Human Trafficking on the increase in Eastern Africa

Poverty, war and conflict are bedfellows, and they have some similar attributes that dog them all. Profiteers, bootleggers, carpetbaggers and others in the scavenging trade that can take advantage of adversity, revel in such situations. That is why countries that have gone through any form of conflict have to contend with much more than just physical destruction of infrastructure.

Poverty, war and conflict are bedfellows, and they have some similar attributes that dog them all. Profiteers, bootleggers, carpetbaggers and others in the scavenging trade that can take advantage of adversity, revel in such situations. That is why countries that have gone through any form of conflict have to contend with much more than just physical destruction of infrastructure.

There are always people who set up schemes to make money at the expense of the victims, and this is exactly how trafficking in human beings in poverty-stricken and or conflict-laden communities is flourishing in the world.

And it is flourishing indeed, because figures from the International Labour Organisation show that about 2.5 million people are in forced labour as a result of trafficking at any one given time, 130,000 of these being accounted for by Sub-Saharan Africa, worth $159 million. The vice is the third worst organised crime in the world and still growing, only surpassed by arms and drug trafficking. This means that it is generating lots of billions of dollars for the perpetrators – estimated at $32 billion annually.

What exactly constitutes human trafficking, and what are the authorities doing to fight this crime?

According to the Trafficking Protocol that formally took force on December 25, 2003, and of which UNODC is the custodian, human trafficking is defined as "the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation".

This means that any form of exploitation whether it is labour-based or sexual, where the victim has not given valid consent but has been coerced or tricked into submission, and having been transported from home for such a purpose, constitutes a crime of human trafficking. According to UNODC, both sexes are trafficked, with many falling under ages 13-18. The males are taken away mostly for cheap labour in plantations, factories and mines, whereas young females are used as domestic workers or sex slaves where the sex industry is booming. According to a report by UN Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking in Persons (UN-GIFT), in Eastern Africa, "Women are trafficked for domestic labour, forced prostitution and the hospitality industry, and men are trafficked mainly for manual and agriculture labour, construction work and criminal activities."

Speaking to Anne Nyabera, the Project Manager for UNODC based in Nairobi, she says the East African region is seeking regional cooperation and building capacity to fight the scourge, which is a big, organised crime racket.

In pursuit of this, UNODC held the first regional anti-human trafficking conference in eastern Africa June 20, 2007 in Kampala, Uganda. Eleven Eastern Africa countries – Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda – were represented by various stakeholders including police personnel, emigration and immigration authorities, journalists, and aid workers. This event happened in the framework of the Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking in Persons that had been launched in London in March 2007.

This Kampala meet sought to strengthen the regional cooperation framework to combat human trafficking, thus the strong presence of police and immigration chiefs from all over the region, and drum up not only support but also disseminate information and raise awareness of the increasing numbers of people being trafficked amongst the population. Thus improved law enforcement and information exchange was one of the cardinal objectives of this meet.

UNODC, Nyabera continues, is also committed to protecting the victims of the trade and working generally towards whittling down the demand by increased judicial proceedings against traffickers. It thus seeks to reform judicial proceedings and improve legislation, as well as build capacity in terms of law enforcement so that every country that ratified the 2003 Trafficking Protocol participates vigorously in fighting human trafficking. UNODC seeks to ensure that legislation is in line with the UN trafficking (Protocol), the so-called Palermo Protocol, and the East African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO) and Interpol are getting heavily involved.

Scant information

One of the frustrations that UNODC suffers is lack of enough information regarding human trafficking to convince the masses that it is serious. The nature of the crime itself is difficult to classify, and it is generally under-reported. A sexually exploited victim is classified as a rape victim if reported at all, but not a human trafficking victim.

Asked whether the ‘house-girl’ and ‘house-boy’ phenomenon can be classified under exploitative labour and therefore falling under human trafficking, Nyabera hesitated only a moment before agreeing that since house help are mercilessly exploited by their employers by being overworked and underpaid, and since their acquisition is fraudulently done sometimes by promising good wages or education which is later thrown overboard, then this constitutes human trafficking. This is a clear indication that classifying the crime is difficult, as such a case might be officially be put down as child abuse.

Even now the staggering statistics reflect a booming economic activity that is being naively or ignorantly perpetrated by unsuspecting parents and relatives who willingly hand over their children to relatives to take away to towns for ‘employment’. The unfortunate children’s lives change completely when they leave their homes. They are taken away either to a different part of the country or shipped abroad to work as drudges and sex slaves.

The world needs to wake up to this threat and have a concerted effort at cracking down on human trafficking.

Contact: dgusongoirye@newtimes.co.rw

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