30 trafficking cases probed in Bahrain
Manama, June 23, 2014
Bahrain has investigated 30 human trafficking cases within 12 months, including forced labour and prostitution.
This was more than a four- fold increase from seven cases that were dealt with by authorities in 2012, according to the latest US State Department report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP).
The 2014 report, which was released by Secretary of State John Kerry, gives a detailed account of trafficking, slavery and testimonies of victims from 188 countries, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
It said Bahrain has made "some progress" in convicting offenders which include 14 cases related to forced labour and 15 connected to sex trafficking.
However, no information was revealed on the final case.
"We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime a lot less common," Kerry was quoted in the report.
It states that Bahrain's courts sentenced seven trafficking offenders to between two and five years in prison.
"In 2013, the government prosecuted and convicted seven sex trafficking defendants; four of the convictions were cases initiated in 2012," it added.
The report, which was conducted between April 1, 2012 and March 31 last year, places countries into four sections as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is the American law against human trafficking.
Bahrain remains on the Tier 2 watchlist for the third consecutive year, meaning the government "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."
Countries which do not comply with the minimum standards are placed in Tier 3 and subjected to US sanctions in non-humanitarian and non-trade related fields.
Qatar has also been placed alongside Bahrain in the Tier 2 watchlist followed by Oman and the UAE in Tier 2, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have a Tier 3 ranking.
The report also documents 225 of 354 cases reviewed by the Labour Court last year connected to workers complaining of passport confiscation.
The Labour Ministry also filed 36 complaints on behalf of foreign workers, whose travel documents were withheld.
"However, authorities did not investigate any of these cases as potential forced labour offences," said the report.
The publication lauds efforts by the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) for establishing an anti-trafficking team that works closely with the Public Prosecution.
"The LMRA team referred eight suspected forced labour cases to the Public Prosecutor in December 2013, which were under investigation at the end of the reporting period," it added.
It mentions more than 40 suspected forced labour cases which were reported by the LMRA in February this year.
The report also refers to a drop in suicides among migrant workers in Bahrain from 40 cases in 2012 to 25 registered last year.
It attributes local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that reported an "influx of workers from Ethiopia" and exploitation of Bangladeshi unskilled workers - especially men.
"Some migrant workers face forced labour after arriving in Bahrain, experiencing unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, contract substitution, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse," it added.
The State Department report said Bahrain's police identified 21 suspected victims of trafficking during the reporting period, a "slight increase" from the 18 identified the year before.
It also mentions around 170 labour complaints against 108 companies in relation to late payment of salaries.
It urged the Bahrain government to expand its shelters for victims of trafficking, including men and ensuring shelter staff are trained to communicate with them.
The report was compiled based on information gathered from US diplomats, domestic agencies, government officials, local and international NGOs, journalists and academics.
Meanwhile, the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) said Bahrain was taking "encouraging steps" to deal with human trafficking cases.
"There is a genuine will of the government to deal with such cases but we would like to see more prosecutions to send out a message that such crimes are not tolerated in the society," MWPS chairwoman Marietta Dias told the GDN.
Bahrain's main rights body said human trafficking was a global problem and not an issue the kingdom faced alone.
"Bahrain needs time to rectify the problem of human trafficking which is plague spread globally and I don't think it is rampant here or even ignored by our authorities," said National Institution for Human Rights president Aziz Abul. - TradeArabia News Service