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research paper on human rights in bangladesh

A Study on Human Rights Situationin Bangladesh

JETIR October 2020, Volume 7, Issue 10

22 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2021

Dr. Md. Oliul Islam

Bangladesh Supreme Court

Date Written: December 23, 2020

Human rights in Bangladesh are enshrined as fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution of Bangladesh. However, constitutional and legal experts believe many of the country's laws require rearrangement to enforce fundamental rights and reflect democratic values of the 21st century. Proposed reforms include strengthening parliamentary supremacy, judicial independence and the separation of powers, repealing laws which restrain freedom of press and disbanding security agencies which violate civil liberties. Even though Bangladesh has Islam as its state religion and has constitutional references to Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, the political system is modeled as a secular democracy. Governments have generally respected freedom of religion, a cornerstone of the Bangladeshi constitution. However, police are very slow in responding to and investigating attacks against minorities, opposition activists and supporters. In fact, police brutally suppress any rightful protest against the Government, According to Human Rights Watch, around five hundred people have disappeared in the last ten years. In southeastern Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hill Tracts remains a militarized region due to a historical insurgency. Tribal people in Bangladesh have demanded constitutional recognition.

Keywords: Human Rights, Rule of Law, Access to Justice, Women and Children’s Rights, Bonded, Labour, Violation of Human Rights

Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation

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Freedom of expression continued to be heavily curtailed by draconian laws. The authorities carried out serious human rights violations including enforced disappearances, unlawful detention, torture and extrajudicial executions. Peaceful protests by opposition political parties and students were prevented and suppressed by the authorities, on some occasions using excessive force. Violence against women increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Indigenous peoples experienced scarcity of resources because of increasing deforestation and land-grabbing. Refugees and religious minorities suffered violent attacks.

Bangladesh was ranked seventh among nations most affected by extreme weather in the past 20 years. Tens of millions of people were at risk from the devastating impact of frequent cyclones, floods, erosion and rising sea levels, which continued to cause displacement. Farmers’ livelihoods were threatened by waterlogging and high levels of salinity, which killed crops. From March to May, at least four strong heatwaves dominated the pre-monsoon period. Bangladesh’s climate continued to shift towards hotter and longer summers, warmer winters and longer monsoons from February to October. It was predicted that average temperatures in Bangladesh would rise by 1.4°C by 2050. Community adaptation efforts fell short of providing adequate protection, and experts warned that government investment in climate-related projects remained too low. The 10-year Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan expired in 2019 and had yet to be replaced.

Freedom of expression

The authorities cracked down strongly on peaceful protests and dissent. Criticism of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues led to arrests and ill-treatment of journalists, cartoonists, writers and critics’ family members. The death in prison of a writer, after he was tortured and detained for 10 months under Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act, stirred protests across the country calling for a repeal of the law.

The authorities imprisoned 433 people under the Digital Security Act, the majority of whom were held on allegations of publishing “false or offensive information” under Section 25. 1 This represented a 21% year-on-year increase in the number of people detained under the Act. As of 11 July, the longest-serving prisoner detained under the Act had been held since 24 December 2018. Section 25 (publication of false or offensive information), Section 29 (publication of defamatory information) and Section 31 (offence and punishment for deteriorating law and order) of the Act were used systematically to target and harass dissenting voices, including those of journalists, activists and human rights defenders. These actions contravened Bangladesh’s commitments under the ICCPR as well as its domestic constitutional obligations.

In May, the authorities arrested human rights defender Shahnewaz Chowdhury on charges of attempting to “deteriorate law and order” for sharing his personal opinion in a Facebook post. Released on bail on 16 August, he was facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

On 17 May, the authorities arrested Rozina Islam, a senior journalist, on allegations of stealing confidential documents and espionage. 2 No concrete evidence suggesting a recognizable criminal offence was provided.

The government also shut down websites, including five Indigenous and human rights-related news portals. These included Hill Voice, an online news portal on the rights of Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, published in Canada.

In October, Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion arrested Nusrat Shahrin Raka, sister of exiled journalist Kanak Sarwar. Four days before her arrest, she filed a complaint with the police about a fake Facebook account that was created using her information, which criticized the government. Instead of investigating her complaint, the authorities arrested her under the Digital Security Act and Narcotics Control Act. Her brother said that she was targeted in retaliation for his criticism of the government.

Communal violence

In October, at least 40 pandals (temporary structures made for the Hindu religious ceremony of Durga Puja) and 25 homes and properties belonging to members of the Hindu community were damaged or set on fire during and after the Durga Puja, the country’s biggest Hindu festival. The authorities filed at least 71 cases across the country, arrested more than 450 people and accused 10,000 unidentified people in connection with the violence that erupted following allegations on social media that a copy of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, had been desecrated at a puja pandal. At least seven people were killed and hundreds injured in violent clashes across the country.

A lack of proper investigations into previous incidents of communal violence created an environment of impunity.

Freedom of assembly

According to local human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, 157 people were killed and 10,833 injured in 932 incidents of political violence and clashes with the police and between supporters of ruling and opposition political parties during the year.

Opposition leaders were detained and otherwise prevented from carrying out protests throughout the year.

On 25 March, at least 14 people, including a journalist, were injured at a demonstration that opposed the visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh.

On 26 October, police prevented supporters and activists of the leading opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party from carrying out a “peace rally” to protest against communal violence in the country. Police alleged that the party did not have permission to hold a rally; however, having to seek permission contravenes the right to peaceful assembly. At least 44 members and supporters of the party were detained during clashes with the police.

Torture and other ill-treatment

On 10 March, political cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore filed a case with the metropolitan sessions judge’s court in the capital, Dhaka, under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013. He accused state security agencies of torturing him in custody. 3 He had been detained along with writer Mushtaq Ahmed in May 2020 under the Digital Security Act, for posting satirical cartoons and comments on Facebook, critiquing the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mushtaq Ahmed died after 10 months in prison without trial. The government’s investigative committee concluded that he died of natural causes. He had been denied bail at least six times. Ahmed Kabir Kishore told Amnesty International that he was forcibly disappeared from his Dhaka residence at least three days prior to the date stated in official records of his arrest. He added that both he and Mushtaq Ahmed were tortured in custody by state security agents. The cartoonist required a hearing aid after losing the hearing in his right ear.

Extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances

According to Ain o Salish Kendra, at least 80 people were subjected to extrajudicial executions during the year. Among them, 73 people were killed allegedly in “shootouts” or “crossfire” and seven others died after they were subjected to physical torture. Odhikar, another local human rights organization, reported that 18 people were allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance in the first nine months of the year.

Despite allegations of hundreds of enforced disappearances reported in the media, the government continued to deny them. In some cases they justified extrajudicial executions as “self-defence” by the security forces.

Police frequently attributed deaths of suspects to “gunfights”, “shootouts” or “crossfire”. In many cases, the fact that these deaths occurred after victims had been taken into police custody raised concerns that the victims were extrajudicially executed by the authorities. On 13 November, state minister Kamal Ahmed Majumder told high-school students: “I’m in favour of crossfire because hundreds of thousands of people pass sleepless nights because of criminals. Those criminals have no right to live.” His statement indicated that “crossfire” was used by the authorities to mean extrajudicial execution, as opposed to retaliation in self-defence.

Violence against women and girls

At least 1,321 women were reported to have been raped during the year, although actual numbers were likely to be higher. Reports indicated a rise in the number of incidents of sexual harassment and violence against women compared to previous years. According to Ain o Salish Kendra, 224 women were murdered by their husbands, alongside other incidences of violence against women including physical assault by male partners or family members. Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 allows defence counsels to raise questions regarding the character of a woman who files a complaint of sexual violence. Calls for reforms to the legislation and justice system from rights activists were not addressed during the year.

Indigenous peoples’ rights

On 28 October the cabinet secretary, Khandker Anwarul Islam, said that people living in forests would be removed to other places in a bid to keep forests “intact”. Indigenous peoples’ rights activists expressed concern that the action could put Indigenous peoples at risk of forced eviction. Some Indigenous communities have been living in the forests for centuries and Indigenous groups reported continued violations of their rights, including land grabbing and deforestation. On 30 May, non-state actors cut down 1,000 betel trees belonging to 48 Indigenous Khasi families at Agar punji, a cluster village in Moulvibazar. The trees had been a key source of livelihood for the community. Continued deforestation and clearing of stones and sand from surface water bodies across Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts worsened the problem of water scarcity for hill people in the region.

Refugees’ rights

Violence in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar escalated, with fires damaging shelters in the camps, killing at least 15 people, injuring hundreds and displacing thousands in the first quarter of the year. On 29 September, armed men shot dead Mohib Ullah, a prominent Rohingya civil society leader, in the Kutupalong camp. 4 At least seven more people were killed by violent groups on 22 October in the Balukhali camp. Some Rohingya refugees reported feeling insecure inside the camps after they received death threats by phone. Refugees reported that armed groups operating drug cartels and committing extortion killed people as they vied for control of the camps.

Bangladesh relocated more than 19,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, despite concerns about conditions on the island. Refugees with friends and family in camps on the mainland were not permitted to leave the island. Media reported that more than 200 refugees were arrested or detained for “escaping” from the island, which remained off-limits to journalists, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers without prior permission. The Bangladeshi government and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding on 9 October, establishing a common protection and policy framework for the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee situation. Although the memorandum paved the way for refugees to access services such as education and the right to voluntary relocation, it continued to restrict freedom of movement.

research paper on human rights in bangladesh

Events of 2020

Women’s rights activists and others protesting against gender based violence hold placards outside the Parliament in Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 9, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/ Mahmud Hossain Opu

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A young boy raises his fist during a demonstration in Atlanta, Georgia, May 31, 2020.

As More Climate Chaos Looms, Slashing Fossil Fuels Is Key

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Bangladesh’s Awami League-led government doubled down on an authoritarian crackdown on free speech, arresting critics, and censoring media. Arrests under the abusive Digital Security Act (DSA) increased dramatically . Impunity for abuses by security forces, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, remained pervasive.

Host to nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar, Bangladesh kept its commitment under international law not to force returns and allowed ashore refugees stranded at sea who were pushed back by other governments. However, policies over the yea r violated refugee rights. Authorities arbitrarily detained over 300 refugees on Bhasan Char island , while refusing to allow a safety assessment or protection visit by United Nations experts.

The government took positive steps by restoring internet in the refugee camps, after a nearly year-long internet blackout , and promising to allow refugees to study under the formal Myanmar curriculum through secondary school.

A court ordered the first ever conviction under the 2013 Torture Act , which activists hoped would pave the way for investigations and accountability for the dozens of documented reports of torture by security forces.

Authorities released from detention nearly 3,000  people convicted of minor offenses and granted bail to over 20,000 people being held in pretrial detention in order to reduce crowding and protect against the spread of Covid-19 in prisons. However, those being held in detention for criticizing the ruling party were not included in these releases. Juvenile detention centers granted bail to nearly 500 children in the wake of the pandemic but,  according to UNICEF , more than 1,000 children awaiting trial or sentenced for petty crimes remained in detention.


Freedom of Expression and Association

Authorities increasingly used the DSA to harass and indefinitely detain activists, journalists, and others critical of the government and its political leadership. Police even arrested a child under the act for “defaming” the prime minister in a Facebook post.

The international community , including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN independent experts , and European Union, as well as journalists in Bangladesh repeatedly criticized the DSA for stifling free speech and violating international law. In May, 311 members of Bangladesh civil society issued a joint statement calling for the government to release those held under the DSA.

Authorities also used the Covid-19 pandemic as pretext to censor free speech and the media and threaten academic freedom , arresting artists , students, doctors , political opposition members , and activists for speaking out about the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The government silenced healthcare workers  and  cracked down on those who  spoke out  over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and resources for treating Covid-19. In May, the government issued a circular banning all government employees from posting, “liking,” sharing, or commenting on any content which might “tarnish the image of the state” or the government’s “important persons.”

The government censored media by blocking news sites and dropping the media from the list of emergency services that remained exempt from lockdown restrictions. In August, the Cabinet approved a draft amendment to the 2017 National Online Media Policy, requiring all media outlets to obtain government approval to run their online media portals.

The government increased surveillance , including by creating two units to identify Covid-19 “rumors”—one under the Information Ministry and another under the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country’s primary counterterrorism unit, notorious for abuse and flouting rule of law. In reality, these initiatives primarily led to the arbitrary arrest of individuals who spoke out against the government’s response to the pandemic or were otherwise critical of the ruling party.

Disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings

The government  continued to deny its unlawful practice  of enforced disappearances and ignored concerns raised by the UN  Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances , the UN  Committee against Torture , and the UN Human Rights Committee . Authorities continued to forcibly disappear critics and deny justice for victims and their families.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol , a journalist, was  forcibly disappeared  for 53 days before he was “found” in a field, blindfolded and tied. Rather than investigating his disappearance, authorities arrested him under three separate DSA cases .

Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings with near-complete impunity. However, when police killed a retired military officer, Maj. Sinha Rashed Khan, authorities were forced to take action and “crossfires”—a euphemism for extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh—dropped precipitously, indicating that authorities can bring these killings to an end whenever they choose.

Right to Health

Bangladesh’s healthcare system was overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic, shedding light on massive disparities in healthcare access. Many people with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 initially reported being turned away from hospitals. Healthcare workers reported that they did not have sufficient PPE to safely provide medical care.

Doctors told Human Rights Watch that they were overwhelmed and under pressure to reserve limited intensive care facilities for patients with clout or influence. Delivery of essential sexual and reproductive health services fell to the wayside , putting women and girls’ health at increased risk.

With Myanmar failing to create conditions for their safe and voluntary return, Bangladesh continued to host nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees. However, with their welcome wearing thin, the government’s policies violated basic rights , including by building barbed wire fencing around the camps and shutting off internet access for nearly a year, which violated rights to freedom of expression and access to information and hampered aid workers’ ability to coordinate emergency responses, conduct contact-tracing, and share critical information about Covid-19.

In August, the government reiterated a promise made in January to finally allow Rohingya children access to formal education under the Myanmar curriculum, but the initial “pilot” plan to reach 10,000 children, up to class 9, has yet to be implemented.

Bangladesh  rescued two boats of Rohingya refugees in May after other governments pushed them back to sea for months . However, the government placed the refugees at risk by holding them on the remote silt island of Bhasan Char, initially saying that it was only a temporary quarantine to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, over six months later, the government had refused to allow the refugees to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar or for UN officials to conduct a protection visit.

Refugees on the island described being held without freedom of movement or adequate access to food or medical care; some alleged that  they were beaten and ill-treated  by Bangladesh authorities on the island. The government ignored calls from  UN Secretary-General António Guterres  and  humanitarian experts  to safely return the refugees to the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Labor Rights

Following massive order cancellations during the pandemic, more than 1 million garment workers—mostly women—were laid off, many of whom did not receive payment of owed wages. Retailers took advantage of the crisis by demanding discounts on producer prices, thus putting pressure on workers to return to work for lower wages, often without adequate PPE, reliable healthcare, or sick leave.

The government provided US$600 million in subsidized loans to companies to support payment of wages to workers in the garment sector. It is unclear, however, how the payments of back wages were made to workers, particularly women who may not have financial control or access.

Women and Girls’ Rights

Women and girls faced widespread violence. According to Bangladesh human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra, 975 women and girls were reportedly raped in the first nine months of 2020, and 235 women were murdered by their husband or his family . NGOs reported a marked increase in reports of domestic violence during the nationwide lockdown instituted to stop the spread of Covid-19. Yet, survivors faced further reductions to already limited options for safe shelter or other protection measures as well as significant obstacles to legal recourse.

Despite promises, the government failed to pass a long overdue sexual harassment law or make amendments to the discriminatory rape law. Instead, the government hurriedly approved an amendment to allow for the death penalty for rape to quell protests that broke out after several gang-rape cases came to light.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina committed to end marriage for girls under 15 by 2021, but there was little meaningful progress during the year. Instead, a special provision remained in effect that allows for child marriage in “special cases,” with permission of their parents and a court.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Section 377 of the Bangladeshi penal code punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” by up to life imprisonment.

Though the government took an important step in recognizing hijras as a third gender , in practice, it remained difficult for hijras to access health care and other government services, a problem exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and advocates in Bangladesh continued to face violence and threats of violence without adequate protection from the police.

In positive steps, the National Human Rights Commission formed a committee to address issues for marginalized groups, including transgender people, and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board of Bangladesh agreed to incorporate third gender issues into the secondary school curriculum.

Indigenous Rights

Activists continued to call for the full implementation of the Peace Accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Two years after the disappearance of Michael Chakma , an Indigenous rights activist, the government has ignored appeals from his family, as well as  inquiries from the High Court ,  the National Human Rights Commission , and  the United Nations Committee against Torture . In January, the police finally responded to an order from the High court by simply stating that they “could not find anybody named Michael Chakma in any prisons in Bangladesh.”

Key International Actors

The European Union, which accounts for over 60 percent of Bangladesh’s garment exports, warned of its readiness to withdraw important trade preferences if Bangladesh continued to flout human rights obligations, particularly labor rights. A European Commission ombudsman report in March decided against a complaint by labor unions calling for the EU to begin withdrawing trade preferences, but said that option “remains open.” Citing the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bangladesh applied for a continuance of the trade preferences beyond 2024, when it is expected to graduate from least developed country status and would lose zero duty benefits.

In March, the EU welcomed the release of opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia, which the bloc had advocated for.

The Bangladesh government ignored or dismissed key recommendations by the United Nations and others, particularly with regard to its crackdown on free speech under the DSA and increasing cases of enforced disappearances and killings. Bangladesh failed to submit a requested follow-up report to the Committee against Torture’s review of its practices.

India failed to speak up against human rights violations in Bangladesh, even when journalist Shafiqul Kajol was found at the border after being forcibly disappeared for nearly two months.

China blocked international efforts to hold the Myanmar military accountable for grave abuses against the Rohingya, and instead continued to push for repatriation and supported Bangladesh’s initiatives to relocate refugees to Bhasan Char island. Bangladesh accused Myanmar of failing to create conditions that would enable the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved emergency loans totaling US$732 million to Bangladesh to help address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government committed to the IMF to conduct an audit within 12 months of receiving the loan and to publish all Covid-19-related procurement contracts. The World Bank provided a fast track loan of $1 million for its Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project and approved another $1.05 billion for economic stimulus projects. The United States provided over $56 million and the EU provided over $388 million in aid to Bangladesh in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Research Article

Human rights violations and associated factors of the Hijras in Bangladesh—A cross-sectional study

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Project administration, Writing – original draft

Affiliation Department of Sociology, Dhaka University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Business Administration, Daffodil International University, Daffodil Smart City, Ashulia, Dhaka, Bangladesh

ORCID logo

Roles Formal analysis, Writing – original draft

Affiliation Department of Gender and Development Studies, Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, Bangladesh

Roles Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Health Services Management, School of Health Sciences, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia

Affiliation Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown, NSW, Australia

Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation

Affiliation Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (MRT Line- 1), Knowledge Management Consultants (KMC) Ltd, Banani, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Roles Visualization, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Bandhu Social Welfare Society, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Roles Project administration, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation MONASH College at UCB, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation School of Health Sciences, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia


Table 1

Hijras in Bangladesh face considerable discrimination, stigma, and violence despite the 2013 legislation that recognized Hijras as a third gender. There is a dearth of published literature describing the extent of human rights violations among this population and their associated factors.

A questionnaire was administered to 346 study participants aged 15 years and older, living in five urban cities of Bangladesh who self-identified as Hijra, in 2019. The six human rights violation indicators (Economic, Employment, Health, Education, Social and Civic and Political Right) assessed were categorized as binary. Associations between sociodemographic characteristics and the six human rights violations were tested using univariate and multivariate logistic regression.

Human right violations including economic, educational, political, employment, health and social/civil right violations were reported in 73.3%, 59.3%, 58.5%, 46.4%, 42.7%, and 34.4% of the participants, respectively. Economic rights violations were associated with bisexuality (Adjusted odds ratios [AOR] 3.60, 95%CI: 1.57, 8.26) and not living with family (AOR 2.71, 95%CI: 1.21, 6.09), while Hijras who earned more than 10,000 Bangladesh Taka experienced higher odds of educational (AOR 2.77, 95%CI: 1.06, 7.19) and political rights violations (AOR 4.30, 95%CI: 1.06, 7.44). Living in Dhaka city was associated with a reduced odds for economic and political rights violation while experiencing violations of one human right could lead to violation of another in the Hijra community.

Human rights violations were common in Bangladesh Hijras, particularly the Bisexual Hijras. Media and educational awareness campaigns are needed to address the underlying roots of a violation. Programs focused on the families, young people and high-income earners of this community are needed in Bangladesh.

Citation: Amanullah ASM, Abir T, Husain T, Lim D, Osuagwu UL, Ahmed G, et al. (2022) Human rights violations and associated factors of the Hijras in Bangladesh—A cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE 17(7): e0269375.

Editor: Enamul Kabir, University of Southern Queensland, AUSTRALIA

Received: May 25, 2021; Accepted: May 14, 2022; Published: July 7, 2022

Copyright: © 2022 Amanullah et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting Information files.

Funding: NO: The authors did not receive support from any organization for the submitted work.

Competing interests: All authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest or non-financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

List of Abbreviations: AOR, Adjusted odds ratio; CI, Confidence interval; HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus; NGO, Non-governmental organization; OR, Odds ratio; SDG, Sustainable Development Goal; UDHR, Universal Declaration of Human Rights; UN, United Nation; WHO, World Health Organization


Since the late 20th century, some activists and non-government organizations (NGOs) have lobbied for official recognition of the Hijras (refers to transgender, intersex, and effeminate homosexual people) as a kind of "third sex" or "third gender", being neither man nor woman [ 1 , 2 ]. In a landmark achievement, the Bangladesh Government formally recognized the Hijras in 2013, making them eligible for priority education and low paid jobs [ 3 ]. However, this was cut short after the Ministry of Social Welfare tried to employ fourteen Hijras as office assistants in 2015, but still required the applicants to undertake a physical medical examination, where they concluded that the majority of the applicants who possess male anatomical genitalia were males and for one applicant without a penis, he was considered ‘genetically male’. Following this, the Ministry terminated the appointments of all the Hijra applicants [ 4 ]. There are Hijras with penis and others without [ 5 ], and a common understanding is that Hijras are asexual, born with missing or ambiguous genitals, or “genitally handicapped” [ 4 ]. This misunderstanding may account for the Ministry of Social Welfare decision summarily dismissed the Hijra applicants in 2015.

The existence of Hijra is deeply rooted in Hinduism, including the deity Ardhanarisvara which is a composite male-female figure of Shiva and Parvati [ 6 – 8 ]. Gender variant individuals such as Amba/Shikhandin and Arjuna in the Mahabharata played a significant role in mythology. Historically, Hijras (then known as Khwaja Sara) were employed as custodians of the harem and held important positions in the court. The Hijras are central to Hindu practices, and as part of their badhai culture, they are often invited to the wedding, birth and other religious celebration [ 9 ]. The most important goddess for the Hijras is the Mother Goddess, Bahuchara Mata. In her name, Hijras perform their ritual function of giving blessings for fertility to a married couple or prosperity to a newborn child [ 4 ].

Bangladesh is a Sunni-majority country, and although historically a relatively tolerant and open-minded Muslim majority country, it remains conservative on homosexuals, bisexuals, and other gender and sexual diverse matters [ 10 ]. Although the Sunni fatwa (ruling on Islamic law) generally forbids gender reassignment surgery [ 11 ], the Bangladesh Government reached a landmark policy decision in 2013 that recognized Hijras as a third-gender, citing the universal human rights principles as a justification for the legislative change. The heteronormative concept of gender is dominant in Islam, and a trans person has to identify oneself as either a male or female [ 11 ]. The context is that each Hijra group in Bangladesh has both janana (non-emasculated) and chibry (emasculated) Hijra-members.

Despite comprising individuals of varying sex, gender, and sexuality, the Hijra community has often been referred to as ’female psyche in male physique’ [ 12 ]. Past studies indicated that such stigma and discrimination drive social isolation, decrease economic support and lead to poorer health and well-being [ 13 ]. The discrimination and the consequent vulnerabilities experienced by Hijras may lead to a higher risk of mental health problems such as long-term psychological complications from physical, verbal, and sexual abuse [ 14 ]. In practice, Hijras live an ostracized life in Bangladesh, work in working-class areas and have little interaction outside of their environment [ 4 ]. They find it challenging to find stable employment, housing, security, and social support. To survive, some are found begging for alms and engaged in the sex trade [ 15 , 16 ] and face pervasive violence in public[ 17 ].

Whilst section 27 of Bangladesh’s Constitution specifies that ’all people are equal before the law and entitled to equal legal protection’, the fundamental enforcement of the recently recognized third gender’s civil rights remains uncertain [ 18 ]. Some Hijras in Bangladesh are victims of rape, but unlike women and girls, their reports of rape are never filed because police officers do not believe that someone would harass this deviant group [ 19 ]. This highlights that Bangladesh’s mainstream cultures cannot grasp and accept the multidimensional complexities of Hijras’ diverse sex, gender, and sexuality [ 20 ]. The categorization of Hijras as a third-gender in Bangladesh and the legal recognition of innate genital difference as the marker of authenticity creates a false hierarchy over who is a real Hijra and further precipitates the marginalization [ 4 ].

Although there is increasing awareness of gender and sexually diverse communities in developing countries [ 13 , 21 , 22 ] and the Bangladesh society is working towards achieving a country where every person, irrespective of their gender and sexuality, can lead a quality life with dignity, human rights and social justice [ 23 ], there is a paucity of data on the human rights of Hijra communities[ 24 ]. Hence, this study explored the factors associated with six human rights violation indicators of Hijras in Bangladesh as well as provide baseline data for future evaluation of the policy effects through the recognition of Hijras as the third gender in Bangladesh. In addition, the findings will identify the subpopulation to target for future interventions to enable the Bangladeshi Government to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 10) of reducing inequalities by a third through social inclusion among the Hijras by year 2030. The authors selected the components of human rights by following the major articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) ). Civil, political, economic, cultural, health, and social rights are the legal bindings for the 192 member states of the United Nations [ 25 ].

Sample size determination

research paper on human rights in bangladesh

This cross‐sectional study was conducted between January 16–25, 2019, in five districts of Bangladesh (Dhaka/Gazipur, Chattogram, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Rajshahi).

Data collection

Prior to data collection, the enumerators underwent a 3-days training at the Bandhu Social Welfare Society premises, which was facilitated by the first author and two other experienced staff from Bandhu Social Welfare Society. The enumerators consisted of Hijras and people from other sexually diverse groups involved with the data collection. Data were obtained through face-to-face interviews from the Hijra at their House. The organization provided a list of 1600 Hijras from which a total 346 Hijras were randomly selected. Participants were selected from each of the five districts (Dhaka, Chattogram, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Rajshahi) using probability proportional to size (PPS). PPS method was used due to the different district sizes. The Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS) was founded two decades ago and it is responsible for addressing the health care needs and human rights issues of gender and sexual minority populations. BSWS aims to achieve a vision of a Bangladesh where every person, irrespective of gender and sexuality, can live a quality life with dignity, human rights and social justice [ 27 ].

Study design

A structured questionnaire was developed, validated, and piloted prior to finalizing the study tool. The Kuder-Richardson (KR) Cronbach’s alpha (α) for binary data was used to test the internal consistency of the survey tool and measure the reliability of the study. Table 1 shows the internal consistency level of the survey items, which indicates that the tool was appropriate for each build, with the α-value ranging from 0.70 to 0.88. The survey items included demographic characteristics of the participants and the six human rights violations of economic, employment, health, education, social/civil and political rights. Data were posted daily after fieldwork, which enabled daily review of work done to check for inconsistencies and errors.


Outcome variables

The six human rights violations of economic, employment, health, education, political, social/civil rights were the outcome variables in this study. There were three items on the economic right violations, twelve on right to employment, six on right to health, five items each on violations to education and political rights, and eleven on social/civil rights of the participants (see Table 1 for details). For each of the items, a positive response was coded as ‘1’ otherwise ‘0’ for a negative response. A human right violation was recorded if the participant had responded positively to all of the items in that section (i.e. a coding of ‘1’ to all items in that section). For example, on economic right, a violation was recorded only when ‘the items Eco-1, Eco-2 and Eco-2 in Table 1 were each coded as’1’, whereas any coding of ‘0’ in Eco-1, Eco-2 or Eco-2 was considered no violation to the economic right of the respondent. Similar coding method was applied to the employment, health, education, political, social/civil right violations.

Table 2 shows the potential confounders in this study. They included the demographic characteristics of age, district (Dhaka and non-Dhaka), wages in Taka, Communities (Hijras and homosexuals), and educational status, working and living status. The six human rights violation variables were included when they were not used as outcome variables during the statistical analysis ( Table 2 ).


The non-Dhaka district includes: Chattogram, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Rajshahi districts.

Ethics and consent

The study was approved by the Bandhu Social Welfare Society ethical committee. Data collected from the field was treated with high confidentiality, and prior to data collection, the participants were informed of the confidentiality of the information they provide. Verbal and written consent was obtained from all the participants, and the participants’ confidentiality and privacy were maintained. The study adhered to the tenets of Helsinki’s Declaration and data collection tools focused on the UDHR values.

Statistical analysis

Frequency tabulations were used to describe the potential covariates, and this was followed by the prevalence and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of the six human rights violations in this study. Simple, bivariate and multiple logistic regression were performed to determine the factors associated with the six human rights violation outcomes. To assess the factors associated with each of the six human right variables, all the sociodemographic variables including the human right variables that were not used as the outcome variable in that regression, were taken as covariates. Thus, six logistic regression analysis corresponding to the six human right violation outcomes were conducted and their association with the demographic variables were tested using odds ratios (OR) and their 95%CIs. All analyses were carried out using STATA/MP version 14 (Stata Corp 2015, College Station, TX, USA) and p<0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Characteristics of the study population

Three hundred and forty-six Bangladeshi Hijras participated in this study, and the breakdown of their characteristics, including the proportion that reported human rights violations, are shown in Table 2 . More than half of the respondents were aged 15–25 years, self-reported as being bisexual, had at least a secondary education and lived with their families. About 68% of them lived outside of the capital city Dhaka. Although the majority (79.4%) were employed, less than one-third earned more than 10,000 Taka at the time of this study, and about two-thirds reported violations of their human rights (73.4%).

Prevalence of human right violations among the Hijra communities in Bangladesh

Fig 1 shows the prevalence and 95% CI of the six human rights violations reported among the Hijras in Bangladesh. About two-third (73%) of the participants had experienced economic rights violations, with more than half of them reporting violations to their political and educational rights. The prevalence of health and Social/civil rights violations was comparatively lower than other human rights violations among the Hijras.


Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Univariate analysis of factors associated with the six human rights violations among the Hijras communities in Bangladesh

Table 3 shows the odds ratios and 95%CI of the factors related to violation of Human rights in the Bangladesh Hijras. Hijras who lived in the Dhaka region, those who completed university education, those employed and Hijras who earned more than 10,000 Bangladesh Taka at the time of this study reported lower odds of violating their basic human rights. Age was associated with human rights violations in this community with lower odds among those aged 26 years and over compared with younger people (<26 years). Hijras whom self-reported to be bisexual had lower odds of violations of their political rights.


Odds ratios (OR) and 95% Confidence Intervals (CI). Confidence Intervals (CI) that exclude 1.00 are statistically significant at p<0.05 level and were bolded. Empty cells represent the human rights category that wasused as anoutcome variable for that model. The non-Dhaka districts included:Chattogram, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Rajshahi districts.

There were significant associations between the different categories of human rights violations assessed in this study. The violation of one human right predicted the violation of another human right category. For example, Hijras, who reported violations of their economic rights, had higher odds of violating their political rights (OR 3.22, 95%CI 1.97, 5.27). Those who reported violations to their right to good health showed higher odds of violations to their education (OR 4.21, 95%CI 2.62, 6.78) and Social/Civil rights (OR 2.39, 95%CI 1.52, 3.75).

Multivariate analysis of six human right violations among the Hijras communities in Bangladesh

Table 4 presents the adjusted odds ratios and 95%CI of the factors associated with human rights violations in the Hijras. After adjusting for all the potential confounders, the Hijra community was more likely to experience economic rights violations but less likely to violate their political rights in this study. Hijras aged 26 years and over had lower odds of violations of their right to basic health than those younger than 26 years. Living without one’s family and being bisexual was associated with a 2.71 (95%CI 1.21, 6.09) and 3.60 (95%CI 1.57, 8.26) increase in the odds of violation of economic rights in this community.


Adjusted odds ratios (AOR) and 95% Confidence intervals (CI). Confidence Intervals (CI) that exclude 1.00 are statistically significant at p<0.05 level and were bolded. Empty cells represent the human rights category that wasused as anoutcome variable for that model. The non-Dhaka districts included:Chattogram, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Rajshahi districts.

The odds for educational and political right violations were increased by 3 times (95%CI 1.06, 7.19) and 4 times (95%CI 1.06, 7.44) respectively, among Hijras who earned more than 10,000 Taka compared to those who made less than 5,000 Taka, after adjusting for the demographic factors. Participants who reported violations of their right to basic health had a higher likelihood of violations in other areas of their human rights (educational and social/civil rights). The odds of violation of the economic rights of the Hijras was increased by 4.6 times (95%CI 2.67, 7.91) compared with those who reported violations of their educational rights.

This study used cross-sectional data to identify the several human rights violations experienced by the Hijra community in Bangladesh and examined the factors associated with human rights violations. The study found that human rights violations were commonly reported by the Bangladesh Hijra community, with two-thirds reporting that their economic rights were violated and more than half had experienced violations of their political and educational rights. Economic rights violations were more likely to be reported by bisexual Hijras and those who were not living with their families, while Hijras who earned more than 10,000 Bangladesh Taka were more likely to report violations to their educational and political rights. Those who experienced violations of one human right were more likely to report violations of another. The persistent violations of the Hijras human rights found in this study highlights the difficulties faced by the Bangladesh Government in meeting the UN SDGs 1, 4, 5, 8 and 10 of adequate access to education, inequality, poverty reduction, gender equality and economic growth among the Hijras people. Since Bangladesh is a signatory to the UDHR, the Government has an obligation to reduce the structural and cultural barriers to education for all its citizens.

Despite the Bangladeshi Government’s landmark policy decision in 2013 to recognize the rights of the Hijras, less than half of the Hijras in this study enjoyed basic rights to health, economic and social/civil rights. This finding is consistent with a previous study in Bangladesh on social exclusion of the Hijras [ 12 ], which showed that social and economic exclusion of the Hijras resulted in negative health, limited or no access to social, educational, legal and health services [ 12 ]. The finding that Hijras who earned high wages were more likely to report violations to their educational rights was also consistent with a recent qualitative study among Bangladeshi Hijras [ 17 ] which found that well-educated and trained Hijras opted for voluntary with non-governmental organizations due to their inability to secure government jobs. In another study [ 28 ], educated Hijras were less likely to secure gainful employment in the formal sector, suggesting a lack of legal recourse for discrimination among gender identity, including the Hijras in Bangladesh.

The higher odds of violations to good health and the lack of access to adequate medical health reported among the Hijra community in this study may be linked to the lack of legal identification documents due to discrimination of the Hijra community [ 29 ]. Whilst a little over half of the respondents in this study identified as transgender, a substantial proportion identified as homosexuals and bisexuals. These findings confirm the complexity of perceived sexuality and self-identity by the Hijra community as opposed to the lay view that Hijras are characterized only by their feminine behavioral traits and the struggle to accept anything outside of the male-female gender dichotomy.

Hijras who did not live with their families reported higher odds of economic violations than those who lived with their families. It has been reported that unusual feminine behaviors during early childhood by Hijras could bring shame to their families, making the family exclude them from family-related events [ 30 ]. In many cases, family members have made fun of these feminine behaviors and strongly oppose this behavior during adolescence [ 12 , 30 ]. While Hijras generally dress as women, some may present themselves as men in different circumstances in order to avoid exploitation, harassment, and abandonment. Hijra members can, and some do, move between normative masculinity and Hijra [ 31 ]. For instance, the Sadrali Hijra in Bangladesh are non-emasculated and is often in a heterosexual marital relationship. The centrality of emasculation as a hallmark of being a Hijra is a remnant of the British colonization and may be based on the interpretation of the Quran. This became a barrier to how Bangladesh implemented its recent legislative change when Hijra applicants were terminated from the Ministry of Social Welfare for possessing male genitalia [ 4 , 31 ]. Social exclusion and discrimination of the Hijras in Bangladesh should be discouraged at the family level. Family members, including parents, should have a positive attitude towards the Hijras from early childhood to after attaining puberty, including those born as hermaphrodites.

This study has several strengths and limitations. First, this is the first quantitative study that examined factors associated with the human rights status of the Hijra community after the Government of Bangladesh landmark decision of making Hijras the third gender in November 2013. Second, this study highlighted the gap in meeting the UN SDG 10 of reducing inequalities by 2030 in Bangladesh. Third, the study represents the wider view of the Bangladeshi Hijra population because it was conducted in the five large urban cities with the highest population of the Hijras in Bangladesh. Lastly, the six human rights items showed good internal consistency, and thus, these items could be used for future studies in this community. However, this study also has some limitations. First, the cross-sectional study design limits causal inference and recall bias may have influenced our findings due to self-reported data. Second, some misclassification bias may have occurred, leading to an overestimation or underestimation of the associated factors. Third, we did not account for some of the confounding factors, such as participation in HIV prevention programs, family relationships, community connectedness, which may have affected the factors associated with the status of human rights of the Hijra community in Bangladesh. Lastly, Hijras in less developed cities, including those living in rural and remote Bangladesh, were excluded from the current survey, and the results may not reflect their opinion.


This study’s findings suggest considerable variations in the prevalence of the six human rights violations of the Hijras, with the highest prevalence for economic rights violations of the Hijras and the lowest prevalence for social and civil rights violations. The study indicated that Hijras, who earned more than 10,000 Bangladesh Taka and those living with family members, had a higher likelihood of reporting human rights violations in Bangladesh. The Hijra community is diverse, and its members share commonalities as a function of their status as sexual minorities and concomitant issues of marginalization, discrimination, and heterosexism. This study suggests the need to implement interventional programs at school, community, and national levels. Policy interventions can be introduced at the school level to support sexually, and gender diverged students and awareness campaigns organized within school communities to tackle anti-Hijra harassment within the school environment. At the community level, early interventions such as media campaigns on awareness and acceptance campaigns are needed to inform the public on the challenges faced by members of the Hijra communities. In contrast, increased access to education, greater representation of Hijras in government offices are needed at the national level. These interventions are necessary if the Government is working towards improving the social inclusion of Hijras to meet the UN SDG 10 of reducing inequalities by 2030 in Bangladesh.

Supporting information


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