Religious leaders actively engage communities to prevent trafficking of women and children.
Four years ago, imams (Islamic religious leaders) in the south-western village of Chakoria began receiving training to mobilize their communities to combat trafficking under the USAID-funded Bangladesh Human Rights Advocacy Program. Recog-nizing the influence of imams in Bangladesh, local NGOs trained them to create awareness of trafficking within their communities.
“Initially I did not know about trafficking and I didn’t realize that our Holy Quran provides instructions against human trafficking, but after training I found the issue is discussed in the Holy Quran, just in a different manner,” explains Mawlana Ruhul, Chair of the Chakoria Imam Association. He is one of 1,600 imams participating in the fight against human trafficking.
Imams involved in the project talk about the problem of human trafficking and discuss methods of prevention during their Friday prayer recitations in mosques. They also organize village gatherings, lead community watchdog groups and locate families of rescued victims.
Traditionally, many imams have a deep-seated mistrust of development agencies. Ruhul explains that “they criticize working with NGOs as an anti-Islamic notion of work.” By linking anti-trafficking to the teachings of Islam and showing tangible changes in their communities, the project has helped to build trust between the imams and the NGO community.
Ruhul and other imams now lead efforts to build a network of imams in the 20 most affected districts and have experienced a noticeable decline in trafficking rates. “Working against trafficking of women and children is our moral and spiritual obligation,” states Ruhul.