A pioneering study by the Border Security Force (BSF) has revealed that Human Trafficking networks on the highly-sensitive Indo-Bangladesh border are in the danger of gaining a foothold in Indian territory.
A key recommendation to avert this situation highlights the need for central and state agencies as well as the local community to develop convergence forums to counter trafficking and urges the maintaining of direct channels of communication across border authorities to include aspects of mutual legal assistance.
Titled ‘Adolescence at the Border,’ the study which had commenced in 2016 and carried out over a time span of a year as a collaborative move by BSF border outposts and the Non-Governmental Organisation, Justice and Care, is to be formally presented Tuesday, May 16 in Kolkata. Through the study of eight villages around two check posts at the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, the research provides a glimpse into the multidimensional issues that exist among border communities and its relation to trafficking. The report also incorporates experiences from case work and other secondary material to present a comprehensive understanding on the issue within the context of the community and systems operating at the border.
Aimed at introducing new strategies to innovate around border control activities, which will tackle trafficking and adopt victim-centric approaches to intercept and interview persons apprehended so that the crime is detected correctly at transit points, this research is looked at as a pioneering work that will encourage similar research from academics and civil society activists.
The initiative also marks the beginning of a new avenue of partnerships between India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) to look at a bilateral rapid-response team which would monitor incidents of trafficking along the Bangladeshi side of the Indo-Bangladesh border.
A key component of the study is that it incorporates the opinions of those vulnerable to trafficking, deviating from other studies of a similar nature which have either been victim-centric as viewed by NGOs or locating the issue of trafficking and/or migration within the discourse on national security.
Importantly, as part of this collaboration, workshops were conducted for the BSF so that officials are trained to handle human trafficking cases better. The BSF referred 16 cases to Justice and Care and Sanlaap in the last year from identified border outposts and out of these six were found to be clear cases of human trafficking.
Children and especially those in the adolescent age group were found to be highly vulnerable to human trafficking, the study had revealed. The main aims of the study were to map criminal networks engaged in trafficking on both sides of the border, to map awareness levels on human trafficking and other crimes against children, to map perceptions on security among adolescent girls living on the India side of the border and to understand community attitudes towards law enforcement agencies such as the police and potentials in collaborating with communities.
Two hundred and thirty-nine adolescent girls and 144 mothers of vulnerable families residing in 8 villages along 2 checkposts were interviewed for the study. Victims of trafficking identified in the area and Bangladeshi victims living in Shelter homes in other parts of India were also interviewed on cross border trafficking. Four villages were chosen that were directly on the border while other four villages were within 5 km of the border.
The study also included the voice of community volunteers, BSF officials on the ground, community based organisations (CBOs), and community volunteers, totalling to 875 interviews.
Among the observations made in the study is the need to move away from traditional security approaches on a friendly border, and especially a border marked out due to inherited colonial history which was drawn without the agency of local populations. Meanwhile it is pointed out that the Human Trafficking Bill needs to include ‘labour trafficking’ and ‘forced labour’ more elaborately within its scope and apply the extra territorial factor on human trafficking already included in Bangladesh laws. Recommendations based on the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime include that governments of both countries should consider strengthening cooperation among border control agencies of India and Bangladesh by, inter alia, establishing and maintaining direct channels of communication to include aspects of mutual legal assistance.