News/Bangladesh: Thousands of women smuggled illegally from

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Subject: News/Bangladesh: Thousands of women smuggled illegally from
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Sun Nov 28 1999 - 14:44:20 EST

         Thousands of women smuggled illegally from Banglade...

 Associated Press Writer
   DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Chasing a dream of a better life, Ibrahim Mia
and his five daughters set out from their squalid village in Bangladesh to
take up promised jobs in Pakistan.
   A year later he was back -- without his daughters.
   Unscrupulous employment agents, promising lucrative jobs, smuggled the
Mia family across the border into India. After traveling hundreds of miles
toward the border with Pakistan, the agents handed the father to Indian
authorities and disappeared with the girls, ages 9 through 16.
   The case is one of dozens cited in a United Nations-sponsored report
about the growing traffic in girls and young women in South Asia.
   Tens of thousands of them are believe to end up in brothels or as cheap
labor in homes and sweatshops in towns and cities in India, Pakistan, Dubai
or Kuwait, women's activists say.
   "It is impossible to count how many people are trafficked across the
border each year," said Salma Ali, who heads an organization of lawyers
campaigning against human trafficking.
   "There is a great demand for underage girls in brothels in India and
Pakistan as they are believed to be free from sexually transmitted diseases
and AIDS," said Ali, of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association.
   The Association, from January to March this year, rescued and
repatriated 64 women and children from brothels and detention centers for
illegal immigrants in India and Pakistan.
   The study says recruitment agents prowl Bangladesh villages, where
employment opportunities are few and poverty runs deep, offering
respectable factory jobs and good marriage prospects in the Arab countries
of the gulf.
   The agents provide phony travel papers and bribe border guards. Some
girls are abducted or bought from their parents or guardians.
   Studies are only beginning to hone in on the extent of the traffic. The
report, conducted by Ali's group and sponsored by the U.N. Children's Fund,
examined 10 border villages believed to be main transit points.
   The researchers found at least 50 people, including 42 women or girls,
were taken across the border between September 1998 and June 1999. Most of
the women were either divorced or widowed, and the girls were between the
ages of 13 and 16, the report said.
   According to the Lawyers Association, at least 25,000 people illegally
cross the border each year.
   Bangladesh and India share a 2,500-mile (4,000-kilometer) border, which
officials say is inadequately manned and not clearly demarcated in places.
India is the gateway to Pakistan and the Middle East for many aspiring
migrants from Bangladesh.
   Thousands of people cross the border every day to visit families, to get
medical treatment or education, or as tourists and shoppers. It is nearly
impossible to identify those being taken unlawfully.
   People traveling by boat up along rivers that traverse the border or the
coast of the Bay of Bengal often are not checked for visas.
   Government officials admit illegal travelers are often difficult to
   "We cannot prevent people from crossing borders as it would be a
violation of human rights," a Home Ministry official said.
   He said Dhaka had no plans to introduce exit visas for women and
children or a requirement that they be accompanied by a male relative, as
some other Muslim countries do.
   Under Bangladeshi law, the maximum punishment is death for trafficking
in women and children. But few cases are ever brought to trial since most
victims cannot identify the traffickers, who usually give false names and
   "Sometimes we face hurdles while repatriating the victims as neither
country wants to take the responsibility," Ali said. "Often it is hard to
prove nationality or residence status in absence of original documents or
birth certificates."

Melanie Orhant

Stop-traffic is a facilitated, international electronic mailing list
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in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
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