When you read judgments in cases related to human trafficking charges, you begin to understand some of the many difficulties faced by prosecutors faced with such matters. This case from Namibia’s northern division, in which judgment on conviction was handed down earlier this month, illustrates aspects of the problem, with the parents of the girls who were trafficked being unable to give precise information about dates and so on, because they are illiterate.
The first accused, Helena Kaupitwa, said that she had travelled to Angola for medical treatment and had met a woman there with whom she discussed the ‘education system in Namibia’. She said the Angolan woman asked her to take her daughter, NN, to Namibia so that she could go to school there.
Kaupitwa said she had done so, had let NN live with her in her homestead at Omanyoshe, and enrolled her at a local school. She denied coercing the girl or her mother or that she had brought the child to Namibia to ‘employ or exploit her in any manner’. She further denied employing NN during school hours, or facilitating NN’s sexual exploitation.
She admitted bringing a second girl, MN, to her homestead in 2015, but also denied making her work instead of sending her to school. Kaupitwa said she hadn’t neglected the children, or left them without food or adult supervision. Both these girls had been at her homestead at various times in 2015.
One of the girls claimed that the second accused, Sebron Shilongo, raped her several times. However, he denied these and all the other charges against him, although he, like the rest of the accused, closed his case without presenting any evidence.
The third accused, Petrus Shilongo, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder or assault, as did the last accused, Meduletu Shilongo. These counts related to beating and abuse of one of the girls.
It’s an interesting case for a number of reasons, including the response of the acting judge, D F Small, to the state’s application that the one of the girls should be given anatomically correct dolls for her to use while testifying about her alleged rapes, to demonstrate what had happened.
Giving reasons for approving the application, the judge said, ‘I considered the interest of the state in adducing the complete and undistorted evidence of a vulnerable witness, the … well-being of the witness concerned, her age, the fact that these anatomically correct dolls were available, and the interests of justice in general. I granted the application as any potential evidence or demonstrations elicited while using the dolls could be adequately questioned in cross-examination.’
The judge also pointed out some shortcomings in the prosecution’s work, for example, inconsistency across the charge sheet about when some of the alleged offences were committed.
Hazy about dates
There were other problems about dates, since neither of the girls was able to provide specific dates for most of the incidents that led to the charges against the accused. Some of the witnesses were just as hazy about dates.
NN gave evidence about a series of rapes committed against her by one of the accused, Sebron Shilongo, the man in whose homestead the girls were living. This was the evidence in which, as authorised by the judge, she used the dolls to illustrate what had happened.
She said the man threatened to beat her or chase her out of the house if she reported what had happened to anyone. But she wasn’t able to say when she had come to Namibia or how long she had stayed in the house.
Sexually transmitted infection
The second child gave evidence of assaults by the remaining two accused men. Eventually, she ran away to another house and the police came to fetch her from there.
The mother of NN came from Angola to give evidence in court. The judge noted that she had almost no formal education and hadn’t been able to give the court certain crucial dates. But the mother explained that the child hadn’t gone to school in Angola because all the schools were too far from their home.
The girl’s father also came from Angola to testify, and from his evidence the court was able to deduce that his daughter had been eight years old when she was first removed from Angola.
Medical evidence backed up the evidence of the girl who said she had been raped, and included information that she was suffering from a sexually transmitted infection.
Ultimately, the accused were convicted on a range of counts including infringing Namibia’s immigration laws, the education law, because the children weren’t sent to school, kidnapping, common assault and rape. Sentence has not yet been passed.
US state department report
The Namibian authorities will no doubt be hoping that, although the accused were not found guilty under human trafficking laws, the prosecution and convictions will be considered when the next international trafficking in persons report is drawn up by the US state department.
This report, issued annually, has for some time recognised as excellent, Namibia’s efforts to curb trafficking. For the years 2020-2022, for example, Namibia was listed as a Tier 1 country, fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Then, the 2023 report downgraded the listing to Tier 2, with the comment that the government doesn’t fully meet these minimum standards though it is making significant efforts to do so.
The 2023 report noted Namibian media reports of trafficking investigations that had resulted in the conviction of two sex traffickers in the previous year. That number will have doubled thanks to this case alone. Further, the 2023 report noted that trafficking was particularly rife from Angola, with children being brought over the border and then subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.
- A matter of justice, Legalbrief, 14 November 2023