The annual report by the US state department on the efficacy and commitment of the world’s nations to fighting human trafficking is always a moment for reflection. A particular focus of the report this year is the role that should be played by people who have had personal experience of being trafficked. But most of the report, as usual, deals with how different states are shaping up in the struggle to curb trafficking and the particular challenges that they should address in the future.
What are the kinds of actions that the writers of this highly influential report consider in deciding whether a country has progressed in the fight against trafficking?
Take Botswana, which stayed on tier 2, as an example. In its favour, it was found to have sentenced traffickers to ‘adequate prison terms for the first time’. It was also found to have cooperated with foreign governments on trafficking investigations, to have identified more victims, referred ‘all victims to care’, and to have conducted public awareness activities.
On the other hand, labour inspectors didn’t adequately monitor for forced labour, particularly in remote areas. Inspectors didn’t visit a province well known for the way ‘private cattle farmers exploited San individuals in conditions indicative of forced labour since 2014.’
In addition, the law in Botswana doesn’t prohibit labour recruitment practices that traffickers commonly exploit, including charging of recruitment fees, confiscation of workers’ passports, unilateral contract switching and withholding of wages. Nor did the government report that it provided anti-trafficking training to its troops before they were deployed as peacekeepers.
In Benin, as with many other countries, the report urged that there should be more and better training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and judicial staff on domestic anti-trafficking legislation. This would allow the country to increase investigations, prosecutions and convictions.
Also on tier 2 is the Central African Republic (CAR), and the report notes that for the first time in five years, a trafficker had been convicted. On the other hand, the national assembly hadn’t finalised pending anti-trafficking legislation, and ‘official complicity in human trafficking’ remained a significant concern.
Among the report’s prioritised recommendations for CAR was that it should stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers by all government forces and hold complicit officials accountable. It also strongly recommended the vigorous investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes including adequately sentencing convicted traffickers.
Again, this country was urged to offer trafficking-specific training to judges, magistrates and prosecutors in judicial training institutions and to expand training for existing justice sector officials. CAR reported prosecuting two suspects for trafficking offences, compared with none in the previous reporting period. The report further noted that, for the first time in five years, a trafficker involved in forced child labour had been convicted, with a suspended one-year sentence being imposed.
Malawi, another country at tier 2, showed improvement in dealing with trafficking, particularly because it had investigated and prosecuted trafficking cases including investigations of allegedly complicit officials, increased collaboration with NGOs to identify potential victims and increased screening for trafficking in refugee camps.
But there were still problems: the government hadn’t reported training law enforcement or social workers on identifying, referring and providing services to trafficking victims. And the report strongly recommended the development of mandatory pre-departure anti-trafficking training for all Malawian diplomats, among other steps.
Penalties imposed by anti-trafficking legislation was said to be tough enough, and the government reported investigations related to 82 trafficking cases and 82 suspects in 2021, compared with the previous year’s totals of 27 cases.
Also of concern was that, for the sixth consecutive year, the government did not report taking any further action to hold accountable a Malawian diplomat who was involved in a civil human trafficking case involving a domestic worker. On the other hand, however, the informal group, Malawi Network Against Trafficking, reported meeting with 34 judges and magistrates to raise awareness of human trafficking.
The government of Namibia, the only African country at tier 1, ‘fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking’, according to the report.
How did it achieve this? All identified victims were referred to care, port employees were trained on trafficking identification, and the state opened eight government-operated shelters as well as funding three NGOs to provide shelter and care to victims.
Again, however, Namibia, as with so many other countries, did not provide specialised human trafficking training to law enforcement or protection officers. But it did initiate new trafficking cases and continue investigating cases opened in a previous year.
Specialised prosecutors dealt with all trafficking cases in the high court and there were no reports of investigations, prosecutions or convictions involving government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes.
Another tier 2 African country, Tanzania, was urged to amend its 2008 anti-trafficking laws that allow fines instead of imprisonment so that the law reflects the seriousness of the offence. According to the report, while more traffickers were sentenced, the lenient punishment for most convicted traffickers and the failure to sentence many of those convicted of trafficking in accordance with the 2008 legislation, weakened deterrence.
The report also expressed concern that efforts by the government of Tanzania to protect Tanzanian trafficking victims abroad, particularly migrant workers, remained minimal. Likewise, there was concern that the government didn’t report any efforts to ‘hold fraudulent recruitment agencies criminal accountable for facilitating trafficking crimes.’
But some 113 trafficking cases were investigated, a significant increase over the 19 investigations the previous year. In addition, 13 traffickers were convicted, compared with just three the year before.
However, the government trained law enforcement officials, magistrates and others on trafficking ‘trends and vulnerabilities’, victim-centred investigations and prosecutions as well as identifying victims. But the training wasn’t always successful, and the report quotes observers who reported the officials’ limited understanding of trafficking hampered law enforcement efforts.
As for Zanzibar, it has not adopted the 2008 anti-trafficking law, although other legislation could be used to deal with some forms of labour trafficking and sex trafficking.
The government hosted a three-day workshop in Zanzibar with African Union member states on policies to prevent trafficking of persons on the African continent. Among other concerns, the report noted that Tanzanians were exploited by way of forced labour and sex trafficking in other African countries, as well as the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the US.
‘Traffickers increasingly use Zanzibar to transit women to the Middle East’ where they are exploited for domestic work. And Tanzania’s generous hosting of refugees from other parts of Africa has created a particularly vulnerable population, with refugee children often forced into labour in farming or sex trafficking.