Recent years have witnessed a dramatically growing spiral in child sexual abuse and exploitation in almost all African nations south of the Sahara, to such a degree that at the July 2003 African Union Summit held in Maputo, Mozambique, 17 Southern African Campaign Against Child Abuse and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation (SACO) member organisations, together with their international partners, tabled an urgent appeal to all African Heads of States and Governments urging them to address the plight of African children without delay.
SACO members' concerns are common to the whole of Africa. This sex industry is a new form of slavery and tied up to the world's unbalanced globalization. It is part of the US$7billion a year human trafficking trade, which, according to the US Department of State's 2004 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, already involves 143 (74.4%) of the world's 192 nations. Global intra-country trafficking in persons is estimated at between two to four million, and 600,000 to 800,000 people are estimated to be trafficked across borders each year.
Although to-date there is no concrete research to establish the exact level and extent of the problem of trafficking in children and young women for exploitation purposes in Africa, UNICEF has estimated that as many as 200,000 to 300,000 children are trafficked out of, and between West African countries every year. And although Africa continues to go on as if nothing is happening to its children and young women, the US Office to Monitor Human Trafficking has already indicated that 45 of its 54 nations (representing 83.3%) are involved in the trafficking of children and young people, especially girls and young women for commercial sexual exploitation and labour.
Research by The Movement for the Prevention and Protection Against Poverty, Destitution, Diseases and Exploitation (Mapode), a community-based, youth-at-risk focused Non Governmental Organization (NGO) which has implemented youth risky behaviour prevention and protection programs in Uganda and Zambia since 1997, indicates that Africa's receiving nations are mainly the Western Industrialized nations.
Mapode conducted two research projects, the first on trauma among prostituted women in 1998, and the other one on street girls in 2001. It has also just concluded its SACO supported study on 'Children and Young Women in Prostitution and Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Labour and Crime in Zambia'.
The findings of this research serve to confirm both SACO and UNICEF concerns and pose a serious challenge to child protection and the promotion of women's rights, not only in Zambia where the research was undertaken, but in Africa as a whole.
The research found that prostitution and trafficking of children and young women showed a dramatic increase. A total of 36.5% of respondents indicated that they had been trafficked, with 15% having been trafficked out, against 21.5% who said they had been trafficked in. Forty nine percent were aged between 11-18-years, 47% 19-26-years, and 3% from 27years and above.
Prostitution was found to be highly poverty driven. Sixty four percent gave their reasons for entering prostitution as poverty. Educational status was another factor: Nearly half (49.7%) had dropped out of school due to lack of funds. Interestingly, the period that 42.1% of Grades 8-9 girls dropped out of school corresponded with the decade 1990-2000, renowned for the implementation of the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) in Africa that resulted in Zambia's mass closures of its mining industry and huge state-owned parastatal companies that left thousands of Zambia's urban families almost destitute.
Preference for child sex was often talked about. As an 18-year-old prostitute, who operates with her 13-year old sister, said: "The men prefer the baby; she is a goldmine." Preference for unprotected sex was exceedingly high at 78%. Given the high prevalence of HIV infection in Zambia - estimated at 19.8% - each sexual encounter carries an extremely high risk. Sex charges ranged from the equivalent of US$1 to US$50 in hotels, with a preference indicated for European tourists and business executives who are believed to pay more and to be safer.
On the other hand, heath issues such as Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS were not priority concerns. As expressed by one prostitute: "You are telling me about AIDS. I know about it. We were 37 in our group. I am the only one remaining now! But no money no life! AIDS might come tomorrow or next year. I don't know. But hunger and rent are now - they cannot wait."
Sadly, as the Mapode research clearly demonstrates, this human trade is also gender biased. The majority of its victims are females, particularly female children.
The reason for targeting children and young women are many and varied. The 2002 ILO Global Report points out that children's childhood is their vulnerability, and that although children are generally less productive than adults, their child state makes them less assertive, and easier to abuse. They can be made to work longer hours in services such as domestic, factory, agriculture, and sex work, with little food, poor accommodation, and little or no benefits.
Legal Protections at local, sub regional and regional levels are for now non existent. For instance, whereas Zambia has ratified the two African Human Rights Charters and most UN Conventions, it has not domesticated them in its laws, and has not ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Although Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights prohibits discrimination against women in the context of the family, it does not include explicit provisions guaranteeing the right of consent and equality in marriage, a situation that leaves room for exploitation and injustice to women and their children.
Urgent action is needed to end this 'second slavery' and the following conclusions and recommendations offer a starting point:
- Prostituting and trafficking of a person for exploitation degrades and erodes a person's humanity physically, morally, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually.
- Public awareness, interventions and legal protections are either limited or non-existent at local, sub regional and regional levels since protective regional and international laws have not been incorporated into domestic law. Only three SADC countries of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
- Combating trafficking will be very difficult unless all SADC and AU nations form a united front. Africa must unite to declare this modern slavery a crime against humanity.
* Merab Kambamu Kiremire (Mrs,), a Development Worker with over 30 years working experience in community-related programs and projects is the Initiator and Director of MAPODE which operates in Zambia and Uganda. She was a FAWE Laureate 1997, and Africa Gender Institute (AGI) Rockefeller Associate 2004, University of Cape Town (UCT). She coordinated MAPODE research on Children and Young Women in Prostitution and Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Labour and Crime in Zambia in 2002, with financial assistance from Terre des Hommes of Germany.
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