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A Special Report by ICC
04/19/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The recent spate of Christian children rescued from being sold into madrassas shows that low-income Christian families in Bangladesh are being targeted by human traffickers because of their faith and vulnerability.
On Feb. 3, nineteen Christian children on their way to being sold to madrassas – Islamic schools, some of which can be fundamentalist – were rescued from a human trafficker, identified as Binoy Tripura, who had taken the children from their parents on the pretense of admitting them into a Christian school in Dhaka. He had collected $191 (15,000 Taka) from each of the parents with hopes of being paid, yet again, by the madrasas upon delivery of the children.
While they were on the long bus journey from “Cimbuk Hill” in the Bandarban district to the capital, Dhaka, the Tripura tribal Christian children realized that something was wrong. Twelve of them ran away at a rest stop and informed their parents, who called students from the Tripura tribe attending Dhaka University and pleaded with them to intervene. The students met the bus in Dhaka, rescued the remaining children and captured Binoy.
On Jan. 2, police rescued 21 children from five madrassas and “other Islamic organizations.” ICC sources say that these children were forcibly converted to Islam and had their Christian names legally changed to Muslim ones. They believe the children, once fully brainwashed at the madrassa, were “destined for suicide squads” for use in jihad.
Since July 2012, more than 150 children have been rescued from similar situations. After the first 10 children were rescued in July 2012, they told ICC how they were forcibly told to study Quranic verses, pray five times a day and learn Arabic. If they refused, they were beaten with live electric wires or rods, underfed, locked in small closets, and verbally abused. “I was beaten many, many times because I didn’t want to pray,” a rescued boy said. As many as 200 more children may also be in need of rescue.
Under the Garb of Humanitarian Work
According to data provided by Catholic activists to Fides Agency, the practice adopted by traffickers is to pretend to be agents of humanitarian organizations, go to tribal families and promise to provide education for their children. These poverty-stricken families are taken in by the hope of a better future for their children and pay up to 15,000 Taka ($191) for their education and improvement of social conditions. But traffickers sell the children to madrassas, where they are Islamized, acquiring a new Muslim name. From that moment onwards, “it becomes difficult to find and rescue them,” explain sources of Fides.
Aside from being an act of Christian persecution, the practice is a violation of every kind of moral and legal code. As Corey Bailey, ICC’s Regional Manager for Asia, says: “Selling Christian children to Madrasas to be abused and forcibly converted to Islam is inexcusable. The perpetrators should be brought to justice, and a campaign to educate the impoverished Christian communities should be quickly put into place. Human beings should not be bought and sold for any purpose whatsoever.”
Even after children are rescued, their future is only endangered by the threat of retaliation from the traffickers. As Moses M. Costa, Bishop of Chittagong, says, “People are afraid. Families who, after being deceived, rescue their children, are then forced to flee and hide in order to escape retaliation. We try to provide shelter and assistance to these people. We call for a decisive intervention of the police to ensure legality and the freedom of our communities.”
Desperate poverty, weak border security, lack of forces and insufficient finances perpetuate the problem of child trafficking in Bangladesh, not to mention the possibility of targeting Christians because of their faith. Children of the ethnic Tripura community, especially in the mountainous area of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), are prime targets for traffickers, where radical Muslim organizations are active and accuse missionaries of carrying out forced conversions.
Common Practice
The problem of trafficking in Bangladesh goes back to the beginning. More than one million women and children have been trafficked out of Bangladesh, since its independence from Pakistan in 1971, says rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra. UNICEF estimates that roughly 13 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh every day. The main trafficking route is the Dhaka-Mumbai-Karachi-Dubai route, with people on both sides of the Bangladesh-India border involved in the trade.
Over the last 10 years, according to the English NGO Plan International, around 200,000 Bengali girls, perhaps even more, were lured under false pretenses and forced to join the sex industry in neighboring countries. Between 500 and 700 women are trafficked out of Bangladesh each year. They end up doing manual labor, working in brothels and even in pornographic films. “Very few of them return home,” says Tauhida Khandker, the director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyer’s Association.
In 2010, the government, in collaboration with UNICEF and Dhaka City Corporation established a toll-free number against child trafficking, which has reportedly resulted in the prevention of 312 children being trafficked. But this is only a small step forward to solve a problem that needs greater initiatives such as a higher rate of conviction, strict border security, a determined police force and a stable, reliable system of justice.
As Bangladesh struggles to take stock of a national epidemic – in which women and children are regularly being sold into madrassas, sex trade, slavery and forced labor – Christians remain vulnerable to vultures who are exploiting the hopes of earnest parents, to rob them of what is most precious to them – their children.