified seven more industrial sectors (tiles and ceramics, commercial amusement parks, battery manufacturing, fish drying, private airlines, stone crushing, and information technology parks) to set monthly wages according to minimum wage regulations. There are 43 sectors under minimum wage regulation.
By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours, but it may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime may not be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than six hours a day, or a half hour of rest for more than five hours’ work per day. The law states that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year, fixed by the employer in consultation with the collective bargaining agent (CBA), if any. Factory workers were supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers received one and one-half days off per week. The labor law did not specify a penalty for forced overtime or failing to pay overtime wages.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The labor law specified sanctions when failure to comply caused harm; for loss of life, violators are subject to a four-year jail term, a fine, or both; for serious injury, a two-year jail term, a fine, or both; and for injury or danger violators face a six-month jail term, a fine, or both. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.
Labor law implementing rules outline the process for forming occupational safety and health committees in factories, and the government reported approximately 2,175 safety committees had been formed since July 2018. The committees included both management and workers nominated by the CBA or, in absence of CBA, workers representatives of the factory’s worker participation committee. Where there was no union or worker participation committee, the Department of Labor is responsible for arranging participation committee elections.
The government did not enforce the law. DIFE’s resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively. DIFE labor inspectors only have the authority to make unannounced inspections in non-EPZ factories, as BEPZA is the sole authority overseeing EPZs. DIFE inspectors do not have the authority to initiate sanctions; they may notify establishments of violations in writing and file complaints in labor courts. DIFE regularly filed cases in the labor courts against employers for administrative violations of the law, such as not maintaining documents. MOLE reported DIFE has filed cases against some factories for failure to pay minimum wages and overtime during the year, but labor organizations had not seen any cases. There were also criticisms regarding DIFE’s complaint mechanism. A worker must enter his or her name, position, and identity number in DIFE’s complaint form. Once the complaint is received, DIFE issues a letter to factory management with reference to the complaint form. This provided inadequate protections to workers and raised doubts on the efficacy of the mechanism for filing complaints. In March, BEPZA launched a helpline telephone number for EPZ workers. After receiving complaints, BEPZA is supposed to send the complaint to the concerned EPZ authority to mitigate the complaint.
Although increased focus on the garment industry improved safety compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors. Many RMG employers failed to adequately train workers on safety and hazardous materials, provide required equipment, or provide for functioning safety committees, all required by law. Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely and a labor rights NGO found 95 percent of factories did not comply with overtime limits. Employers often required workers, including pregnant women, to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet quotas and export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers in many cases delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits.
According to a survey conducted by Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, at least 853 workers died during the year, and 236 others were seriously injured in workplace accidents, mostly in the informal sector. Another survey conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies found 146 workers injured in 276 labor unrest incidents from January to June. The unrest took place mostly in the garments sector due to issues with wages, factory closures, and layoffs. On July 9, a factory fire in Narayanganj, near Dhaka, killed 54 workers. Fire fighters reported key exits were locked and that some died after jumping off the six-story factory, which was owned by Hashem Food and Beverage and was a unit of the diversified conglomerate Sajeeb Group. Investigators found evidence of poor safety protocols on the factory floors, negligence and disregard for the safety of workers, inadequate government inspections, and child labor. In late July authorities arrested factory owner M.A. Hashem and filed murder charges against seven individuals. Subsequently, the owner received legal indemnity by offering 200,000 taka ($2,326) as compensation to each of the families of the victims killed in the fire. In return for the monetary compensation, the families absolved the factory owner of all monetary liability for those who died in the fire.
The two Western brand-led initiatives that formed to address widespread structural, fire, and electrical safety issues in the garment sector after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse both ceased their operations in the country in 2020. The High Court had ordered Nirapon (the organization continuing the work of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and representing most North American clothing brands) to suspend its audit and training activities after a factory reopened an old case against the Alliance to sue Nirapon. Also, under a court-ordered memorandum of understanding, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (“Accord,” consisting mostly of European brands), handed over its operations, staff, and relationships with garment-sector factories producing for Accord brands to the newly established Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council, whose board included representation by industry, brands, and trade unions. The Ministry of Commerce formed the Government Coordination Council (GCC) during the year to supervise the activities of the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), a private organization that oversees the safety standards at garment factories. The GCC is supposed to ensure the RSC’s activities do not conflict with other government regulatory bodies, coordinate the RSC’s work, resolve any grievances, and provide necessary guidance.
On September 1, the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry agreement took effect. The agreement, formed between IndustriALL, another global union UNI, and brand signatories, aimed to broaden the accord’s legally binding safety inspection regime, feed into the RSC, and broaden safety inspections to include additional labor considerations such as wages and compensation and some worker-related rights. As of December 22, 160 brands were registered under the accord. The government reiterated the RSC was the sole inspection regime for RMG factories, and the BGMEA rejected the accord’s stated goals, suggesting application of the accord in the country might be unlawful.
Revisions to the building code were published that failed to meet basic international fire safety standards, and government oversight of building safety outside of the garment export sector remained limited. Although the brand-led Accord and Alliance improved structural, fire, and electrical safety conditions in 2,300 RMG factories manufacturing for Western brands, safety auditors reported fire detection and suppression systems in these factories often did not work following installation because they were not maintained properly. Several hundred additional RMG factories producing for domestic sale or for export to other foreign markets fell under the government’s National Initiative, which had not made much progress on safety remediation since its establishment in 2017. DIFE was developing an Industrial Safety Unit to launch in 2022 to oversee the National Initiative factories and, eventually, the safety of industries. The Remediation Coordination Cell identified 105 risky buildings in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Chittagong.
Informal Sector: Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector that employed most workers, and labor laws do not cover informal employment. According to the Labour Force Survey 2016-2017, of a total of 61 million employed laborers in the country, 85 percent worked in the informal sector. Nearly 92 percent of women and 82 percent of men were involved in informal activities. In both urban and rural areas, women and youths were more likely to be in informal employment. Nearly half the workers in the informal sector had received no schooling.