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Remarks

Anti-Trafficking Video Film Show

Cox’s Bazar

January 25, 2004

Honorable Minister Begum Khurshid Jahan Haque, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends:

On the behalf of the United States of America, it is a privilege for me to participate in the opening ceremony of the Anti-Trafficking Video Film Show. We are here today to draw attention to the social evil of human trafficking:

“Time and time again hopes for a better life are crushed: human are whipped and slaughtered like animals; men and women are changed into maniacal and sadistic creatures by power; the strength of body and mind is destroyed by an avaricious and degrading system.”

Frederick Douglass said this about slavery more than 150 years ago. Today we are faced with the same shocking treatment of fellow human beings: the trafficking of women and children as modern slavery.

I could recite statistics: that 50 people – children like your own, women like my daughter or your sisters – are trafficked every day in Bangladesh. I could cite how many dollars in aid are being used to stem the terrible tide of those snatched from freedom. Or I could talk about the sheer number of traffickers and the miniscule number of arrests and convictions. All of these statistics tell a story. But let me tell you one small and personal story:

Taslee lives in the bheri-bund slum area, Mohammedpur in Dhaka. Her father abandoned the family soon after they arrived in the city and Taslee, her sister and her mother were left to roam the streets in search of food, work, and shelter. Before she knew it, Taslee got into the “profession,” selling herself to rickshaw pullers and day laborers for 20 takas every evening.

One evening a well-dressed woman promised Taslee food, clothes, and a holiday to India. Taslee could hardly believe her luck. Two nights later, she and about a dozen others were on a bus bound for India.

Trafficking in Bangladesh has two typical scenarios: a village girl is lured into a false marriage with someone who professes love and offers high status; or a vulnerable boy or girl is recruited by the offer of a job overseas. A boy from Bangladesh stated, “When I was four, I was trafficked by a family member to become a camel jockey.” A girl in Dhaka said, “I was trafficked and forced into the sex trade for a year. During this time I was physically tortured and kept in conditions similar to a prison …”

As anti-slavery advocates in the U.S. noted, it is easy to turn away from the powerless in society by portraying them as less than human. It’s easier for us to shut off our empathy and deny that they can feel the cigarette with which they’re burned, or the acid with which they’re “broken in” by their oppressors. It is easier to turn away from their eyes.

It’s also easy to feel that nothing can be done, that because the task seems overwhelming we also are helpless. Douglass described the system of slavery as “soul-killing” for the entire society, and ignoring the problem of trafficking we run the risk of debasing our own humanity.

So what can we do? First we need to acknowledge that trafficking exists. By openly discussing trafficking we can find solutions and help for those who have no voice. How can showing a film and having a discussion do this? In “Chameili” and “Destination Unknown” we see some of the snares used by the traffickers; we see how trafficked women and children are kept imprisoned through threats and torture. We see how one girl manages to escape the sex trade, yet is ostracized by her community on her return.

In these films we see how society turns away from those who most need our help. Though viewing such images is painful, we made aware of the problem. After our first film festival, police officers told us how important it was to see Chamieli’s life portrayed on film. They felt that the film would open the eyes of their colleagues to trafficking issues and the suffering of women and children. We hope that the audience today will have similar insights.

Film is the most effective medium for these stories because it affects us both intellectually and emotionally. In “Destination Unknown” the documentary technique provides us with the facts we need about trafficking. The complexities of the issue are made clearer. And in a drama, we see Chamieli as an innocent young girl, feel the shackles that bind her, and watch her terrifying slide into degradation. Both the documentary and the dramatic approaches raise awareness and give us the impetus to act.

The American Center in Dhaka worked with USAID and the international NGO Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC) to stage a two-day anti-trafficking film festival in June 2003. Response was so positive and so strong that we decided to offer the film festival in other locations. Also, The American Center awarded a grant to the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) to produce a cross-border trafficking workshop, and to develop action plans to address bilateral repatriation and prosecution issues. And The American Center awarded a grant to the Bangladesh Institute of Theatre Arts for the production of a drama about trafficking for stage performance in both Bangladesh and India. The drama campaign includes performers from both nations, and symbolically demonstrates that the two countries can work together to eradicate this social evil. All of these projects are part of U.S. Government efforts to help end trafficking; we have provided $2.1 million to Bangladesh since 1998 to fund national awareness building efforts, legal assistance, strengthening of an anti-trafficking network and support to victims through the Bangladesh National Women Lawyer’s Association and ATSEC.

Trafficking in women and children will no longer exist when there is no longer a demand. When we can see each other always as human beings, when people are not commodities to be bent to the will of those more powerful, this crime will become obsolete. We hope that the images you will see today will make you aware, that they will strengthen your resolve, and that they will renew your faith in the human spirit’s resilience.

Thank you to the organizers, ATSEC, The American Center, and PHALS/Cox’s Bazar NGO Network, for planning and organizing this important event.

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Note:  A Bangla translation of this article is also available from The American Center.  If you are interested in the translation, please call The American Center Press Section (Tel: 8813440-4, Fax: 9881677; e-mail: DhakaPA@state.gov; Website: dhaka.usembassy.gov).