Locked up at 14: Fund Bonna’s future

My neighbour in Amman Bonna was 13 when her father passed her off as a 26 year old to traffic her from Bangladesh to Jordan. I met her a year and a half before she was thrown in prison. Now her case could set a legal precedent in Jordan to prevent this happening to others. But for this to happen we need your help. See the GoFundMe page to donate.

The picture above is of my friend Bonna, a young Bangladeshi girl who lived for over a year in the apartment next to mine in Jordan. During this time I got to know her and her story, which was unfolding at the time.

Trafficked, exploited, and thrown in jail
On her 14th birthday Bonna was trafficked to Jordan after she refused to get married. In Jordan she was exploited for her labour while working as a nanny for my landlord. She was not allowed weekends off, was often locked in the house, and had her passport and personal phone taken away from her. On several occasions she was also beaten and her long hair (of which she had been incredibly proud) was forcibly cut. One of these occasions was simply because she had left the building briefly to speak to a Bangladeshi woman she saw passing on the road. Bonna told me that she had just wanted to talk to someone as she was lonely. After a year and a half Bonna was accused of stealing and thrown in jail, though she adamantly maintains that she is innocent.

This mistreatment came at the hands of a couple who portrayed themselves as kind-hearted, open-minded people, who both work for Christian social justice organisations. A possible motive for their actions was that another worker in the house had told them that Bonna had been speaking with me secretly. Another motive may have been to avoid paying Bonna’s salary that they had allegedly been withholding from her for many months.

Bonna spent over an entire year in prison without her court case even commencing due to delays, including the constant no-show of her employer in court. The false age in her passport also meant that she was in an adult prison and was being prosecuted as an adult. Her embassy offered no help.

Bailed from prison
Thankfully after a lot of work and help from many people, Bonna was released on bail in February and is now being cared for by a family who are good friends of mine. Recently the charges against her have been dropped due to there being no evidence. While this is a happy outcome after a lot of hardship, Bonna is still caught in the legal process. Her lawyer — from a legal aid organisation — is now pursuing a result, which would prove her innocence and allow her to claim damages against her former employer.

Pursuing the case
Unfortunately the law in Jordan is heavily stacked against migrant workers and offers them little protection. According to Bonna’s lawyer, no migrant worker in Jordan has ever succeeded in claiming damages after a false accusation. To do so would usually result in a prolonged stay in jail while their case is in process. Most choose to be deported instead, and never get the justice they deserve. However, because Bonna now has a family to look after her, she has an opportunity to pursue her case, and her lawyer thinks she has a good chance of success. If she does, this case could set a new precedent in Jordan, which has the potential to deter future false accusations against other migrant workers, which happen all too often in Jordan.

A brighter future ahead
On top of the gross injustice already done to Bonna, during her time in jail her visa expired, resulting in an over-stay fine of JD1.50 (AUD$3) per day. This amount is now up to AUD $990 and Bonna cannot leave the country unless she pays this fine, all the while it continues to accrue every day. She therefore needs financial support to cover this cost and to support her living expenses, including her education while the court case proceeds.

Bonna now goes to school and is learning to read and write for the first time. Before coming to Jordan, she had worked in a garment factory. It would be wonderful to see her education continue so she can have a chance at a brighter future when she returns to Bangladesh and not be forced into more work that makes her vulnerable to further exploitation. Bonna recently told me that her dream is to become a nurse so she can help other people.

The family who are now caring for Bonna are retirees without an income but are generously covering her costs out of their own pockets. They are good people and volunteered to help her without being asked.

So I am hoping you can like and share this story, and if you’re able, to contribute whatever you can. This would mean the world to Bonna and so much to me as well. It is also our hope that by helping Bonna you will be helping other migrant workers in Jordan too.

See the GoFundMe page to donate.

The top featured photo shows Bonna, now 16, with the mother of the family looking after her.

Bonna’s passport shows that at 13 years (when the passport was issued) she was being passed off as a 26 year old. According to Bonna, the agency in Jordan that facilitated her transfer asked her no questions about her age when she arrived, despite it being clear to anyone who saw her that she was a child. Her employer quickly discovered that she was only 14 but did nothing about it.

Bonna and I in November, 2015 on the day I left Jordan. This was about two months before she was thrown in prison in January 2016.

Originally published at www.gofundme.com.