India - Bangladesh: Study tour helps understand how to prevent and control human trafficking

In Bangladesh, the number of reported incidents of human trafficking is on the rise. Bangladesh is seen primarily as a source and transit country for human trafficking, involving a high number of cases of women, girls and also young men being trafficked between Bangladesh and India.

In response to this, the Government of Bangladesh has been addressing human trafficking in a comprehensive way.  The enactment of the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012 has resulted in an increased number of investigations and prosecutions. Furthermore, the National Plan of Action (2012-2014) for Combating Human Trafficking that guides anti-human trafficking policy and measures in the country, adopts a holistic approach towards countering human trafficking by defining responsibilities of key stakeholders and identifying important issues that need immediate attention. These include prevention of trafficking, protection of victims, prosecution of traffickers, cross-country partnership etc.

In line with the priorities of the National Plan of Action, UNODC is offering technical assistance to the Government of Bangladesh in strengthening the response to human trafficking.  Under this initiative, UNODC is assisting the Government with building capacities of law enforcement, establishing referral systems to provide support for victims and helping in strengthening cooperation between the criminal justice system and civil society.

As part of this initiative, UNODC organized a study tour to India for high ranking officials from the Government of Bangladesh, including the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Border Guard and the Police, with the purpose of promoting the exchange of experiences among both countries on anti-human trafficking. The study tour focused especially on the understanding of the structure and working of Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), which the Government of India has established across the country.

Anti-human trafficking units are special units set up within the existing police machinery to ensure focused attention from law enforcement officials, when dealing with offences of human trafficking. The delegation visited AHTUs in New Delhi and Jaipur, Rajasthan where they interacted with the staff. The AHTU is responsible for rescuing victims, investigating the alleged perpetrators and providing legal aid, counselling and rehabilitation services to the survivors with the help of local NGOs.   The AHTU provides a multi- disciplinary approach and a joint response by key stakeholders, such as police, prosecutors, NGOs and civil society. There are currently 225 AHTUs operational across the country, set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 

The delegation also visited the Headquarters of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in New Delhi, which is the nodal agency for anti-human trafficking measures in the country. It works in coordination with the state police and maintains a centralized data of human trafficking cases. Senior officers who work on cases related to human trafficking briefed the delegation on the role and functioning of the organization and also shared case studies.  

Once the survivor has been rescued by the police, rehabilitation and reintegration takes places with assistance provided by local NGOs. AHTUs maintain regular contact with local NGOs, who work with them during the rescue and rehabilitation phase. As part of the study tour, the delegation visited SANLAAP, a NGO based in West Bengal.  SANLAAP works with survivors of human trafficking, providing shelter home services, counseling, legal aid and help with rehabilitation.  The delegation spent time interacting with girls at the shelter home, sixteen of whom had been trafficked from Bangladesh and are currently awaiting repatriation. 

The delegation was appreciative of the work being done to prevent and control human trafficking under the aegis of the AHTUs and found the AHTU model to be replicable and adaptable to the local context in Bangladesh.

Note: The setting up of AHTUs was piloted by UNODC in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, under the project titled 'Strengthening Law Enforcement Response to Human Trafficking' (2006 - 2009).

The study tour was organized under the project titled 'Technical assistance provided to the Government of Bangladesh in strengthening the responses to human trafficking', with financial support from the Government of the United States of America.