1. SLAVE ISLANDS
Several hundred children aged between five and 15 have been forced into virtual slavery in a number of islands on the Bay of Bengal near the Sunderbans.Source:A Roving Correspondent, The Daily Star, 15. 12. 02
Organised gangs either trafficked or lured them to these islands including Dublar Char, Alor Kol, Meher Ali, Tiar Char and Dimer Char in Rangabali area in Bagerhat. The children are forced to work day and night in an inhuman condition to keep the seasonal fishing and fish processing industry running for about five months.
These islands are not easily accessible because of their remoteness and lack of security. Once captured and taken to these islands, the children do not have any scope to escape. They are forced to do most of the hard work in the industry.
They are engaged in building makeshift houses, sorting fishes, washing and drying nets, cooking, cleaning fishing boats, procuring firewood, carrying loads and packaging. There are also allegations of sexual abuse of the children by the men around them. Despite their hard work for months, these children virtually get nothing. When the season is over, many of them are kept confined in villages along the Sunderbans or in Dublar Char. According to villagers, if a child falls sick during his 'captivity,' he gets no medical care whatsoever. In case of death, the body is either thrown into the sea or buried in the forest. Mohammad Shahidul Islam, now about 15, was abducted from Madrassah Road in Mongla five years ago and taken to Dublar Char.
His father Mohammad Ishak looked for him everywhere possible. At last, Shahidul got back home due to a recent raid by the joint forces engaged in the countrywide anti-crime drive. He said that during the last five years, he desperately tried to escape but failed and was subjected to torture and abuse for this. With the launching of anti-crime drive, the joint forces led by the Coast Guards raided some of these islands and rescued about 300 children.
The children bore marks of torture and were found badly malnourished. Many of them complained of sexual abuse for months. Sources said that during the raids, the persons mainly responsible for these misdeeds herded several hundred children into the Sundarbans so that they cannot be traced. The joint forces arrested two such persons. Sources said many of these children now languishing in these islands were left behind during the recent raids 'on economic grounds'.
They were not rescued because the industry concerned would then come to a standstill due to lack of manpower. However, the joint forces set some guidelines and asked their employers to provide them required food and not to employ any child without written permission from his parents or guardians and countersigned by the union parishad chairman. The employers were also asked to pay the children at least 50 per cent of their dues in advance and obtain receipts from their parents or guardians. About 10,000 people are involved in fishing and fish processing during the dry season in the bay near the Sundarbans.
These people, mostly well off, come from Chittagong, Khulna and Barisal regions and stay in the islands for about five months.
According to sources in Mongla and villages along the Sundarbans, organised gangs known as 'bahatdar' lure or traffick these children from their villages, railway stations and streets in different areas of the country and then take them to Kutubdia and Banshkhali. The gangs start 'procuring' the children four to five months before the season starts. At Kutubdia and Banshkhali, the traffickers hand over the children to boatmen, locally known as 'majhis,' for about TK 1500 each. In some cases, even as many as 50 children are handed over at a time. The children are then taken to the islands and forced into virtual slavery. Sources in the joint forces in Mongla said that they would soon visit the islands to see if the guidelines given by them were implemented.
2. 93 minor boys engaged in forced labour
Nov 7, 2004: Coast Guard today rescued 93 minor boys engaged in forced labour by fishermen at remote Dublar Char. Commander Abdul Matin of Coast Guard told the news agency that his force raided the fishermen’s hamlets in the island and rescued the boys aged 7 to 12. Engaged in forced labour in drying fishes, these boys were kidnapped from poverty-stricken areas of the country. There are more kept hostage in some other hamlets, added Commander Matin. Dublar Char is located in the Bay of Bengal, far across southern side of the Sundarbans.
The rescued boys were being brought to Mongla. They will soon be sent to respective homes. Coast Guard had rescued 36 minor boys on October 25 who were kept hostage and engaged in forced labour by the fishermen in Dublar Char (UNB, The Independent,November 8, 2004).
3.Child labour at Dublar Char goes on unabated
Khulna, November 17:Many people, including minor boys, are at present being forced to work at Dublar Char under the Sharankhola Range in east Sundarban division, in gross violation of basic human rights. The Coast Guard, in collaboration with the Forest Department and police, rescued 129 persons on October 25 and November 7 from captivity in the char, said official sources. According to some of the rescued boys, several hundred boys and persons are undergoing force labour at fish drying enterprises in the char. Most of the people in fish-drying farms work against their will. Some of the boys are also subjected to sexual abuse, the sources added.
Brokers, who are popularly called majhi (boatman), supply the fish-drying farms with boys, mostly in their teens, from the southern region. In some cases the boys are also captured from other regions. The boys of poor families are easy prey to the brokers, who give a small amount to the families in advance.
The owners of fish-drying farms seldom pay the boys their due salaries. Moreover, a major portion whatever amount they pay the boys as remuneration is taken by the sardar (superviser) under whom they have to work. The boys are forced to do non-stop work to separate fish from the nets, standing in the saline water, and have to carry the fish from the trawlers to the farms. If they fail to work as per the will of the sardar (care taker), they undergo severe physical torture.
When the brokers allure the family or the boy to go to the char (island) they promise good remuneration and good environment at the workplace. But in the remote char areas they engage them in works which are not suitable for their age, and compel them to work in unfavourable conditions, said some of the boys rescued on November 7. The rescued boys could tell the police the names of the brokers, but could not tell names of owners of the farms.
When the men of the Forest Department and law enforcing agencies visit the area, the owners and sardars go into hiding, and also hide the "labourers". Kamal Hossain, 16, son of Nur Hossain of Paikpara in Sylhet, who was rescued from the char on November 7, said that if the boys want to go home or decline to work non-stop, they are beaten up and are forced to work 16 to 20 hours a day.
Mohammad, 25, son of Motaleb of Azampur village under Akhaura upazila in Brahmanbaria, also rescued on November 7, said a broker, Rafiq Majhi, took him to the char. "He paid my family a small amount of money. I can tell address of the sardar, but not of the broker and owner of the farm." Jahangir Alam, 18, son of Nurul Amin of village Bini Nehora under Patia upazila in Chittagong, said the captive labourers are given inadequate food, are forced to work non-stop, standing in the saline water.
"We had no fixed place, beds or pillows and even time to sleep in the char," he added. Divisional forest officer of the east Sundarban division, Tariqul Islam, told New Age that the people of the department often launch operations in the char areas to rescue the captured labourers. "But the manpower of the department is not adequate", (New Age, November 18, 2004).
Last Modified: November 22, 2004
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A near-famine situation the northern districts