Economic and social vulnerability stings. The sting is so intense that in the process of trying to minimise the injury, decisions are made and these decisions sometimes give birth to multiple stings. Picture Natasha*, a Zimbabwean young woman from what is considered to be a lower class family. She graduated top of her class despite struggling to write exams every semester due to unpaid fees.
Today what she has is a transcript and no job. She learns about how other young women are going to the Middle East to eke a living for their families. She has heard that it’s so easy to go there, everything is done for you if you get in touch with the right people.
Although her family is unsure about the move, they find themselves living in abject poverty which is enough to convince them that Natasha might as well brave the unknown. When her father falls terminally ill, this is the last stroke and Natasha packs her bags hoping to make a little to afford medical attention for her father.
The face of trafficking
While Natasha is fictitious, the narrative is common place. It is estimated that thousands of men, women and children are falling victim to human trafficking in almost every country in the world. However, there is no doubt that women and children are the face of human trafficking owing to vulnerability particularly in least developed nations. Zimbabwe has been identified as a source, transit and destination for the estimated US$150 billion dollar industry, in fact human trafficking is said to be globally the fastest growing area of organised crime and the third largest income revenue for organised crime after narcotics and arms sales.
Several Zimbabwean media reports earlier this year chronicled how over 200 women had been trafficked to Kuwait and turned into sex slaves and forced labourers. The outstanding gendered move is not lost on us as a nation. It shows the extent to which women are willing and in need of economic opportunities that allow them to become financially independent and how some exploitive individuals take delight in using that desperation to their advantage. Foreign farms, mines, construction sites, drug syndicates and homes are profiting out of violated women. These women have not only been violated physically but psychologically and emotionally.
What are the protection units?
Clearly poverty strips most individuals of any protection against being trafficked and finesse pimping (psychological manipulation) is used before guerrilla tactics are employed when the victims reach their destination. The problem in Zimbabwe is escalated by anti-trafficking laws that are inconsistent with international law. According to the United States Embassy in Zimbabwe, the ‘Trafficking in persons act’ of 2014 describes human trafficking as a crime of transportation rather than one of exploitation as enshrined in international law. This is a grave case of negligence by the system and has to be addressed forthwith.
As if this is not enough, The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act prohibits procuring a person for unlawful sexual conduct, inside or outside of Zimbabwe, but the penalty is up to just two years’ imprisonment. Under the act as well, pledging a female for forced marriage or to compensate for the death of a relative or any debt or obligation is punishable, with penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment. As a country we are failing to deal with in-house trafficking by assuming it’s a normal cultural practise, how then can we effectively combat trafficking beyond our borders? The old adage goes, charity begins at home. Young women suffer both at home and beyond our borders. How do we as a country in this day and age, stand proud of a law that gives a maximum sentence of two years to the abuse of a human being?
Our protection units are weak. Already human rights activists are clamouring for the courts to effect a minimum sentence on rapists yet other exploitative avenues are still open. This in essence means trafficking is regarded as a minor crime yet is responsible for the disintegration of the important family unit, gross sexual manipulation and a high form of violation of an individual’s human rights. An individual who has the ability to violate an individual in this way cannot unlearn this behaviour in two years. The value of life and bodily integrity is important, upholding these is more crucial, two years is an insult to the violated individual.
That said, I , like other Zimbabweans, still await the thirty year mandatory sentence on rape that was said would be introduced, way back in 2014. When the government of Zimbabwe does this, we can have confidence in their ability (read willingness) to combat human trafficking. Until then, all talk is cheap.
Recently government launched the National Plan of Action on Human Trafficking (NAPLAC). According to foreign affairs Minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, the action plan which runs from this year to 2018 will be anchored on prosecution, prevention, protection and partnership. Unfortunately not much detail is available on this plan. What we know is that it will also focus on women and girls in remote areas-a noble idea. However the challenge remains as this plan is anchored on the Trafficking in persons act of 2014 which I mentioned above is inconsistent with international law and limits the scope of human trafficking.
To give more detail, the devil is in the definition of human trafficking. The 2014 Act criminalises the involuntary transportation of an individual in or outside Zimbabwe and the voluntary transportation for an unlawful purpose. The key element of the International law (2000 UN TIP Protocol) is exploitation, which is the missing ingredient in our local law. The inconsistent definitions leave the country at risk of not being able to fully prosecute trafficking crimes.
Given the above, there is a need to regard trafficking as a major crime and serious cause for concern in Zimbabwe. Documentation of these crimes is necessary for planning purposes and accurate knowledge of the risk young girls and women are facing. Documentation will also aid in tightening alert systems in areas more prone to the crime in the country. The government has an obligation to partner private players to enable officials representing Zimbabwe in other countries to be able to identify victims of human trafficking and bring them back home.
The above while crucial, there is an urgent need for funds to be availed to ensure these victims upon return receive psychological and financial assistance. This is a very important aspect of the rescuing as poverty may push back victims to a life of slavery.
The suffering and abuse of young women and girls is on failed systems of leadership that have focused on enriching themselves at the expense of the lives of young people and their loved ones. Without doubt, everyone is susceptible to trafficking, however, the most vulnerable are those at the bottom of the economic and social radar. Their empowerment is a first step in minimising their susceptibility.
Main image taken from www.unodc.org