Manama "A significant number of human beings, including women, are trafficked into Bahrain. Unfortunately, their plight seems to remain unknown to significant parts of Bahraini society, perhaps because the victims tend to be foreign nationals or are considered to be of low social status," Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, has said.

The Bangladesh-born lawyer said: "Bahrain's victims of trafficking are often invisible victims because they suffer in places that remain hidden to the public eye, such as private homes, hotel rooms or labour camps."

Senior government officials also acknowledged that widely-held attitudes of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, and gender contributed to the prevalence of human trafficking, according to the activist who made her remarks at the end of a five-day visit to Bahrain.

The statements were based on consultations with government officials, members of the judiciary, senior diplomats, UN officials, representatives of non-governmental organisations and civil society and victims.

Of particular concern, Huda said, is the significant number among the approximately 300,000 migrant workers, including 50,000 female domestic helpers, in Bahrain who become victims of human trafficking.

"Their basic human rights remain inadequately protected as there are still gaps in the enforcement of the relevant laws by the authorities of Bahrain. In particular, I found that female domestic migrant workers are the most disadvantaged, in that they remain excluded from the protection of the current labour legislation," the lawyer said.

"It is largely left up to the benevolence and human compassion of the employers, whether the human rights of the workers are upheld or not."

But Huda lauded the authorities for drafting an anti-trafficking Bill that, she said, appeared to be comprehensive and would be enacted after the new parliament takes office.

"I hope that the government will promptly take steps to bring the other related laws into conformity with the proposed law to ensure lack of ambiguity in the legislative framework. I also welcome the labour reform that the government has prepared, aimed at strengthening the protection of migrant workers," she said.

More aggressive drive

Civil societies should be more aggressive and persistent in their drive to put an end to physical and mental abuses, a senior United Nations special rapporteur has said.

"The organisations should not give up easily and should explore all possible roads and seize all opportunities in order to garner public support and exert the necessary pressure to help people whose lives are being violated," Sigma Huda told Gulf News on the sidelines of her visit to Bahrain upon an invitation from the government to investigate human trafficking.

The human rights activist, who at the age of 21 became Bangladesh's first female lawyer, said bureaucracy and resistance by the people causing the abuses were formidable obstacles. But, she added, they could be overcome through persistent efforts.

"When a public prosecutor does not follow through with a case, civil societies should not be deterred and should seek pressure from court officials who will set a binding timeframe," she said.

The media, particularly newspapers, could be used to highlight the case and the lagging pace, and put pressure on those who hesitate, either intentionally or through negligence, to implement the law, according to Huda.

But the lawyer, who has been actively defending people for 36 years and regularly fought against the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children, insisted that watchdogs should not be intimidated by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their struggle or by the lack of immediate success.

"You do not win all cases right away, but you can stir stagnant waters and engage the people and boost their awareness."