2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation.
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were instances in which the government restricted these rights.
For example on June 22, government officials evicted and destroyed the homes of 35 families in Dinajpur district in the northwestern part of the country, in order to establish a government project at the site of their homes.
The law does not provide for exile, and it was not used.
The country’s passports were invalid for travel to Israel.
Protection of Refugees
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice, the government provided some protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. Working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government provided temporary protection to individual asylum seekers whom the UNHCR interviewed and recognized as refugees on a case-by-case basis.
During the year the government denied asylum to Rohingya from Burma by categorizing them as illegal economic migrants and turned back as many persons as possible at the border. According to the UNHCR, some refugees returned by the government were fleeing persecution and were entitled to refugee status. Some unregistered persons in UNHCR camps returned illegally after their official repatriation to Burma, sharing food and lodging with relatives who received rations as registered members of the camps. On a number of occasions, camp officials handed some of the unregistered persons over to police, who sent them to prison under the Foreigners’ Act. There were 114 Rohingya refugees in local prisons in the Cox’s Bazaar area at year’s end. UNHCR officials visited the detained refugees once a month.
There was a pattern of continued neglect of refugees, specifically towards the Rohingya and Bihari refugees. During the year 20,939 Rohingya refugees remained in 2 camps administered by the government in cooperation with the UNHCR, while another approximately 200 thousand Rohingyas not officially recognized as refugees lived outside the camps in the surrounding area of Teknaf and Cox’s Bazaar. The government and UNHCR collaborated in the repatriation of 92 refugees. While UNHCR managed to substantially decrease the number of forced repatriation cases, they have received numerous allegations that government camp authorities placed pressure on refugees to repatriate, intimidating them with arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and harassment.
UNHCR field workers reported several cases of refugee abuse including rape, assault, domestic abuse, depravation of food ration entitlements, and documentation problems. In March UNHCR received reports that a police inspector and his staff severely beat and attempted to rape 6 females, including 2 girls aged 8 and 12. UNHCR strongly protested to camp authorities but the government took no action. In December 2004 local villagers raped two minor female refugees; government camp authorities reportedly justified beating as a better alternative to detention or imprisonment for punishment. Government camp authorities, tasked with arbitration in the camps, continuously practiced confiscation of ration books as a mode of punishment and usually extorted bribes from refugees for return of their ration books. UNHCR received several hundred complaints of ration book confiscation incidents during the year.
The government placed excessive restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement and ability to work or earn a livelihood. The government continued to ignore UNHCR requests to allow those Rohingya refugees, unable to return to Burma, to work, benefit from local medical programs, or participate in the educations system, insisting that all Rohingya refugees remained in camps until their return to Burma. The government claimed Rohyingyans were not allowed to possess money, and that money in their possession could be confiscated at any time.
In June 2004 to protest the government’s forced repatriation and mistreatment by security forces, some refugees in Kutupaalong camp staged demonstrations, refused their rations, and boycotted the government-run medical clinic. According to UNHCR, in June 2004 police fired approximately 15 rounds into a group of several hundred protestors throwing stones during a regular night patrol. No injuries were reported. In November 2004 police killed at least three Rohingyan refugees on suspicion of arms smuggling and since then, several refugees remain unaccounted for. Police promised UNHCR it would investigate the incident, but at years end they failed to do so. The government has repeatedly rejected a UNHCR proposal to grant the refugees rights for temporary stay and freedom of movement under a self-reliance program.
Approximately 300 thousand non-Bengali Bihari Muslims who emigrated to the former East Pakistan during the 1947 partition and who supported Pakistan during the 1971 war continued to live in camps throughout the country. According to NGO Refugees International, they lived in camps with little access to education, medical attention, and in unsanitary conditions. Some Biharis declined citizenship in 1972 and were awaiting repatriation to Pakistan, where the government was reluctant to accept them. Many of the stranded Biharis born after 1971 have assimilated into the mainstream Bengali-speaking environment and likely would accept citizenship if it was offered.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government
The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage, albeit with significant instances of violence.
Members of parliament are elected at least every five years. The parliament has 345 members, 300 of whom are directly elected at-large, and another 45 of whom are female members nominated by political parties and indirectly elected by the other members of parliament. Party leaders appoint candidates for elections; some candidates allegedly purchased nomination from party leaders with generous campaign contributions or personal gifts.
Elections and Political Participation
Khaleda Zia, leader of the BNP, became prime minister following parliamentary elections in 2001, deemed to be free and fair by international and domestic observers. The 2001 elections, supervised by a nonparty caretaker government, took place in a climate of sporadic violence and isolated irregularities. The BNP formed a four-party coalition government with the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh Jatiya Party, and the Islami Oikko Jote; however, the BNP and the opposition AL dominated the political scene.
In June 2004 the AL returned to parliament after a year’s boycott; however, the AL walked out of parliament again in September 2004, alleging the speaker’s biased role in favor of the ruling party. AL members attended a parliamentary session for a few minutes in February to protest the January 27 killing of former finance minister Shah A.M.S. Kibria (see section 1.a.). Throughout the year, AL legislators participated in the meetings of the parliamentary standing committees on various ministries but continued to boycott by-elections and attendance on the floor of the parliament. AL leaders complained of government restrictions and interference in their political activities including their right to organize (see section 2.b.)
There were seven women directly elected by the people in the parliament. In September political parties nominated 45 more women to fill in the newly established reserved seats for women created through the 14thconstitutional amendment, ratified in May 2004. The seats were distributed among political parties proportionate to their numerical strength in parliament. The AL, which did not participate in the debate on adding the 45 seats, did not accept its share of reserved seats, saying that the amendment fell short of the promise to make a provision for women to be elected directly by the people. Some women’s rights groups also protested the amendment on similar grounds and challenged its validity in the high court. The Supreme Court discharged the writs.
There were three women holding ministerial positions, including the position of prime minister. The leader of the opposition in parliament, who enjoyed the status of a cabinet minister, and 4 of the 79 judges of the Supreme Court were women.
There was no provision for providing parliamentary seats for minorities. Members of minority groups constituted approximately 12 percent of the population but held less than 3 percent of parliamentary seats.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Corruption remained a problem throughout the government. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) indicated, in a report published in September, that systemic corruption posed a serious challenge to efforts to promote good governance. A TIB sample survey showed that most incidents of corruption involved the police, while the monetary value of corruption was the biggest in the Ministry of Communication. A similar survey released in September 2004 revealed that 90 percent of the population paid bribes to officials during land transfer registration and that magistrates, court officials, and lawyers solicited bribes in more than 67 percent of the cases filed under the STA. At the Chittagong port, officials belonging to the port authority and customs extracted an estimated annual $133 million (7.83 billion taka) in bribes from importers and exporters. The Official Secrets Act of 1923 protected corrupt government officials from public scrutiny, hindering transparency and accountability at all levels.
In November 2004 the government announced the formation of a three-member anticorruption commission and during the year, the anticorruption commission focused largely on organizational challenges, failing to have an impact on combating corruption.
There is no law providing for public access to government information. Instead, the Official Secrets Act protects government officials from scrutiny, in the name of national security.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated independently and without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While human rights groups were often sharply critical of the government, they also practiced self-censorship, particularly on politically sensitive cases and subjects. Unlike in previous years, the government did not pressure individual human rights advocates by filing false allegations against them or by delaying reentry visas for international human rights activists. Missionaries who advocated on behalf of human rights faced problems regarding visas. A few human rights activists reported harassment by the intelligence agencies. For example the government blocked foreign funding to the PRIP Trust NGO because the organization’s executive director, Aroma Dutta, championed minority rights during the 2001 general election. The government released part of the foreign funding to the PRIP Trust during the year.
In February several offices of leading NGOs, such as the Grameen Bank and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), came under attack in northern areas of the country. Authorities charged Dr. Asudullah Al-Gailb, the leader of Ahle Hadith, a local Islamic group for the bombings of the Grameen and BRAC offices and for targeting a series of cultural events and organizations for attack. On March 1, an office of CARITAS in Dinajpur caught fire which, according to some press accounts, was caused by the explosion of two bombs.
On April 19, Rafiq Ali, president of the country’s chapter of Non-Violence International, was acquitted for his alleged involvement in an arms act case. Authorities arrested Mr. Ali on suspicion of arms smuggling because he, in collaboration with Forum Asia, was providing community education seminars on small arms smuggling.
The government cooperated with international organizations such as the UNHRC and the ICRC; however, the ICRC did not visit the country during the year. In December 2004 the Asia Pacific director of the UNHCR visited the country to investigate the status of the Rohingyas. Despite its election pledge and repeated public announcements, the government did not enact legislation establishing an independent National Human Rights Commission. Previous legislation authorizing the establishment of a Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office continued to remain dormant.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination; however, the government did not strongly enforce laws aimed at eliminating discrimination. Women, children, minority groups, and persons with disabilities often confronted social and economic disadvantages.
Domestic violence was widespread. Although violence against women was difficult to quantify, recent research showed that up to 50 percent of all women were victims of domestic violence. Much of the reported violence against women was related to disputes over dowries. During the year Odhikar found 227 reported dowry-related killings
The law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse but makes no specific provision for spousal rape as a crime. During the year local NGOs found 907 reported incidents of rape and 91 of attempted rape. The press reported that 126 of the rape victims were killed and that another 14 committed suicide after being raped. Human rights monitors insisted that the actual number of rapes was higher, as many rape victims did not report the incidents in order to avoid social disgrace. Prosecution of rapists was uneven. On January 19 at a workshop organized by BSEHR, then attorney general A.F. Hassan Ariff said “judges consider rape like theft, robbery and other crimes.”
On February 2, a Dhaka court sentenced Kala Guddu to 30-year’s imprisonment for raping a 5-year-old girl in the Mohammadpur area of Dhaka in 2003.
Prostitution is legal and remained a problem during the year. The minimum age of 18 for legal prostitution was commonly ignored by authorities and circumvented by false statements of age. Procurers of minors were rarely prosecuted, and large numbers of child prostitutes worked in brothels. The UN Children’s Fund estimated in 2004 that there were 10 thousand child prostitutes working in the country, but other estimates placed the figure as high as 29 thousand. Trafficking of women internally and internationally remained a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
Laws specifically prohibit certain forms of discrimination against women, provide for special procedures for persons accused of violence against women and children, call for harsher penalties, provide compensation to victims, and require action against investigating officers for negligence or willful failure of duty; however, enforcement of these laws was weak. In 2003 parliament passed an amendment weakening provisions for dowry crimes and addressing the issue of suicide committed by female victims of acts of dishonor.
According to government sources, the Social Welfare Department ran six homes for vagrants and one training center for destitute persons, with a total capacity of 2,300 individuals. In addition, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs ran six shelters, one each in the six divisional headquarters, for abused women and children. NGOs, such as the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Associations (BNWLA), also ran facilities to provide shelter to destitute persons and distressed women and children; however, this was insufficient to meet victims’ shelter needs. As a result, the government often held women who filed rape complaints in safe custody, usually in prison. Safe custody frequently resulted in further abuses against victims, discouraged the filing of complaints by other women, and often continued for extended periods during which women were unable to gain release (see section 1.c.). In September 2004 there were 184 women in safe custody with 320 children accompanying them.
Incidents of vigilantism against women–sometimes led by religious leaders (by means of fatwas)–at times occurred, particularly in rural areas see section 1.c.). Acid attacks remained a serious problem. Assailants threw acid in the faces of women and a growing number of men, leaving victims disfigured and often blind. According to Odhikar, 196 persons fell victim to acid attacks during the year. NGOs reported that 104 of the attacks were against women, 55 against men, and 37 against children. Few perpetrators of the acid attacks were prosecuted. In 2002, the government enacted legislation to control the availability of acid and reduce acid violence directed towards women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its impact. The 2002 Acid Crime Control Law provides for speedier prosecutions in special tribunals and generally does not allow bail. While the special tribunals were not entirely effective, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation, tribunals convicted 36 persons for acid attacks.
Women remained in a subordinate position in society, and the government did not act effectively to protect their basic rights (see section 1.e.). Employment opportunities increased at a greater rate for women than for men in the last decade, largely due to the growth of the export garment industry. Women made up 80 percent of garment factory staff. Programs run by the government and NGOs extending microcredit to rural women improved their economic power. Pay was generally comparable for men and women.
The government was generally responsive to children’s rights and welfare. Many of these efforts were supplemented by local and foreign NGOs, and these joint efforts allowed the country to make significant progress in improving health, nutrition, and education; however, slightly more than one-half of all children were chronically malnourished.
Under the law, children between ages 6 and 10 must attend school through the fifth grade. Primary education is free and compulsory, but the implementation of compulsory education fell short in part because parents kept children out of school, preferring instead to have them working for money or helping with household chores. Government incentives to families sending children to schools contributed significantly to the rise in the enrollments in primary schools in recent years. According to 2001 statistics provided by Campaign for Popular Education, 80 percent of school-age children were enrolled in schools with almost an equal male-female ratio. In a 2002 report, the Campaign for Popular Education stated that 70 percent of the children completed education up to the fifth grade and that the dropout rate was 24.3 percent. According to Education Ministry statistics, 97 percent of school-age children were enrolled in primary schools during the year. The government expanded incentives for female education by making education free for girls up to grade 12 and using a stipend system from grades 6 to 12. Boys received free education only to grade 5.
There were a few government hospitals designated exclusively for children, and boys and girls had equal access to medical care in government hospitals.
While the legal age of marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys, underage marriage was a significant problem. Reliable statistics about underage marriage were difficult to find because marriage registrations were sporadic and birth registrations to verify child’s actual age were not universal. Mass Line Media, a local human rights NGO, conducted a survey in 2004 which estimated that 40 percent of all marriages could be considered child marriages. In an effort to prevent child marriage, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses if parents promised to delay their daughters’ marriage until at least age 18.
According to human rights groups, 205 children were abducted, nearly 314 suffered unnatural deaths, and more than 486 children fell victim to serious abuses such as rape, sexual harassment, torture, and acid attack during the year. According to child rights activists, violence against children declined due to growing awareness regarding child rights.
Reports from human rights monitors indicated that child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking continued to be serious and widespread problems. Despite certain advances, trafficking of children continued to be a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
Child labor remained a problem and frequently resulted in the abuse of children, mainly through mistreatment by employers during domestic service and occasionally included servitude and prostitution (see sections 6.c. and 6.d.). Children were seriously injured or killed in workplaces.
According to a 2002 report published by the government news agency Bangladesh Shongbad Shongsta, there were approximately 400 thousand homeless children, of whom as many as 150 thousand had no knowledge of their parents Few facilities existed for children whose parents were incarcerated.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, trafficking remained a serious problem. Trafficking in children for immoral or illegal purposes carries the death penalty or life imprisonment, and the government took measures for the expeditious prosecution of traffickers. During the year 65 cases were disposed of by the special courts dealing with incidents of repression against women and children. Courts convicted 28 persons and ordered sentences ranging from death to 10 years in prison. Besides police, the coast guard, BDR, the RAB, and a number of NGOs recovered and assisted victims of trafficking.
There was extensive trafficking in both women and children, primarily to India, Pakistan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and destinations within the country, mainly for prostitution and in some instances for labor servitude. Some boys were trafficked to the Middle East to be used as camel jockeys.
According to government sources, law enforcement personnel recovered 139 victims of trafficking during the year. A cooperative effort between NGOs, the government, and the UAE, resulted in the repatriation of 164 camel jockeys, 159 of whom were reunited with their biological parents. The other five remained in NGO shelters at year’s end, receiving social and vocation skills training while the NGO attempted to locate their families.
BNWLA rescued 314 trafficking victims from within the country and repatriated 32 others from the UAE and India during the year. The number of persons arrested for trafficking was difficult to obtain, as charges against traffickers were sometimes for lesser crimes, such as crossing borders without proper documents. According to the Center for Women and Child Services, most trafficked boys were under 10 years of age, while most trafficked girls were between 11 and 16 years of age.
The exact number of women and children trafficked was unknown. Most trafficked persons were lured by promises of good jobs or marriage, and some were forced into involuntary servitude outside of and within the country. Parents sometimes willingly sent their children away to escape poverty. Unwed mothers, orphans, and others outside of the normal family support system were also susceptible. Traffickers living abroad often arrived in a village to marry a woman, only to dispose of her upon arrival in the destination country, where women were sold into bonded labor, menial jobs, or prostitution. Criminal gangs conducted some of the trafficking. The border with India was loosely controlled, especially around Jessore and Benapole, making illegal border crossings easy.
Police and local government officials often ignored trafficking in women and children for prostitution and were easily bribed (see sections 1.c. and 5).
The government continued its efforts to combat trafficking in persons through the trafficking monitoring cell at police headquarters, a monthly inter-ministerial committee headed by the secretary of the Home Ministry. The cell monitored the activities of the police and assisted in prosecuting relevant cases. The monitoring units formed in each of the 64 district headquarters sent updated statistics to the police headquarters. Arrests and prosecutions continued steadily. Nevertheless, the government’s capacity to address this issue remained limited. Government projects included conducting awareness campaigns, research, lobbying, and rescue and rehabilitation programs. Additionally the secretary of the Home Ministry met monthly with NGOs working on anti-trafficking issues to facilitate coordination and cooperation between the government and civil society.
The government convened two special inter-ministerial committees, with the cooperation of local and international NGOs, to monitor the repatriation, rehabilitation, and social integration of repatriated camel jockeys. While the government provided support for returning trafficking victims, government-run shelters were generally inadequate and poorly run. The government increasingly referred repatriated victims to private shelter homes for care.
Many NGOs, community-based organizations, and local government leaders worked on trafficking through prevention, research, data collection, documentation, advocacy, awareness creation and networking, cross-border collaboration, legal enforcement, rescue, rehabilitation, and legislative reform. Despite constraints such as lack of birth and marriage records at the village level, some trafficking cases were prosecuted. There was also some success in increasing shelter capacity and developing rehabilitation programs.
Persons with Disabilities
The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities; however, in practice, persons with disabilities faced social and economic discrimination. The law focuses on prevention of disability, treatment, education, rehabilitation and employment, transport accessibility, and advocacy.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Welfare set up a task force, composed of government officials and members of NGOs, who adopted an action plan in 2004 to improve the overall welfare of the disabled. The plan awaits cabinet approval.
Government facilities for treating persons with mental handicaps were inadequate. Several private initiatives existed in the areas of medical and vocational rehabilitation, as well as employment of persons with disabilities.
Tribal people have had a marginal ability to influence decisions concerning the use of their lands. Despite the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracks (CHT) Peace Accord, which ended 25 years of insurgency in the CHT, law and order problems and alleged human rights violations continued, as did dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Peace Accord. The Land Commission dealing with land disputes between tribal individuals and Bengali settlers did not function effectively in addressing critical land disputes. Tribal leaders remained disappointed with the lack of assistance provided to those who left the area during the insurgency.
According to a human rights organization, 25 persons died and 71 were injured in violence in the CHT during the year. During the same period, 81 persons were kidnapped, 2 women were raped, and 35 persons were arrested. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti and the anti-accord tribal group, United People’s Democratic Forum (UPDF), blamed each other for most of the abductions in Khagrachhari and Rangamati in 2004. In February 2004 armed tribal youths abducted seven UPDF members from a wedding party at Shabekong in Naniarchar. There were also reports of violence involving Bengalis and tribal people in Rangamati.
Tribal people in other areas also reported loss of land to Bengali Muslims. Government initiated ecoparks and national park projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities continued to progress in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest area despite the resistance efforts of indigenous groups.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The law provides for punishment for intercourse “against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.” In practice the law was rarely invoked; however, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), gay men were harassed and raped by police and local criminals without proper methods of recourse, due to societal discrimination against gays. HRW also found that gay men often faced threats of extortion. According to HRW, considerable official and societal discrimination existed against those who provided HIV prevention services, and against high-risk groups likely to spread HIV/AIDS.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union; however, the government did not always respect these rights in practice. The total work force was approximately 65 million persons, of whom 1.8 million belonged to unions, most of which were affiliated with political parties. There were no reliable labor statistics for the large informal sector, in which the vast majority (75 to 80 percent) of citizens worked. Special legislation on unionization prohibits the formation of unions in the country’s Export Processing Zones (EPZs). According to the law a workplace must have 30 percent union participation for union registration. Would-be unionists technically are forbidden to engage in many activities such as member advocacy prior to registration and legally are not protected from employer retaliation during this period. Labor activists protested that this requirement severely restricted workers’ rights to organize, particularly in small enterprises and the private sector during the year, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) recommended that the government amend the 30 percent provision. The ILO also recommended that the government amend provisions that bar registration of a union composed of workers from different workplaces owned by different employers this year. An estimated 15 percent of the approximately 5,450 labor unions were affiliated with 25 officially registered National Trade Union (NTU) centers. There were also several unregistered NTUs.
Unions were generally highly politicized, and unions were strongest in state-owned enterprises and in such institutions as the government-run port in Chittagong. Civil service and security force employees were forbidden to join unions because of their highly political character. Teachers in both the public and the private sector were not allowed to form trade unions.
The Registrar of Trade Unions may cancel registration of a union with the concurrence of the Labor Court, but no such actions were known to have taken place during the year. There were provisions in the Industrial Relations Ordinance for the immunity of registered unions or union officers from civil liability. Enforcement of these provisions was uneven. In past illegal work actions, such as transportation blockades, police officers arrested union members under the SPA or regular criminal codes.
Trade unionists were required to obtain government clearance to travel to ILO meetings.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) continued to note a number of exclusions of international trade union rights under the Industrial Relations Ordinance during the year. These were restrictions regarding membership in unions and election of union officials, restrictions on activities of public servants’ associations, restrictions on the right to organize and bargain collectively in EPZs, and restrictions on the right to strike.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law does not ban discrimination by employers against union members and organizers, and in practice, private sector employers usually discouraged any union activity, sometimes working in collaboration with local police. The Registrar of Trade Unions rules on discrimination complaints. In a number of cases, the labor court ordered the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. However, the labor court’s overall effectiveness was hampered by a serious case backlog. Alternative dispute resolution techniques began to be used to decrease the backlog.
Collective bargaining, other than in EPZs, is legal on the condition that unions are legally registered by the Registrar of Trade Unions as collective bargaining agents represent workers. Collective bargaining occurred occasionally in large private enterprises such as pharmaceuticals, jute, or textiles, but due to concerns over job security, most workers did not practice collective bargaining. Collective bargaining in small private enterprises generally did not occur.
The right to strike is not recognized specifically by the law, but strikes were a common form of workers’ protest and were recognized as a legitimate avenue for addressing unresolved grievances by the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969. In addition opposition political parties used general strikes to pressure the government to meet political demands. Some employees organized in professional associations or unregistered unions went on strike during the year.
The Essential Services Ordinance permits the government to bar strikes for three months in any sector it declares essential. During the year the government continued to impose the ordinance, originally applied in 2002, to the Power Development Board, the Dhaka Electric Supply Authority, Bangladesh Biman Airline, the Chittagong Port Authority, and the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation.
In 2003 the government announced it would not allow collective bargaining authority in jute mills during production time. In the past the government had applied this ban to national airline pilots, water supply workers, and shipping employees. The ban may be renewed for three-month periods. The government is empowered to prohibit a strike or lockout at any time before or after the strike or lockout begins and to refer the dispute to the labor court.
Mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and labor court dispute resolution are established under the Industrial Relations Ordinance. Workers have the right to strike in the event of a failure to settle. If the strike lasts 30 days or longer, the government may prohibit it and refer the dispute to the labor court for adjudication, although this has not happened in recent years.
There are EPZs in the country. In July 2004 parliament passed a bill allowing limited freedom of association rights in EPZs. The country’s five EPZs are exempt from the application of the Employment of Labor (Standing Orders) Act, the Industrial Relations Ordinance, and the Factories Act, thereby excluding workers in the zones from protection for their rights to organize and bargain collectively, and from coverage by laws governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards. While substitutes for some of the provisions of these laws are implemented through EPZ regulations unions for the EPZ officials did not permit Worker Representation and Welfare Committee (WRWC) members to meet with WRWC members in other factories, did not permit them to meet with outside labor organizations on their own time after the completion of the work day, and did not consistently afford time for WRWC members to meet together in their factories. The WRWCs do not have collective bargaining rights but could negotiate with the employer on working conditions, remuneration or payment for productivity enhancements and worker education programs.
During the year at the Ring Shine Factory located in the Savar EPZ, workers were submitted to arrest, and contrary to the EPZ law, were locked out of the factory. At year’s end EPZ officials had not hired the desired number of sufficiently trained and experienced conciliators and arbitrators.
At a number of other factories, there were acts of management intimidation, abuse, and improprieties during the election process, against workers during and after the elections, including suspension of workers and elected WRWC members, without due process, and contrary to EPZ law. EPZ officials provided limited instruction to factory management and workers on the duties and responsibilities of management and workers under the law. In the aftermath of the labor dispute, however, a labor management agreement was reached, which permitted extensive training of management and labor on their roles and responsibilities under the law.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children; however, the government did not enforce this prohibition effectively. The Factories Act and Shops and Establishments Act created inspection mechanisms to strength laws against forced labor, but these laws were not enforced rigorously, partly because resources were scarce. There was no bonded or forced labor in large-scale enterprises; nevertheless, numerous domestic servants, including many children, worked in conditions that resembled servitude and many suffered physical abuse, sometimes resulting in death. There continued to be numerous reports of violence against domestic workers. The government brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants. Many impoverished families settled instead for financial compensation. Trafficking of women and children was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Because of widespread poverty many children began to work at a very young age. According to the government’s National Child Labor Survey published in 2003 the government estimated that approximately 3.2 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years worked. Working children were found in 200 different types of activities, such as shrimp farming, of which 49 were regarded as harmful to children’s physical and mental well-being. Sometimes children were seriously injured or killed in workplaces. Children often worked alongside family members in small-scale and subsistence agriculture. Hours usually were long, the pay low, and the conditions hazardous. Many children worked in the beedi (hand-rolled cigarette) industry, and children under 18 years sometimes worked in hazardous circumstances in the leather industry or the brick-breaking industry. There continued to be reports of several thousand children forced to work long hours on fish farms on small islands in southwestern Bagerhat district for five months a year in hazardous conditions. The farm owners paid and fed the children poorly. The coast guard periodically rescued and returned child workers to their home villages.
Children routinely performed domestic work. The government sometimes brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants. Under the law every child must attend school through grade 5 or the age of 10 years. However, there was no effective mechanism to enforce this provision.
There was virtually no enforcement of child labor laws outside the export garment sector. Penalties for child labor violations were nominal fines ranging from an estimated $4 to $10 (228 to 570 takas). Most child workers were employed in agriculture and other informal sectors, where no government oversight occurred.
In 2003 the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Department of Labor, and the ILO jointly inspected an estimated 2,200 BGMEA-member factories with the declared intention of eliminating child labor in the garment sector. They found that less than 1 percent of the factories surveyed employed child labor, down from over 25 percent in 1997.
The non-formal education directorate of the government, international organizations, and some NGO partners sponsored programs to provide education to some working children in urban slum areas around the country. The government has been a member of ILO- International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor since 1994. A foreign government-ILO collaborative program included a $six million (approximately 400 million taka) project to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in five targeted industries: beedi production, matchmaking, tanneries, construction, and child domestic workers. As of 2003, 19,874 children had been removed from hazardous work, 19,508 were attending non-formal education training, 7,623 had been admitted to formal schooling, and 3,060 were receiving prevocational training. Employers from 51 beedi and brick-breaking industries have declared their sites child labor free.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage. Instead, the wage commission, which convenes sporadically, sets wages and benefits for each industry, using a range based on skill level. In most cases, private sector employers ignored this wage structure. For example, in the garment industry, many factories did not pay legal minimum wages, and it was common for workers of smaller factories to experience delays in receiving their pay or to receive trainee wages well past the maximum three months. In 2001 according to the ICFTU, 21.7 percent of textile workers in the country earned the minimum wage. Wages in the EPZs were generally higher than outside the zones. The declared minimum monthly wage for a skilled industrial worker was approximately $58 (taka 3,400) for a worker in an EPZ and approximately $45 (taka 2,650) for a worker outside an EPZ. This was not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
In September the government returned the country to a 5 day, 40 hour work week, with a Friday and Saturday weekend. The law applied to government employees, banks, NGOs, and other office workers. Factory workers continued to labor under the old law, a 48 hour work week, with a mandated 1 day off, and up to 12 hours of overtime. The law was enforced poorly.
The Factories Act nominally sets occupational health and safety standards. The law is comprehensive but largely was ignored by employers. Workers may resort to legal action for enforcement of the law’s provisions, but few cases actually were prosecuted. Enforcement by the Labor Ministry’s industrial inspectors was weak, due both to the low number of labor inspectors and to endemic corruption and inefficiency among inspectors. Due to a high unemployment rate and inadequate enforcement of the laws, workers demanding correction of dangerous working conditions or refusing to participate in perceived dangerous activities risked losing their jobs.