The US State Department kept Bangladesh on 'Tier 2' for the third straight year in its latest Trafficking in Persons report, which categorises countries into three tiers based on criteria set out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000 (TVPA).
Despite making significant efforts, Bangladesh did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to the report published on Tuesday.
"The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Bangladesh remained on Tier 2," the report said.
“Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on anti-trafficking operations, the government has overall taken incremental steps compared to previous years. Because of this, Bangladesh remains in 'Tier-2.'"
At a recent media briefing, officials of the US Embassy in Dhaka explained that countries that fully comply with the minimum standards of the TVP are placed on Tier 1.
Countries that fall short of the minimum standards and do not take effective measures in this regard find themselves on Tier 3.
Meanwhile, countries that fail to fully implement the TVPA's minimum standards but take effective measures to promote them are placed on the second tier.
According to the TIP report, the government increased overall law enforcement efforts to combat sex and labour trafficking under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012. The penalties under the law were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Despite stepping up investigations, prosecutions, and convictions against human trafficking, the government did not take adequate steps to address internal sex trafficking or official complicity, both of which remained pervasive, the report said.
The investigations and prosecution of trafficking cases involving the exploitation of Rohingya refugees were also insufficient, according to the report. Despite continued reports of traffickers exploiting Rohingya in forced labour and sex trafficking within Bangladesh, most Rohingya-related cases reported by law enforcement involved movement via boat, cases that might have amounted to migrant smuggling without elements of trafficking.
Protection efforts also saw a decline as the authorities identified fewer potential
victims than in the previous reporting period and maintained severely inadequate victim protection, particularly in relation to trafficking victims identified overseas, according to the report.
The government identified 1,138 potential trafficking victims, a significant decrease from 6,866 in the previous reporting period. However, the authorities did not report details of this number and, in the past, had included smuggled migrants in the overall number. In comparison, NGOs and international organisations reported identifying at least 580 sex trafficking victims, 6,378 labour trafficking victims, and 717 victims of unspecified exploitation.
In terms of efforts to prevent trafficking, the home ministry continued to lead the
inter-ministerial committee for combating the malaise. However, several home ministry officials with responsibilities for coordinating antitrafficking efforts transitioned to new government positions, leading to some loss of institutional knowledge and impeding long-term antitrafficking efforts, the report said.
Furthermore, the government continued to support counter-trafficking committees at district, sub-district, and union levels to facilitate coordination between local governments and civil society to combat human trafficking.
However, the ministry did not make its annual reports on human trafficking public, and while the antitrafficking law enforcement data was published online, it did not
always contain current statistics, according to the report.
In a bid to protect Bangladeshi workers abroad, the government maintained 15 bilateral labour agreements and reported that the agreements were fully implemented. But the report found no evidence of the government enforcing the agreements.
The country report for Bangladesh includes 18 priority recommendations ranging from increasing prosecutions and expanding victim services to enhancing law enforcement training and collaborating across borders.
The TIP rankings trump both the human rights and religious freedom reports in terms of importance and has a significant bearing on the provision of US aid to countries, according to US embassy officials.
Countries on Tier 3 are likely to face restrictions on US 'non-humanitarian and non-trade' aid.
Asked whether Rohingya victims of trafficking are added to Bangladesh's tally, despite them being Myanmar nationals, the officials said the report does not focus on the number of people that are trafficked to or from the country. Rather, the emphasis is on the measures adopted by the government to address the problem.