The UN has just released its latest reports on human trafficking around the world. It shows that while most African countries now have proper laws in place, some countries do not use these laws and report no investigations and no prosecutions. One study quoted by the UN report estimated that 357 million children lived in conflict areas in 2016. Every one of them would have been at risk of exploitation by armed groups or other traffickers.
When armed conflict forces whole communities to become refugees, they are often forced to gather together in camps and so become easy pickings for exploiters. One of the new UN reports, offering a special perspective on trafficking during times of armed conflict, quotes information from Libya where refugees in detention centres risk exploitation via forced labour: ‘These centres may host over 1 000 migrants, and serve as sources of supply of cheap labour for local businesses.’
Traffickers who prey on communities during times of armed conflicts are generally either from the armed groups themselves, or they are criminal gangs or individuals many of whom offer ‘help’ to escape to another country, but then coerce the hapless refugees into forced labour en route or when they reach their destination.
Regardless of whether armed conflict was involved or not, more than half of Sub-Saharan victims of trafficking were children, with boys and girls nearly equal. Child trafficking is ‘far more commonly detected in West Africa than in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa,' according to the reports. East Africa involved a far larger proportion of adults who were trafficked, while Southern Africa involved more women. ‘Girls are rarely detected in East and Southern Africa, whereas in West Africa, they are the most frequently detected victim profile.’
Most victims in sub-Saharan Africa were trafficked for forced labour, and trafficking for sexual exploitation involved less than a third of the victims found by the authorities. Two countries showed different profiles, however: Nigeria reported a particularly large number of girl victims, while Kenyan authorities reported many victims who were men.
Traffickers were usually male, but sub-Saharan Africa stood out from other regions because of the larger number of female offenders. Globally, most countries reported more male offenders than female, but Mauritius reported more prosecutions of women than men. In Ivory Coast, nearly half of those convicted of trafficking were female, while in Kenya and South Africa, men and women were convicted in equal numbers.
There is also a distinct trafficking pattern for different African regions. Victims from across sub-Saharan Africa were found in over 60 countries within and outside Africa. As far as the UN is concerned, this makes sub-Saharan Africa ‘a relevant origin for detected cases of trafficking globally.’ Trafficked victims from West Africa are frequently found in Western and Southern Europe; countries in North Africa report finding victims from West Africa. In the Middle East victims from West and East Africa have been found and sent home, with some flow detected from sub-Saharan Africa to North America, as well as to East Asian and Eastern Europe.
What kind of information is available in these reports about individual African countries?
In its separate document on individual countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the UN trafficking report gives helpful summaries. Typical would be this information about Botswana:
The Anti-Human Trafficking Act, in place since 2014, covers all forms of trafficking and there is additional stress on child abduction and trafficking in the Children’s Act of 2009.
In 2015, the year after the law was introduced, five investigations and seven prosecutions were completed. The following year, 12 cases were investigated and prosecuted. By the end of 2017, 11 cases were before the courts; two were finalized and one conviction had been recorded.
At the end of 2017, 25 suspected traffickers had been arrested in Botswana. Of these, 60 % were men from Botswana and Malawi. The rest were from other Sub-Saharan countries and from the Caribbean.
During the same period 30 adults and children were identified as victims of trafficking in Botswana. Most of them were citizens of Malawi and the rest came from other Sub-Saharan countries. Adult forced labour made up 77 % of the victims, child forced labour 10 % and child sex trafficking the remaining 13 %.
By comparison, a country like Djibouti also has laws against trafficking that covers all forms of the crime in the UN trafficking protocol. But no cases of trafficking in persons have ever been recorded from Djibouti.
Kenya’s statistics indicate that it has all the necessary legislation, but its definition is even broader than the protocol, so that child marriage and forced marriage, for example, are both criminalised. Most of those convicted of trafficking in Kenya were from Ethiopia and Somalia, while most victims were from Kenya itself, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia and Ethiopia. In the case of Kenya, by far the majority of victims were exploited for their forced labour, and only a small percentage were sexually exploited.
The US State Department put out its own global report on trafficking earlier in 2018, categorizing countries according to how nearly they fulfilled minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. Zimbabwe, for example, is categorized as a country that does not meet the minimum standards but that is making significant efforts to do so. However, the 2018 report said that the government did not show 'increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period.’
The report criticized Zimbabwe’s laws on trafficking, saying the offence was characterized as a ‘movement-based crime’ and that it did not adequately define ‘exploitation’. Forced labour was criminalized, but prescribed penalties of up to two years which is not tough enough.
Just two possible cases of forced labour were investigated in Zimbabwe during the period of the report, compared with more than 70 in the previous period. And although there is a special police Victim Friendly Unit, responsible for investigating cases involving women and children, the unit was ‘largely inactive’ and did not report investigating any trafficking cases during the year.