Child trafficking haunting East Africa

When 15-year-old Valerie Habyarimana left his home, he was confident that he had a better and bright future ahead of him. This anticipation largely informed by the promise of better living conditions and a pay rise that would give him a chance to save “a lot” of money and make life better not only for himself but also his family.
Trafficked children are subjected to hard labour.
Trafficked children are subjected to hard labour.

When 15-year-old Valerie Habyarimana left his home, he was confident that he had a better and bright future ahead of him. This anticipation largely informed by the promise of better living conditions and a pay rise that would give him a chance to save “a lot” of money and make life better not only for himself but also his family.

“She found me grazing cattle and promised to pay me a lot of money for the same job but this time in Uganda.  The deal was too good to turn down and I accepted to the job,” Habyarimana narrates. 

The thought of earning Uganda Shs30, 000, which he had been convinced was equivalent to Rwf30.000, made Habyarimana accept to venture into a foreign land without second thoughts.

No sooner had Habyarimana sent foot on the Ugandan –Rwanda border of Kagitumba, trouble began unfolding. On arrival at the border, Habyarimana was advised to cross over to Uganda without travel documents.

“She told me to tell anybody who asks me about my travel documents that I am just going to the market near the border. But nobody asked me anything as I crossed.”

Habyarimana was then taken to a different home and not that of Mbabazi’s, the lady he had been negotiating with all along.

“She told me to stay with her relatives while she collects money for transport to her home.” For more than a month, Habyarimana lived with strangers, who allegedly mistreated him.

“I was mistreated; sometimes I would go to bed hungry.” After spending a few days in the strange home, Mbabazi came and picked him up. 

She claimed to be taking him to her home in Kyakwanzi in Masaka district. Their journey was however cut short when they were arrested by police personnel in civilian clothes.

Scovia Mbabazi, a Rwandan living in Uganda was arrested in possession of Habyarimana whom she was allegedly selling.

According to Ketty Nandi, a police officer in charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit at the Central Police Station in Kampala, Habyarimana was rescued after the police in Masaka district had been tipped by villagers that a woman was selling a young boy.

“Our police officers pretended as “buyers” and Mbabazi demanded 23 million, Ugandan shillings in exchange for the boy. She was charged with ‘kidnapping’ due to absence of legislation related to human trafficking.

According to Nandi, child trafficking is not only unique to Rwanda.

Last November; Uganda police Child and Protection unit received about nine children from Tanzania who had been rescued by police.

The children had been brought to Kampala by an unidentified man on the pretext of offering them free education in Uganda.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), trafficking of persons is ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or the use of force or other forms of coercion, or abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation’.

Child trafficking occurs for many reasons, but, according to the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, it is an overwhelmingly demand-driven phenomenon.

It occurs predominantly because there is a market for children in labour and in the sex trade, and this is matched by an abundant supply of children, mostly from poor families, who are easy prey for those who seek to make a profit by exploiting their vulnerability.

The trafficking of children for ritual sacrifice

In Uganda, there have has been a reported increase in murder cases of children for ritual purposes, commonly referred to as child sacrifice.

In 2006, four cases of ritual murders were reported in the country and three were reported in 2007. However, last year, the country registered eighteen cases of ritual murder.

Meanwhile last November, there were also reports of albino children being targeted and killed in Burundi, DR Congo and Tanzania and their body parts are allegedly sold to witch doctors.

Police investigations and analysis of the trends in ritual murders reveal that the predominant motivation for engaging in child trafficking, and ultimately, ritual murders is financial reward.

Police reports indicate that in cases of ritual murders, there are three categories of accomplices: the buyer (often the person who intends to exploit or sacrifice the victim), the procurer (the linkman who kidnaps, abducts or steals the child from the lawful guardian , and sells to the buyer ) and the conjurer ( the witchdoctor who demands body parts to perform the ritual ).

It has also been established by the police that most of these crimes are mainly committed by persons close to the victims. Despite reports of child trafficking, the absence of legislation continues to frustrate efforts to provide justice to the victims of this practice.

According to Moses Sakira, the head of Interpol  in Uganda, Mbabazi was charged with kidnapping because Uganda has not yet enacted a law on human trafficking. 

“Her case can be categorized as human trafficking because we believe the intention was bad and criminal,” he said.

The UNODC has been advocating for national laws criminalising child trafficking since the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000.

Despite the fact that international conventions and protocols are legally binding for states that ratify them, they must be adopted as national law in order to be enforced.

However through bilateral understanding between the police of the two countries, supported by the Rwandan Embassy in Uganda, Habyarimana was repatriated to Rwanda and was reunited with his family. 

Contact: ubaine@gmail.com

 

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