Combating sexual exploitation is a collective duty

Sexual exploitation is one of the most egregious violations of human rights that international community now confronts.

According to Global Report on trafficking in persons 2018 by United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (‘UNODC’), there has been a steady increase in the trend in numbers of detected trafficking victims over the last few years.

The trend for the average number of detected and reported victims per country had previously fluctuated during the earlier years for which UNODC has collected this data, but it has been of late been on a steady increase.

Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is the most detected form globally.

Worldwide, countries are detecting and reporting more victims, and are convicting more traffickers. This results from increased capacity to identify victims and/or an increased number of trafficked victims.

Credible findings have revealed that most of the victims detected across the world are women and girls. Most of these are trafficked purposely for sexual exploitation, while others trafficked for forced labour.

Sexual exploitation, one of the forms of human trafficking, has been described as the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is always a crime, committed with the intention to exploit, or take advantage of, one’s vulnerability. Traffickers, across the world, continue to target women and girls.

Like articulated in my previous piece, Rwanda, like many countries around the world, penalizes sexual exploitation under law nº 51/2018 of 13/08/2018 relating to the prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons and exploitation of others. This legislation encompasses various forms of human trafficking, among others, sexual exploitation. What does the law contain?  Article 24 of the said law prescribes sexual exploitation as follows:

“Any person who, for the purpose of exploitation, commits any of the following acts commits the offence of sexual exploitation: encourage, incite, mislead, manipulate or force a person to have sexual relations, or use any other means for the purpose of luring him/her into sexual relations; pay for sexual intercourse on his/her own behalf or on behalf of another person; knowingly host another person for the purpose of sexual exploitation; announce, by whatever means, that he/she facilitates sexual relations; knowingly help, assist or protect a person engaged in sexual exploitation;  run houses of sexual exploitation, invest in such houses or knowingly manage property derived from such houses; knowingly provide any place for rent for the purpose of sexual exploitation;

Any person convicted of any of the acts referred to under Paragraph One of this Article is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) years and not more than five (5) years and a fine of not less than three million (3,000,000) and not more than five million (5,000,000) Rwandan francs.

The penalty provided for under Paragraph 2 of this Article is doubled for any person who commits a sexual exploitation offence, if: the offence is committed against several persons; the offence is committed by many co-offenders; the offender has used a weapon; the offence is committed by an ascendant of the victim or any other relative; the offence is committed by a domestic servant of the victim; the offence is committed by a person having authority over the victim, a public servant, a teacher, an educator or a religious leader.

Where the acts referred to under Paragraph One of this Article are committed against a child, the offender is liable to life imprisonment and a fine of not less than ten million (10,000,000) and not more than fifteen million (15,000,000) Rwandan francs”.

Article 25 of the aforesaid law states: “the building and any other place used for sexual exploitation may be closed or seized by a competent authority in accordance with relevant laws”.

The foregoing Article 24 outlines constitutive elements of sexual exploitation.  And it penalizes the convicted person with a perfectly reasonable sentence of 3 to 5 years, plus a fine of 3 to 5 million Rwandan Francs. And in case such an offence is committed against several persons, or committed by co-offenders, or committed by use of a tool, or committed by a person exercising authority over the victim, it becomes an aggravating factor, and the penalty is doubled.

From a human rights perspective, sexual exploitation against women and girls is one of the most egregious violations of human rights that international community now confronts. It is widespread and growing inexorably. It is rooted in social and economic conditions people live. Mostly, sexual exploitation occurs where people face economic or financial hardship or vulnerability.

Different patterns of trafficking emerge in different parts of the world along with different forms of exploitation. For example, trafficking for forced marriage is more commonly in parts of South-East Asia, while trafficking of children for illegal adoption is common in Latin America. Also, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation occurs within all conflict areas considered, including Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. In some countries, it has been documented that girls have been married off without their consent and subjected to sexual exploitation. 

Even if there’s a specific law on human trafficking, it is equally important to strengthen the capacities of law enforcement agencies to detect victims and to punish the perpetrators.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.