A report in this daily yesterday revealed the horrific sexual abuse and torture that is faced by female Bangladeshi migrant workers, some of them children, in the hands of their Saudi employers and even their Bangladeshi recruiters. While a large number of women have returned over the past few years to narrate horror stories of the ordeals they faced, these accounts have once again come to light after a Rab raid on Thursday on the office of the recruiting agency M/H Trade International, and the arrest of its owner Mokbul Hossain and his associate Parvez, for offences under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. This recruiting agency is responsible for sending 14-year-old Umme Kulsum to a Saudi employer who tortured her to death.
This is not the first case of M/H Trade International trafficking women into what can only be described as slavery in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, a 28-year-old returnee migrant worker spoke of how her Saudi employers raped her, starved her and pushed her off the roof and left her permanently disabled. She also spoke of being raped by a local recruiting agent of M/H Trade International, and claimed that the arrested recruiting agent Mokbul knew of her plight and chose to do nothing about it. The Daily Star reporter also spoke to other women who recounted similar stories of sexual abuse and starvation, alleging that the recruiting agency was fully aware of their circumstances. Not only did M/H Trade International look the other way, most of these women did not even receive their full wages after the torture they faced.
Given that some of these allegations were made as early on as 2017, why was M/H Trade International allowed to continue to recruit migrant workers and send them abroad? Why was their office only raided in 2020? How did the agency manage to “convince” officials from the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), whose immigration clearance is required to send workers abroad, that a 14-year-old child met the minimum age requirement for migrant workers? Why did BMET allegedly ignore the family’s requests to bring Kulsum back home? Why are so many recruiting agencies still out of the purview of the law, despite trapping Bangladeshi citizens in conditions of slavery in foreign countries?
It is not enough for the authorities to investigate individual cases only after the gruesome torture of female migrant workers have led to their deaths. The nexus of recruiting agencies and corrupt officials that allows trafficking through legal migration channels must be dismantled. The authorities must act quickly, before more Bangladeshi women get swallowed up into this abyss of violence and torture.