Enactment of law must lead to effective enforcement
IT IS indeed heartening that the cabinet on Monday endorsed the draft Overseas Employment and Migrant Workers Bill 2013, incorporating a number of stringent provisions to ‘ensure safe emigration and welfare of the migrant workers’. The cabinet secretary was quoted in a report published in New Age on Tuesday as telling journalists that the bill stipulates a maximum of 10 years in prison and a minimum of Tk 5 lakh in fine for any violation of the proposed law. It also proposes seven years in prison and Tk 3 lakh in fine for forgery in the demand letter or visa processing or work permit. Moreover, deceptive advertisements to attract people for overseas employment could land the recruiting agencies in jail for seven years plus Tk 3 lakh in fine. Besides, unlike the existing law, which was enacted in 1982, the proposed law would allow a victim to file cases directly against the fraudulent recruitment agents or agencies. The court concerned would have to dispose of such cases within four months of their filing; in case of failure, it must cite a reasonable ground for a two-month extension to complete the trial.
Overseas employment has been a mainstay for the economy for decades. Coupled with the readymade garment industry, remittance from migrant workers continues to be the major source of foreign currency earnings for Bangladesh and provides a crucial buffer for the economy to the rising import bill. Regrettably, however, the overseas employment sector has also been infested with irregularities and illegal practices. There have been recurring cases of unscrupulous recruitment agencies cheating unsuspecting job seekers and consigning them to virtual slavery in the name of employment. There have also been cases of cheated job seekers left adrift in the sea or stranded in the desert during illegal passage to faraway lands; many Bangladeshis even lost their lives because of treachery by unscrupulous recruitment agencies.
Allegations are also rife that such recruitment agents continue to cheat unsuspecting job seekers, most of whom sell their property and even belongings and/or borrow money from loan sharks in the hope of a better tomorrow, in collusion with an unscrupulous section of officials and employees of the ministry concerned. The said nexus is also alleged to have strong political clout so as to water down or defer or even torpedo any legislative actions against such malpractices.
In such circumstances, it is imperative that the proposed law is enacted, upon scrutiny by the parliamentary standing committee concerned and passage through parliament, as soon as possible. That said, it needs to be pointed out that a law is as good as its enforcement. Needless to say, there are so many good laws in Bangladesh that have proved ineffective because of poor enforcement. Simply put, it is not only enough to formulate and enact a law to safeguard the interest of migrant workers; such a law needs to be enforced to the letter and in spirit. If the authorities can set precedents of effective enforcement of the law, as and when enacted, these would have deterrent effects and unscrupulous recruitment agents would be forced to desert their pernicious practice.
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