January 4, 2017

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Forced Religious Conversion and Human Trafficking Threaten Indigenous Children

Photo Courtesy of @Dhaka Tribune

Over the past seven years, the Bangladeshi police has rescued 72 children from a crime ring led by religious fanatics. According to its investigations, the group targets underprivileged indigenous communities most of whose members are Christians, Hindus or Buddhists. The religious extremists belonging to these crime ring entice parents with prospects of a better future for their children, which then end up in madrasas around the country to be forcefully converted to Islam. Indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are often already victims of land-grabbing and displacement. The forced religious conversion of young children adds yet another facet to the already severe marginalisation of ethnic and religious minorities in Southeast Bangladesh.A human rights advocate interviewed by the Dhaka Tirbune urges leaders of communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to create awareness for these criminal activities among their people to avoid them being misled by child-traffickers.

The article below was published by the Dhaka Tribune:

There is an alarming presence of forced religious conversion of indigenous children at the hands of radicals in Bandarban.

Muslim fanatics seduce underprivileged families with scopes of a better education and lifestyle for their children, and forcefully convert the children in madrasas in Dhaka without their parents’ knowledge.

Over the past seven years, police have rescued 72 children from this crime ring.

Investigation has revealed that a Machiavellian group has initiated some members of the indigenous community and sustained them financially in order to manipulate them. These new initiates go from door-to-door in underprivileged, indigenous households which are predominantly Christian or Hindu in around seven upazilas.

The neo-converts enroll the children in madrasas around the country where they are indoctrinated and converted.

On Sunday night [1 January 2017], police raided a residential hotel in Bandarban district town and rescued four indigenous children and arrested two involved in the crime ring.

The arrestees- Abu Bakar, alias Mongshoi Pru Tripura, and Md Hossain – are residents of the Bandarban bus station area. Their accomplice Sumon Kheyang, a resident of Rajsthali in Rangamati, escaped the arrest and is on the run.

Locals tipped the police off, which prompted the raid. The four rescued children are aged between 9-13 years and are from Betchhara locality under Roangchhari upazila. They were students of first to fifth grade at various schools in their neighbourhood.

A human trafficking case has been filed with the Bandarban sadar police station in this connection.

Aung Thwai Ching Marma, a parent of one of the children rescued, told the Dhaka Tribune that families like his were lured with false hopes into a better future for their children, which their parents had never had a chance to attempt.

Investigation revealed that the child trafficking ring has been active for quite some time. In January 2010, law enforcers rescued 33 Buddhist children from Otithi Boarding – a motel – in Bandarban town. Police arrested Gordon Tripura alias Rubel, Abu Horaira – a student of Darul Ihsan Madrasa in Dhaka, and Abdul Gani, a resident of Shyamoli.

The 33 rescued children were from Thanchi upazila in Bandarban and lured to Dhaka with promises of enrolment in Dhanmondi Adorsho Madina School.

Again in February 2010, police arrested one Mohan Tripura and rescued 16 indigenous children from Habib Residential Hotel. This particular raid was carried out on suspicions of the existence of Bangladesh Tribal Association of Baptist Church in Bandarban’s Hafezghona. Police maintained the children were possibly going to be trafficked to madrasas in Dhaka.

Aung Cho Mong, president of the Bandarban sadar upazila human rights commission, told the Dhaka Tribune that the headmen in the Chittagong Hill Tracts must take proactive roles to create awareness among the people.

He said if parents were more aware of these schemes, child trafficking could be minimised in the region.

In 2013, indigenous student activists rescued six Tripura children from Fakirapul Bus Terminal in Dhaka. The six children were part of a batch of 19 children being trafficked from Chimbuk to a madrasa in Pirojpur. The other 13 children had gotten away from the clutches of the traffickers in Chittagong and raised an alarm, leading to the rescue of the former six aforementioned.

Bandarban superintendent of police Sanjit Kumar Ray told the Dhaka Tribune that it is very common for child traffickers to entice families with good fortune for their children.