The Constitution is a whole system of Government of a country; it is the collection of rules which establish and regulate or govern the Government. All these rules together determine the entity of a country. Like the other countries, Bangladesh also has a constitution which is written down in the form of legal document. Here our focus is one of the important consideration which is mentioned in the Fundamental Rights portion (Part III) of the Constitution is “ All forms of Forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law”[Article 34(I), Fundamental Rights, Part III].
Although, it has been pledged in the Constitution that it shall be the Fundamental responsibility of the state to secure the Fundamental rights and freedom of all citizens in the country but the government has failed to enforce this prohibition effectively. Although there are mechanisms to fight against the forced labor but due to the lack of resources and potential effort the Forced labor is still a problem in Bangladesh and numerous cases can be found in this regard.
What is Forced Labor?
Forced labor refers to unfree labor, or slave labor that is a collective term for a variety of work relations in which people are employed against their will, often under threat of destitution, detention, violence (including death), or other extreme hardship to themselves or family members.
For example, a domestic worker is in a forced labor situation where the head of a household takes away identity papers, forbids the worker to go outside and threatens him or her with, for instance, beatings or non-payment of salary in case of disobedience. The domestic may also work for an unbearably low wage, but that is another matter. If he or she were free to leave, this would not amount to forced labor – but to exploitation.
Child labors below the accepted age can also be considered as forced labor. In Bangladesh a significant portion of the Forced labor is consist of the child labors. The other portion of this segment consists of the domestic servants whose conditions resemble servitude and the trafficked women and children who works a prostitutes or compelled to work against their will in different places of the world.
Forced Labor and the Constitution:
The constitution of Bangladesh prohibits all forms of forced labor by containing clear statement regarding this issue in the portion of Fundamental Rights (Part III) in Article 34, that guarantees all forms of forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offense that is punishable in accordance with law.
Prohibiting forced labor is one of the Fundamental rights that is enshrined in the constitution. Fundamental Rights provides the citizen of a country the dignity of life in an atmosphere of freedom and justice. Besides, the Article 44 of the constitution guarantees the right of every citizen of Bangladesh to go to the High Court for the enforcement of any Fundamental Rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution. So, this is one of the prime responsibilities of the government of Bangladesh to eradicate the practicing of forced labor as not only to solve a social problem but also ensuring a Fundamental right of the constitution for all the citizens of Bangladesh.
Any law that is inconsistent with these fundamental rights have made void by the Constitution (Article 26, Part III). So, the existing laws that have been formulated with a view to restrict forced labor practicing are not void as it is certainly consistent with one of the Fundamental rights of the constitution.
Legislations that exist in Bangladesh to address the Forced labor issue are as follows:
– ILO Forced Labor Convention (No 29)
– ILO Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (No 105)
– ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (No. 182)
– UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
– the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Arts 20, 34)
– the Code of Criminal Procedure
– the Children Act (1974) (art. 44) and the Children Rules (1976)
– the Bonded Labor Act 2006
– the Woman and Children Oppression Act, 1995 (amended 2000)
– the Suppression of Violence against woman and Children Act, 2000
– the Compulsory Primary Education Act 1990
Forced labor condition in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a densely populated third world country. Although it poses a very little area but the population compared to the area is extremely high that is 160 million. As a result, poverty goes hand in hand with the people of Bangladesh that have not only reduce the people’s standard of life but also made them to involve in different kind of legal or illegal activities only for the sake of livelihood. According to Sumaiya Khair, a human rights activist – “Thousands of children are being forced into bonded labor every day because of poverty and their parents’ unemployment,”
Among the different forms of forced labor bonded labor is a very common one that is highly prevalent in the rural areas. The bonded labor creates untold sufferings to the victims. Although, it is illegal but the entire family including the children are bonded to the ‘Mahajans’ while the bonded families struggle to pay back their loans. The bonded position creates when a poor family is forced to take out a loan due to a temporary financial crisis often led by poor harvest or family emergency. Once bonded, the victim is forced to work long hours with a little or no pay and often seven days a week. Women and children mostly end up domestic servants after being bonded where the working conditions resembles to servitude. Some suffers from physical abuse that often results to death.
Due to the large population with a poor economic condition, Bangladesh has become a hub of men, women and children for the purpose of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Prostitution is one of the prime reasons for this trafficking. Children, both male and female
are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and other forms of forced labor. Statistics of different sources suggests that since 2004, between 10,000 to 29,000 children have exploited in prostitution in Bangladesh. Some of them are sold due the financial bondage of their poor parents and others are coerced into labor or commercial sexual exploitation through fraud and physical coercion. According to the Center of Woman and Child studies report the age of the trafficked boys are usually below 10 years while the age of the girls are between 11 to 16 years. Women and children are also trafficked to abroad for sexual exploitation.
Bangladeshi men and women who migrate willingly to abroad to work mostly in Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE work as domestic servants and some find themselves in situations of forced labor when faced with restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Besides, Bangladeshi workers migrate to Malaysia, Jordan, Finland work in the construction sector sometimes induced to Forced labor by the fraudulent job offers and often after the arrival of the destination country. Some Bangladeshi adults are also trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and bonded labor.
Government action towards the Forced labor prohibition:
Among the Forced labor problem of Bangladesh the trafficking is the most acute one as the government has taken some notable steps to reduce illegal trafficking. By the repression of Women and Children Act 2000 (amended in 2003) the government prohibits the buying and selling of a minor under age 18 for prostitute in Articles 372 and 373 under the Penal code 1860. However, the prescribed penalties of imprisonment up to one year or the fixed fine inadequate to deter the offense.
The government’s effort of addressing the labor forms of trafficking has improved in some areas but it remains poor in bonded labor and forced child labor. So far, the government of Bangladesh has shut down five recruiting agencies and initiated four labor prosecutions against the recruiting firms. Besides, there has been 76 arrests, 19 investigations and 34 prosecutions for the recruitment fraud. However, the government of Bangladesh has not reported any specific information regarding any arrests, prosecutions, convictions and punishments of forced child labor and bonded labor.
With a view to address the sex trafficking offense the government of Bangladesh has conducted 123 investigations and made 106 arrests and have initiated 101 prosecutions of sex trafficking offenses. However, due to the length of the court cases, many of the cases has resolved illegally out the of the court settlements in between the victims and the traffickers. About 18 of the convicted traffickers received imprisonment sentences and the two of the convicted traffickers received 10 to 14 years imprisonment. Besides, 20 investigations have also conducted to determine the government complicity in the trafficking. However, no government officials were prosecuted, punished or convicted due to the lack of evidence.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Cell, there is evidence of official complicity inhuman trafficking. Among the members of parliament, corrupt recruiting agencies and village level brokers indicated that politicians and regional gangs are involved in human trafficking. Some NGOs also report that official recruitment agencies in Dhaka have linkages with employers in destination countries who sometimes put their migrant workers in situations of servitude. Low-level government employees were also complicit in trafficking. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the government has prosecuted one civil servant who complicit in trafficking. The government has also confirmed the allegations that have been brought against some soldiers in Sierra Leone who have facilitated the human trafficking. However, the government did not provide any information on investigations or prosecutions of these cases.
Findings and Analysis:
– The steps undertaken by the Bangladesh Government does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of the forced labor but it has taken some notable efforts to do so.
– Although the Prohibition of all kind of forced labor and punishment based on the violation of this issues is pledged in the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of Bangladesh that must be secured; but the efforts taken by the government is not up to expectation and it has failed to ensure this Fundamental Right to all the citizens of Bangladesh.
– The existing laws and punishments are inadequate to address this forced labor problem properly.
– The government did not provide any evidence of increasing effort to fight with the forced labor problem in terms of labor trafficking, sexual offenses etc and also did not reported any law enforcement efforts against the Bangladeshi officials who have facilitated human trafficking.
– An important concern is the government’s continued lack of effort to protect the victims of forced labor who consist of a large proportion of traffick and bonded victims of Bangladesh.
– The government do not have a systematic procedure to identify the forced labor cases and provide protective services to the victims. As a result, many of the vulnerable forced labor cases go unnoticed.
In the last, being a poor country with scarce resources, it is difficult for the government of Bangladesh to address the forced labor problem of such a large population base. However, the government has taken numerous initiatives with a view to reduce the practicing of forced labor. But, apart from the limited capability, there was lack of responsiveness and potential effort that have weakened the different steps taken by the government tremendously. Besides, the involvement of the government officials to facilitate the forced labor is undoubtedly embarrassing and a landmark of the ineffectiveness of the government.
So, with a view to address the Forced labor problem, which is not only a painful social problem but also a fundamental right of the Constitution, deserved by each and every citizen of Bangladesh, more dedicated and sincere effort is expected from the government.
And, based on the current situation, it cannot be hardly stated that the Constitution of Bangladesh prohibits all forms of forced labor and provide punishment accordingly; because, although there is laws that exists in the form of legal documents but there is a huge gap in the formulation and the implementation of those laws.
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