In the run up to World Cup 2010, organisations around the world are seriously concerned about the problem of human trafficking into the Southern African region, says Tonya Graham.
In the run up to World Cup 2010, organisations around the world are seriously concerned about the problem of human trafficking into the Southern African region. At a mid-November conference held by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) in Bangkok, Thailand, the need to adequately prepare for the upcoming world event taking place in South Africa was one of the topics on the agenda
In Southern Africa as well, gender and women’s rights activists are increasing recognising human trafficking as a human rights and gender violence issue. Though still not well understood, trafficking in women is an emerging problem, which will increase substantially as the South Africa, and the entire region, moves towards the 2010 mass influx of tourists.
Human trafficking is a pervasive global problem, and strong laws are vital to preventing and prosecuting it, as well as caring for survivors. Take the case of Mary Jiang* who left her home in Vietnam to go and work in Taiwan, anticipating a good job with a salary that would give her the chance to improve her life and that of her family.
However, when she arrived she found the promises were false, and she suffered inhuman treatment by her employers who forced her to work gruelling 16-hour days. When one of the 20 machines she worked on at once caught Jiang’s hand, she waited 45 minutes before her hand was freed, suffering sever injuries.
After two days in hospital her employers told her to sign some forms, they were taking her to a better hospital. Once signed, they took her back to a company building and locked her in a small, dirty room. Jiang is just one of the thousands of women across the worlds that are trafficked into forced labour, domestic servitude and sex slavery every year.
The United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children defines human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or 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 of benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
This Protocol entered into force in 2003, and resulted in new or bolstered anti-trafficking laws in many countries, laws intended to support trafficked people like Jiang and arrest and prosecute traffickers. Jiang managed to escape her captors, and fortunately, Taiwanese law was on her side. She was able to access proper treatment for her injury, and is now back in Vietnam studying law, with partial support from the Taiwanese legal centre that first assisted her.
However, Jiang’s case is a rare success story. Taiwanese law, the legal facilities available there for migrant workers and trafficked people, as well as Mary’s ability to gather hard evidence such as hospital bills and photographs of both her injury and company buildings, enabled her to successfully seek justice.
Unfortunately, for the majority of trafficked people, despite new laws and protocols, access to justice is still far out of reach. This is especially the case in Africa, where many countries have been slow to react to the problem, and where legislation exists at all, it is inadequate or poorly implemented. Mozambique, for example, is a major source country for trafficking to South Africa, but has yet to adopt a proposed anti-trafficking bill.
A new report by the GAATW, Collateral Damages, examines anti-trafficking measures and their impact on the human rights of trafficked people from 8 countries across the globe. Nigeria, a major source country for women trafficked to Europe, is the African country included in the report.
The Nigerian government passed an anti-trafficking Act shortly after the UN Trafficking Protocol came into force. Victoria Nwogu, author of the Nigeria chapter, says that while the Act is definitely a step in the right direction, it has many loopholes and shortfalls, the result of acting too quick.
The Act, she says, essentially reproduces the UN Trafficking Protocol, without effectively adapting it to the local context. Some of the points of the Protocol are inappropriate for Nigeria and so the Act, in some places, misses its mark.
However, the Act and other anti-trafficking measures are important steps taken toward ending human trafficking, and their successes and positive activities are important to consider. In addition to the Act, Nigeria established a specialised anti-trafficking agency (NAPTIP), introduced severe penalties for offences related to human trafficking, successfully prosecuted offenders, and launched a massive awareness campaign.
The Nigerian Police Force has specialised Anti-Trafficking Units, and works together with NAPTIP and immigration services in detecting, investigating and prosecuting traffickers. According to Nwogu’s report, from, “2003 to date, NAPTIP has successfully prosecuted nine cases resulting in 11 convictions, while 35 more cases are ongoing.”
Despite all this, trafficking in the country is not really decreasing, something that Nwogu attributes to the fact that Nigeria is not properly addressing the issues that cause people to migrate, issues that become the root causes of human trafficking, and that impact women specifically, such as poverty, human rights violations, social exclusion, etc.
“If these factors are ignored, people will continue to explore unsafe migration channels and ultimately find their way into the arms of traffickers,” she says.
One of the major problems with current anti-trafficking laws in Nigeria and elsewhere is that they focus more on arresting traffickers than they do on protecting or supporting trafficked women, children and men. Assistance to trafficked people is often conditional on their agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement.
Non-cooperation can lead to unnecessary detention or deportation. In many ways, current measures deal with trafficking from a national security perspective. The Collateral Damages report gives 10 recommendations that aim change that to a human security perspective, putting the rights and needs of trafficked people at the forefront.
Many of the recommendations simply sound like common sense: base policies on evidence collected from trafficked people; inform people who have been trafficked from other countries about how they can get assistance in their home country upon return; monitor the impact of anti-trafficking measures and make changes accordingly.
Many nations in Africa, because of their slow response to human trafficking, have actually been given a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of countries, which may have responded too quickly to the UN Trafficking Protocol. They have the opportunity to create evidence-based legislation that is country-specific, to institute measures that take the rights of trafficked people and other migrants into account, and to respond in ways that also address the root causes of migration.
With it porous borders, high rates of poverty, and pervasive gender inequalities, Southern Africa is ripe ground for human trafficking. The region has the opportunity to recognise and act pro-actively, with the lessons learned elsewhere, to deal with the problem before it escalates even further.
* Not her real name.
* Tonya Graham is a projects coordinator working with CMFD (Community Media for Development) Productions, currently working on media to raise awareness about human trafficking.
* This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.
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