The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and took some steps to address one case of official complicity in trafficking, which remained pervasive and serious. The 2012 Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA) criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of five years to life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) ($595). Bonded labor was treated as a separate offense and prescribed lesser penalties of five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 BDT ($595). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued to train police officers through an anti-trafficking module at the police academy. The government also provided in-kind support to international organization- and NGO-run trainings for police and immigration officials. While the government reported training 23,890 police officers on human trafficking in 2018, it did not report if police and other relevant officials received training on the PSHTA implementing rules, which it disseminated in 2017. Many law enforcement officers did not understand human trafficking and, at times, conflated it with migrant smuggling.
The government recorded 592 cases involving 1,324 suspects under the PSHTA during the reporting period, a decrease from 778 cases the previous reporting period. The vast majority of cases involved the smuggling of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, and it is unclear how many of those cases also contained crimes of trafficking in persons. Courts did not report how many trafficking prosecutions they initiated or continued from previous reporting periods. Courts reported conviction of eight traffickers in five potential trafficking cases, all involving the transportation of women abroad for sex trafficking or forced labor. Six convicted traffickers received life imprisonment and a 50,000 BDT ($595) fine, one received life imprisonment, and one received 15 years’ imprisonment. This is compared to one conviction in the previous reporting period, in which the trafficker received life imprisonment. The government acknowledged investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for trafficking remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem. According to media analysis of police data, the government’s conviction rate for trafficking crimes under the PSHTA from 2013-2019 was 0.4 percent. The government continued to allow mobile courts, established under the executive branch, to adjudicate smuggling cases, some of which might have contained elements of human trafficking.
Mobile courts could only prescribe penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment—less than the minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses under the PSHTA. In addition to the cases under the PSHTA, mobile courts convicted 11 individuals in two cases for “human trafficking” during the reporting period and sentenced them to between two and six months’ imprisonment. However, case information indicated the individuals had likely committed migrant smuggling crimes without evidence of exploitation in forced labor or sex trafficking. Despite more than 100 reports from NGOs of Rohingya subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking within Bangladesh, the only Rohingya-related cases reported by law enforcement involved movement via boat—cases that might have been migrant smuggling without elements of trafficking. An NGO expressed concern that some village courts, five-person panels of local government officials and villagers, adjudicated trafficking cases but could only administer financial penalties, and the courts may have subjected victims to intimidation, fraud, and corruption. The government had not established the anti-trafficking tribunal, stipulated in the PSHTA to specialize in human trafficking cases. The Women and Children Violence Protection Tribunal continued to hear trafficking cases in the interim; however, observers commented the prosecutors lacked expertise in trafficking. Observers stated the government generally did not dedicate sufficient resources to pre-trial investigations and prosecutors persisted with trials to meet the statutorily required timeline of 180 working days for the disposal of cases, even if inadequately prepared.
The government deployed the Rapid Action Battalion and the Bangladesh Army to bolster security around Rohingya refugee camps, including to stem human trafficking and migrant smuggling. The Bangladeshi High Court did not entertain anti-trafficking cases filed by Rohingya, despite the law allowing Rohingya to file trafficking cases in Bangladeshi courts. The government did not establish clear legal reporting mechanisms within the camps, which impeded Rohingya trafficking victims’ access to justice and increased impunity for offenders. In an effort to remedy these deficiencies, police and international donors established one help desk in one refugee camp to provide legal assistance to Rohingya female and child victims of crime, and an international organization trained 55 female police on victim-centered investigations and interviews for cases of sexual- and gender-based violence. Public distrust of police and security services deterred many victims of crime, including trafficking, from approaching law enforcement for assistance.
Official complicity in human trafficking and impunity for offenders remained serious concerns. Observers reported some police took bribes and sexual favors to ignore potential trafficking crimes at brothels, and some labor attachés, local politicians, judges, and police requested bribes from victims and their families to pursue cases. Observers alleged some officials from district employment and manpower offices allegedly facilitated human trafficking, and some traffickers in rural areas had political connections that enabled them to operate with impunity. According to NGOs, some local politicians convinced victims to accept payment from recruitment sub-agents to not report fraudulent or exploitative labor recruitment actions to police. International organizations alleged some Bangladeshi border guard, military, and police officials facilitated trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from accepting bribes to provide traffickers access to refugee camps, to direct involvement in facilitating their exploitation. Other observers reported some police conducted slow and flawed investigations to allow traffickers to evade punishment, including when suspects included fellow officers. During the reporting period, police arrested a law enforcement officer for allegedly recruiting two 12-year-old girls for employment and exploiting them in sex trafficking and forced criminality; he remained in police custody while the investigation continued. In a second case, two Bangladeshi border guards propositioned two girls for commercial sex and raped them. The commanding officer referred to the allegations as “rumors” and did not report law enforcement action against the suspects; police prevented NGO personnel from visiting the girls in the hospital. Media reported that from 2015-2018, Malaysian employment agencies and 10 Bangladeshi recruitment agencies formed a monopoly on recruitment of Bangladeshi workers to charge higher recruitment fees—which increased Bangladeshi migrant workers’ vulnerability to debt-related coercion—and reportedly bribed politicians and officials in both countries to facilitate the monopoly. In October 2018, the Dhaka High Court directed the Bangladesh government to form a committee to investigate the alleged monopoly and submit a report within six months; the government did not report if it created this committee, investigated any officials in connection with the case, or received the six-month report. In September 2016, a federal court in New York entered a default judgment against a former Bangladeshi consular officer and his wife and ordered them to pay approximately $920,000 to a Bangladeshi citizen in a civil suit in which the plaintiff alleged violations of the TVPA as well as federal and state labor laws. The consular officer left the United States and remained in the Bangladesh foreign service as an ambassador. The default judgment remained unpaid while the case was on appeal. The plaintiff had alleged experiencing retaliatory actions by the Bangladesh Consulate in New York. In another case, in June 2017, a Bangladeshi consular officer was indicted in a New York court on charges of labor trafficking and assault for allegedly forcing a Bangladeshi citizen to work without pay through threats and intimidation. In January 2018, the consular officer pled guilty to the charge of failure to pay a minimum wage and paid $10,000 in restitution to the victim. The government did not report taking any action during the reporting period to hold either consular officer accountable.