Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Trafficking in Bangladeshi Women and Girls

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Trafficking in Bangladeshi Women and Girls

Article excerpt

During the past two decades the quality of women's life in Bangladesh has improved significantly as their empowerment has increased. For example, the proportion of females in the country's labor force rose dramatically, from 4.5 to 50.6 percent, between 1980 and 1996 (BBS 1995,62; 1998, 167). Available evidence also suggests that some elements of traditional patriarchal structures of Bangladeshi society are breaking down, if slowly. The once-static portrait of a woman confined to the home of an adult male who provides her with putative "protection" has changed rapidly as a result of economic stress, demographic change, and social development. Women, particularly those from low- income households, are increasingly seeking employment outside the home to support their families (Paul 1992, 2; BMSP 1995, 94).

Despite these notable and positive changes, women remain in a subordinate position in the patriarchal Bangladeshi society, with status considerably less than satisfactory, especially in rural areas. For instance, there has been an upswing in the incidence of violence against women, and deaths of women due to unnatural causes have registered a sharp increase. Divorce and desertion by men have also risen. Another serious problem was recently added to this list: the illegal trafficking of women and girls from Bangladesh to neighboring and Middle Eastern countries. By various means, many Bangladeshi women are taken to foreign countries, where in some instances they become a commodity for sale in sex markets.

Although gender inequality and injustice have received some attention from social scientists, virtually no systematic study has yet been done on trafficking in women from Bangladesh. In this note we recognize that the trafficking, as a peculiar and extreme process of female exploitation, should be understood in a broader context, one that incorporates social, political, economic, and spatial perspectives. It is in the poorly regulated territorial spaces--within and beyond Bangladesh--that illegal border crossings take place, or that "one cow is being smuggled in at the price of two women smuggled out" (BMSP 1995, 87) (Figure 1).

Light needs to be shed on the extent and routes of trafficking, including the stated position of the government of Bangladesh. Our purposes are to carefully document the pattern of trafficking and to trace both where the women and girls are coming from and to which countries they are being sent. The major sources we use in our analysis are newspapers and magazines from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, field research, and interviews. Because the government of Bangladesh does not publish statistics on the incidence of trafficking, no official data are available to support the information we present.

TRAFFICKING IN BANGLADESH

In our discussion, "trafficking" refers to the illegal exportation of women from their place of origin primarily for the purpose of providing sexual services. In the context of Bangladesh, trafficking can appropriately be defined as all acts involved in the kidnapping, capture, recruitment, and transportation of women and girls within and across national borders with the intent to sell, exchange, or use them for any illegal purpose, such as prostitution, servitude in the guise of marriage, bonded labor, or sale of human organs by means ofviolence or threat of violence (Ahmed and Sarkar 1997,7).

Trafficking is conducted as a commercial venture, governed by demand and supply. In the Middle East, the oil boom of the early 1970s provided a sudden prosperity that in turn triggered rapid economic and social transformation requiring labor power in a wide range of activities. Along with the rapid economic transformation, the middle class grew significantly, as did the concomitant demand for such domestic servants as maids, nannies, and cooks. Migrant labor from South Asia turned out to be a cheap and convenient way to meet that demand. …

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