There are an estimated 15,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United Arab Emirates which acts as a destination and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Foreign workers recruited globally account for over 95% of the country’s private workforce. Some are subjected to practices indicative to trafficking such as passport retention, non-payment of wages and substandard food and housing. Women travelling willingly to the UAE to work as domestic workers, massage therapists, beauticians, hotel cleaners, or elsewhere in the service sector, are sometimes subjected to forced labour or sex trafficking after arrival.
Zulekha worked in a garment factory before leaving for Dubai in March 2001. She was 20 years old and unmarried. Though she had heard about the risks of girls being trafficked from Bangladesh, Zulekha chose to migrate anyway. Upon arrival she was taken to a house and provided a good meal. However, the next day Zulekha was taken to a hotel and forced to provide sexual services to men for 2 months. After this time Zulekha became pregnant and her broker sent her back to Bangladesh.
My parents could not marry me because they were too poor. They only owned the land on which our house is built. If my parents had been better off, I would have been married long ago.
One Babul (a local dalal) convinced my parents to send me to Dubai. We mortgaged our land and got 60,000 taka. 45,000 taka was given to Babul and the rest we kept. Babul told me not to announce my departure; being an unmarried girl, it would be better for my reputation. One day, all of a sudden, at sunset, Babul told me I had a flight. I was not ready. I gathered a few things and left with father. Babul handed over my papers at the airport. –
"Someone will come to pick you up. Work well," he said.
I was terrified. I thought, what will happen to me. Will I be sold? I had heard so much about those kinds of risks. I had been working for 2 years in a garment factory and I was not so ignorant. Yet, I accepted to go because I could not say no to my parents.
In Dubai, no one came to meet me. I waited for 6 hours. I was crying when a Bangladeshi man came to me. –
"No one came to pick you up?' –
"No one came. I don't know who is supposed to come. I know no one here," I said.
He wanted to see my papers. I showed him. He looked and took me with him in his expensive car. He appeared to be a well off man. I liked the way he talked and I began to trust him. I felt that indeed I was lucky to have met him. He took me to a house where I had a bath and ate a good meal. I saw many Bangladeshi girls there, maybe 15 of them. I thought he was a garment factory owner.
The next day, the man told me his name was Pappu. He was from Comilla and had been living abroad for 15 years. He told me he had provided work to many girls and they did well if they worked hard. He said: "I hope you will also work hard. Your salary will be 4,000 taka. Food is my cost." Pappu did not tell me what kind of work I would have to do and the other girls there did not tell me either. I agreed to work without knowing. I needed the money and, beside, I trusted Pappu.
The next day, he took me to a hotel, asked me to wait and went to talk to 3 men. Then he left me with these men and said he would return 3 days later. "You just do as they tell you", he said. One of the men spoke Bangla. He took me to the third floor, to a beautiful room where there were all kinds of lamps, a large table, long pillows, and many bottles, may be it was alcohol. When I saw this, I got frightened and turned stiff as wood. I could not say a word. What should I do?
One man brought me a set of clothes and asked me to wear them. I refused. He started to threaten me. Then, he slapped me. "Guests will come. You will have to make them happy. Don't make trouble. You have been contracted to this hotel for 3 days and your malik (owner, employer) has already been paid." This man left and closed the door on me.
Sometime later, two large men entered and closed the door. I had already changed my clothes out of fear. I was wearing short pants and a T-shirt. I could not understand the men, so they made signs. Come. Pour us some drinks. Eat. Dance. Take off your clothes. I did as they told me. I was too frightened to say no.
One of the men left late at night, the other stayed with me. On that day, the two of them used me 6 times. It was painful and I was terrified because of their size and their strange looks. The next day, the second man left. I don't know when I fell asleep.
I woke up, took a shower and ate the expensive food they brought me. I was resting when another man entered. The door was locked from outside, I had no control on who came in. This man stayed 3 to 4 hours and used me twice. In 3 days, I had sex 13 times. No one gave me any money.
I did not feel tired and I did not dislike it either but I was terrified I may become pregnant. I also felt distressed at committing so many sins. They gave me something like syrup and every day I had an injection. I also drank alcohol with customers. This was before sex. I felt dazed afterwards.
Three days later, Pappu came to get me. I did not speak to him. He spoke a lot. Because I did not reply, he kicked me in the lower abdomen. Then he said he would punch me more unless I speak. "Don't you see how many girls there are in my house? They all do this work. Your visa is for this kind of work". In the end, I had to reply to his questions.
This way, I lived for 2_ months. I went to hotels, mess, and homes. No one gave me any money. Pappu brought a doctor to examine us every week. Once a week, we had a day rest.
One day, the doctor said I was pregnant. When Pappu heard this, he sent me back to Bangladesh. None of the other girls were told why. He gave me 10,000 taka and bought my plane ticket. He advised me not to reveal what I had done to save my honour.
I came back unexpectedly. My parents were astonished to see me and angry that I had come back so soon. I said I married. My husband is from Comilla. He sent me back because I am pregnant. He will come to see me next year.
What will happen to me in the future, I don't know. I came back on the 25th of May 2001. I want to find a job in Dhaka in a garment factory. I don't want to stay here because my parents are angry with me, my reputation is spoiled and, who knows, in Dhaka I may get a man whom I can present as a husband.
What happened to me, I cannot tell anybody but I cannot forget for the rest of my life either. I met with Babul but I said nothing to him fearing it may further damage my reputation. May be he and Pappu work together? They are powerful people. With them, we cannot fight.
My father's land is gone but my parents cannot blame me for this. It was their idea that I go overseas. I was not so interested. All the same, I feel sorry for them. Now I know I will never marry in my life. If someone had provided me with contraceptives, I would not be in that kind of situation. I had accepted the work. Many girls do it. I had no choice. It was written in my visa. But then, why did they not give me contraceptives? –
If I had an abortion, no one would believe I married and that would be even worst for my reputation. I must carry the child. I will go to Dhaka. I may get married to cover up.
Narrative located in the report ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Critical Look at Women Labour Migration and the Trafficking Within’ by Thérèse Blanchet provided courtesy of The Child Protection Hub