Saad Hammadi reveals how a strong network of child traffickers operating across South Asia and beyond are selling Bangladeshi children across the border for sex, pornography and organ theft
Last month, when twelve-year-old Mamun boarded a launch for Dhaka, he was angry and distressed and wanted to get a job in the city to be able to send some money to his family in Comilla. He had worked some years at a tea stall in the Comilla sadar but he got tired of the beatings by the shopowner every time he poured too much milk or dropped a tea cup and chipped it. Arriving at Dhaka’s Sadarghat launch terminal Mamun was befriended by Jahangir — a boy of his age — who promised to find him a well paid job. Little did Mamun realise at the time that this eager friendship was only a ploy to traffic him out of the country.
In a few days Jahangir convinced Mamun to move to India for better paid work. For Mamun who only earned Tk 7 a day, Jahangir’s offer of Tk 3,000 a month was unimaginably tempting.
‘Jahangir and I started off for Khulna a few days later. We were scheduled to go to Benapole by a train from Khulna and then cross the border through Dhanyakhola, a border village,’ remembers Mamun while telling of his experience to New Age.
At Benapole, Abul Hossain, a member of the traffickers’ syndicate was awaiting their arrival. Upon arrival, Jahangir introduced Mamun with Abul, who was supposed to take him to India.
‘I was asked to say Abul was my father’s friend if anyone asked on the road during the trespassing,’ said Mamun.
Mamun was fortunate enough to have been seen by the locals at Dhanyakhola and reported to Rights Jessore, a local NGO, who later rescued the boy along with the help of local police. While Abul was taken into police custody, Jahangir being an adolescent was sent to a correction home.
‘Jahangir, a 13-year-old boy was one of the core players in the traffickers’ syndicate for his adolescence that could easily convince another boy of his age bracket into trafficking,’ says Binoy Krishna Mallick, executive director of Rights Jessore.
Recently Mamun was sent to a shelter home of the Ahsania Mission at Bhekotia in Jessore, where he is living the life deserving of a child for the first time in his life, he told New Age.
Unfortunately Mamun’s experience is not unique. He is just one of the thousands of young boys and girls who fall prey to trafficking in Bangladesh every year. In many cases families of the victims are convinced of good pay for boys, and marriage to rich men for young girls as a way of tempting the families to give in to trafficker’s proposals.
‘Women in poor families are usually enticed with marriage promises. Parents often find the proposals attractive and give away their daughters and children to the hands of traffickers,’ explained Binoy.
Moreover, women between the age of 15 and 25 are mostly trafficked across Nepal, Dubai, Muscat, Bahrain, Bangkok, Kenya, South Africa, England and the Gulf countries and almost always sold to prostitution rings as sex slaves. India is one of the core routes for trafficking by road as it covers a distance well over 4,200 kilometres, say insiders.
‘After the ban on camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates, children are mostly used for sexual exploitations and trafficked through the Indian territory,’ says a top ranking source in the Bangladesh Rifles.
Men and women are trafficked to many of the Gulf states for sexual exploitation or forced household labour, he observed.
However, Binoy of Rights Jessore told New Age that in India the motives behind trafficking are slowly expanding into other areas such as sales of organs.
The dimension of the trafficking syndicates seems to be growing, believes Mominul Islam Shuruz, senior investigation officer of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association, a Dhaka-based NGO that rescues trafficked children. A section of brokers in the hospitals have also joined in the trafficking business dealing with organ transfers.
A section of the traffickers are placing newspaper advertisements enticing huge amounts on selling organs, Shuruz told New Age. ‘Most of the times these organs especially kidneys are transferred to Madras and Vellore.’
However, none of the culprits behind the business could be arrested while such advertisements or promoting the selling of human organs are punishable offence.
According to defence sources, child trafficking in recent times mostly involved girl children for commercial sexual exploitation. The other purposes which involve trafficking of children include begging, domestic labour, and industrial labour which imply coercion into work.
At least 160 traffickers were interrogated by the defence forces till date which unveiled their entrance into the business. Majority of the traffickers were involved with commercial sexual exploitation even before they got into trafficking. Around 35 per cent of the traffickers were prompted into the business by some brothel owners while 22 of the interrogated admitted to inheriting the business from their parents or those they were living with. Some of the traffickers were elderly women known as ‘Mukkhirani’ who lost their business in brothels.
‘The business usually pays off the traffickers a return of between Tk 25,000 and Tk 30,000 per girl while they spend between Tk 5,000 and Tk 20, 000 on trafficking them,’ claimed a BDR official.
Three quarters of the traffickers convicted, admitted trafficking only virgins for their rising demand because of the myth that sex with virgins can cure HIV AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. They also claimed a high premium was available on trafficking children solely for the sexual purposes at brothels. Furthermore, in a number of cases, women and children were exploited for pornographic purposes.
A trafficker in the defence custody even admitted to seeing the pornographic material that was produced by exploiting the children he had trafficked. ‘The trafficker’s syndicate is definitely strong which they maintain through a large network. Furthermore, traffickers perform the task in many cases through ‘Dhurs’—residents of border villages—who transfer the children and women for a small monetary benefit,’ explained a BDR official.
Defence sources also reveal that trafficking for pornographic purposes concentrate in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. Children from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were also trafficked to other countries like the Gulf states, England, Korea and the Philippines for pornographic purposes, sources said.
A hefty 61 per cent of the traffickers admitted to operating in connivance with the police officers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. ‘A monetary arrangement is set between the brothel owners and the police,’ mentions a defence source.
According to BDR findings the process of trafficking women and children usually takes a period of a month or two as the trafficker has to convince the victim’s family members.
Figure and structure of the women are one of the most important factors traffickers observe before they choose their victim in addition to their age, region, complexion and submissiveness.
Furthermore, defence sources reveal around 86 per cent of the cases include consent from family members prior to trafficking. ‘It poses a serious challenge to the law enforcement agencies and even the community’.
‘BDR is not empowered with the required manpower in the border outposts. Besides the Border Security Force has twice the resource and manpower in its possession. It is difficult in such a situation to combat illegal cross border activities,’ claimed a BDR source.
A source at the BDR told New Age that in most cases the trafficking of women and children takes place in a close distance between the borders with help from the BSF. The distance is usually between 100 yards that make the trafficking easier. Furthermore, it is usually in small numbers between five and 10 that women and children are trafficked at once.
‘The border between Bangladesh and India stretches to around 4,500 kilometres while this whole distance is covered by 500 border outposts each having only 15 persons,’ said an official of the BDR. He pointed out that around eight to nine kilometres is covered by only 15 persons and that also without any vehicles to aid them.
This article was first published in New Age Xtra on June 23, 2006