Bangladeshi minister hails first conviction by special anti-trafficking court set up to clear backlog of cases
By Naimul Karim
DHAKA, Nov 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh is accelerating efforts to bring human traffickers to justice, the law minister said on Tuesday, after a special court set up to clear a backlog of cases secured its first conviction.
The nation established seven tribunals nationwide in March to deal with thousands of trafficking cases - some of which have been pending for years - and improve its low conviction rate.
In the first verdict delivered by the tribunal in Dhaka, a woman was found guilty last week of kidnapping her neighbour's baby and selling the girl to a trafficking syndicate. Sathi Akter, 27, was jailed for 10 years and fined 20,000 taka ($230).
"By establishing these anti-trafficking tribunals, we have let people know of our intention, that this is one of our priority issues ... we have expedited the cases," Law Minister Anisul Huq told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
"We want to quickly dispose them and set an example to the world," he added. "The trial of the first case and judgement shows our eagerness to deal with these problems quickly."
At least 4,000 cases are pending investigation or prosecution under a 2012 law that criminalised trafficking, government data shows. The conviction rate under the law stands at 1.7%, found the annual U.S. flagship report on trafficking.
This is due to the absence of specialist anti-trafficking courts until this year, and a lack of guidance on evidence collection for police in cross-border cases, activists said.
The Dhaka tribunal's public prosecutor, who represented the trafficked child's mother Golapy Akter, said the case was heard in six working days - marking a relatively quick turnaround.
Sazzadul Haque said Akter's determination to secure justice rather than accept an out-of-court settlement and the testimony of several witnesses were key factors behind the conviction.
"It's true that there are trafficking cases which are difficult to win," Haque said. "In this case, both of those aspects were on our side."
Bangladesh has ramped up anti-trafficking efforts in recent years amid concerns about its large migrant workforce overseas and under growing pressure on the issue from the United States.
In what police called the "strongest operation" against human traffickers in recent times, at least 50 people were arrested in Dhaka in June after 24 Bangladeshi migrants had been abducted and killed in Libya the previous month.
The nation is one of the world's top exporters of labour and depends on money sent home from about 700,000 people who go abroad to work each year. Yet high recruitment fees charged by unofficial brokers fuels abuses and trafficking, activists say.
Anti-trafficking activists hailed the tribunal's quick handling of the case and its verdict, but said more work needed to be done to clear the country's backlog of trafficking cases.
"Coordination between the police and the prosecution team is the key to efficient trials," said Mohammad Tariqul Islam, country director for anti-trafficking charity Justice and Care.
(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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