Traffickers target slum women
Transnational human trafficking syndicates are now targeting women in city slums and selling them to brothels in India after promising them lucrative jobs.
At least 50 women were trafficked in the last six years. Around 20 of them were picked up from a slum in Kalshi area of the capital's Mirpur, according to locals and law enforcers.
Take for example the woman who left her Kalshi slum home for India on April 6. The mother of a four-year-old girl was enticed by a job offer from a trafficking ring. Traffickers offered her a job in a beauty parlour for a monthly salary of around Tk 35,000.
But she landed in a brothel in the neighbouring country.
"Mother, they have cheated me. Instead of giving me a job, they have sold me to a bad place in India," the victim's mother quoted her daughter as saying over the phone.
Speaking to The Daily Star, the mother said soon after receiving a call from her daughter, she rushed to Sohag and Kalu, who sent her abroad, for help.
"Kalu and Sohag told me that all those information was nonsense and my daughter is fine," said the woman.
"My daughter is now in a brothel in Indian's Kishanganj. She is being tortured, forced to have drugs and meet bad people every day."
Holding the hand of her four-year-old granddaughter, the woman said she recently came to know about her daughter's whereabouts after another woman of the slum returned home from India with her daughter, who was trafficked to the same brothel in the neighbouring country.
The three were victims of the same trafficking ring.
The mother of the trafficking victim and the returnee mother filed two cases with Pallabi Police Station on August 16 against the ring. On the same day, Rab arrested accused Iqbal Hossain Kalu, Sohag alias Nagin Sohag, and Billal Hossain from the capital.
Investigators said some 15 to 20 people are involved in the racket which is trafficking women from slums in Dhaka, Gazipur, and Narayanganj.
Following the arrests of Kalu and Sohag, victims have started contacting police and Rab, said officials, adding that the accused syndicate alone trafficked over 15 women in the last one year.
Some victims alleged that police were not taking any action against the traffickers as they were influential people. Even after the arrests of some accused, the details of the syndicate are not being made public by the investigators. There is no initiative to bring back the victims from India.
Refuting the allegations, Parvez Islam, officer-in-charge of Pallabi Police Station, said they were investigating the cases.
"Two cases have already been filed regarding the incidents and three accused have been arrested. Two of them have confessed in courts," he said.
"We have identified some other members of the trafficking ring and also got information about their victims. We are now verifying the information," added the OC.
WOMAN BECOMES VICTIM WILLINGLY
The grandmother of the four-year-old learnt the state of her daughter from a woman who voluntarily became a victim so that she could rescue her own daughter.
She returned home on June 23 after rescuing her daughter from a brothel.
Speaking to this correspondent, she said the trafficking syndicate had brainwashed her daughter by saying that she should not spoil her life in the slum as she would have a better future if she took a job in a beauty parlour.
"My daughter fell into the trap and left home on January 17 when I was away. The following day, she informed me over the phone that she was cheated and was being sold to traffickers in India," she said.
A month later, her daughter called her again from India and gave details about her whereabouts.
The mother said she then contacted police and filed a complaint, but did not get any response. Later, she hid her identity and contacted the same trafficking ring seeking a job.
The traffickers later sent her to India and took her to a brothel in New Delhi.
"I had to endure unbearable torture in the brothel for four months. While being transferred to another place by traffickers, I jumped off a running train. I ran towards the road and took an auto-rickshaw to escape the syndicate," the woman told The Daily Star.
She later reached the brothel in Kishanganj. She met a local political leader who agreed to help her get her daughter freed.
But the brothel owners said they "bought the girl" for Tk 2.5 lakh and they would not allow her to return home unless they received the amount.
The political leader helped the woman get her daughter out of the brothel. Finally, the mother and the daughter tried to cross the India-Bangladesh border in June, but the Indian Border Security Force detained the duo.
However, BSF officials, after hearing the ordeal of the two, called a flag meeting and handed them over to Border Guard Bangladesh.
After returning home, the woman filed one of the cases against the trafficking syndicate.
"I am now passing days in fear as the arrestees threatened to kill my family members after coming out of jail," said the woman.
She said she saved two more women from being trafficked by the same syndicate after returning from India.
SATKHIRA, A MAJOR ROUTE
A rickshaw puller from Kalshi slum alleged that the same ring might have trafficked her wife to India. "Kalu and Sohag were luring my wife with a good job. One day, my wife went out of home without informing me anything. I suspect that she became the victim of the same syndicate."
Victims and law enforcers said the syndicate first takes the victims to Satkhira and keeps them in "safe houses" there. Later, it traffics the victims to India after crossing a small river.
Rab Director (legal and media wing) Commander Khandaker Al Moin said the syndicate has small "safe houses" in the bordering districts.
"The syndicate has members in both sides of the border. Members are often arrested, but they come out of jail on bail and again get involved in the same crime," he told The Daily Star.
The syndicate members use to torture the victims, force them to have drugs and harass them sexually, he said.
"We have already arrested a number of syndicate members. The law enforcement agencies' wings, who generally maintain contact with India, are also getting updates on the syndicate members active across the border. We have vigilance so that they cannot traffic more victims," the Rab official said.
The Bangladesh government prosecuted 517 suspects (184 for sex trafficking and 333 for forced labour) in the last one year, according to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 released in June by the US State Department.
"The government convicted seven traffickers, including one for sex trafficking, two for labour trafficking, and four for undefined trafficking crimes," reads the report.
In March this year, law enforcers detected a trafficking syndicate, who were trafficking young girls using the social media app TikTok.
They allured the girls with better careers and then trafficked them to India, where the victims ended up in brothels. These syndicates were also found using "safe houses" in Satkhira and then trafficking victims in name of sightseeing in the Bangladesh-India border.
According to Rab and police, at least 50 girls were trafficked by the "TikTok rackets". Law enforcers have so far arrested around 20 people of the syndicate and 11 of them gave confessional statements in courts.