Three hundred and fourteen thousand Bangladeshis either at home or abroad are living in conditions of “modern slavery,” an Australia-based rights organisations has said.
According to the Global Slavery Index report of the Walk Free Foundation, a total of 29.8m people are “enslaved” around the globe.
“Bangladesh is primarily affected by modern slavery for sexual exploitation, forced labour and bonded labour, both within its borders and overseas,” the report said.
The report which is available on the organisation’s website, provided a ranking of 162 countries based on a combination of their estimated prevalence of modern slavery, levels of child marriage, and levels of human trafficking into and out of the country.
Bangladesh is positioned 71 in the list on the basis of a comparison of the number of “slaves” with the total population (15.4m) of the country.
On the same count, Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan are the top three countries in the list. India is ranked fourth, accounting for nearly half of the total number of “slaves” in the world.
US news agency Associated Press said the organisation was founded last year by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest. Its index was endorsed by leaders including US President Barack Obama, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former British premier Tony Blair and Microsoft Corporation Co-Founder Bill Gates.
The report defines modern slavery as: “Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.”
The data was not collected specifically for the preparation of the index. The researchers mainly reviewed government reports, the investigations of non-government and international organisations and media reports.
Bangladesh, however, was ranked 10th in another list of the index that considered the countries with the highest numbers of enslaved people.
India tops that list with 13.9m people living in condition of modern slavery.
China is second with an estimated number 2.9m enslaved; Pakistan is third with an estimated 2.1m enslaved.
Observations on Bangladesh
The newly released index report says Bangladeshis are enslaved overseas in the Middle East; in the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries; and Europe, among others.
It is estimated that in the past 30 years, more than one million Bangladeshis have been enslaved in these countries.
Bangladesh has seen massive migrations from rural to urban areas in the past 25 years, which has caused an imbalance of workers to jobs ratio in cities.
Despite the high rate of migration, more than 80% of Bangladesh’s population resides in rural areas. Poverty prevails in rural Bangladesh, just as unemployment does in urban areas; these push factors account for such a large population of migrant workers.
Some of these migrant workers including men, women and children, are in bonded labour, debt bondage, and forced labour in a variety of industries throughout Bangladesh.
Debt bondage has been reported in the shrimp and tea industries, as well as in brickmaking and forced begging. Groups identified as being most vulnerable to enslavement include women, children, the poor, the illiterate, ethnic Rohingya refugees and people displaced internally due to climate change or natural disasters.
“There are reports, however, that the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies imposes unauthorised recruitment fees on its clients,” says the report.
It also says: “Many recruiters do legitimate migrant worker placement, but once the workers arrive overseas, they can be trafficked or otherwise exploited by their employer.”
Some victims are forcibly trafficked internationally. Large numbers of women and girls are reportedly trafficked to India and Pakistan annually.
Bangladeshi children are enslaved abroad for sexual exploitation in bars, clubs, and for marriage and adoption.
“Boys, who are vulnerable to sex trafficking, often begin as street children and/or refugees or internally displaced persons,” the report observes.
It also observed that children are also exploited internally for sex and labour. Boys and girls as young as ten years old are sexually exploited. Even younger children can be abducted and sold for sex in remote locations.
The suggestions include: expanding compulsory education through secondary school for all, including girls; continuing the establishment of bilateral agreements with the governments of destination countries to protect Bangladeshi migrant workers; and continuing to train all levels of law enforcement, public officials and the judiciary on best practices and new legal frameworks for combating modern slavery.