Prostitution and forced labour: trafficking in human beings in Bangladesh
by Sumon Corraya
The Asian country is a source and a transit point for victims. The cases involving women and children are the most documented, but men are victims are well. Boys under ten are more likely to be entangled in this traffic; girls tend to be aged 11 to 16. Some of victims go to the Gulf countries. In Bangladesh, the local Caritas helps the victims.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Bangladesh, a small country of some 165 million people, is the "source" and transit point for countless numbers of victims in South Asia's burgeoning trade in human beings. Some of its boys and girls, some as young as eight, are forced into prostitution. Some of its teenagers are locked up in brothels, forced to take steroids to be more "attractive" to customers. Foreign girls are brought in and held in escrow before they are sold to other countries.

"The trafficking of women and children, mostly employed in prostitution, is widespread and documented. Even that of men is widespread but poorly reported," said Juliet Lipica Sarker, coordinator of the Human Resources and Gender Division at Caritas Bangladesh. "Generally, males are used in forced labour, or for criminal activities like drug running, pornography, and organ sales," she told AsiaNews.

In Bangladesh, human trafficking feeds humans to the sex trade and forced labour market. According to the Centre for Women and Child Studies, boys who fall into them tend to be under ten; girls tend to be between 11 and 16. However, it is not uncommon for children under eight years of age to become sex slaves, segregated in brothels or bawdyhouses.

Adult and teenaged Bangladeshis end up in the sex trade or forced into slave-like conditions like begging. In some cases, extremely poor parents sell their children. In other cases, traffickers trick them or force them into giving up their children.

Many brothel owners or pimps force teenagers to take steroids to make them more "attractive" for customers. Side effects are devastating on their bodies, and can even cause death. According to official data, 90 per cent of the women are aged between 15 and 35 and take steroids, which cause dependency that is hard to break.

Bangladesh is also an important hub linking South Asia to the Gulf region. Several recent studies noted that Indian and Bangladeshi human traffickers smuggle using 20 transit points in 16 districts in the south and west of the country. The main route goes from Dhaka to Mumbai, Karachi and then Dubai.

However, some of the victims, women and children, end up as prostitutes in India and Pakistan. Others, men and women willing to work in the Gulf countries, find themselves in situations of forced labour. With their identity papers confiscated, they cannot travel freely. Unpaid, they are forced to endure physical and sexual abuse by their employers. This traffic includes women from Myanmar, usually ethnic Rohingya refugees, who travel through Bangladesh.

Between 2002 and 2011, Caritas Bangladesh carried out a series of triennial projects to raise public awareness about human trafficking, promote prevention, and rescue victims. In doing so, the Catholic association relied, depending on the case, on local partners, like the Nari Mukti-'O'- Shishu Unnayan Sangstha NGO, as well as international one, like Caritas Australia.