Botswana continues to be a haven and destination for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, a recent report by the U.S. Department of States has shown.
It says residents of Botswana most vulnerable to trafficking are unemployed women, the rural poor, agricultural workers, and children.
“Some parents in poor rural communities send their children to work for wealthier families as domestic servants in cities or in agriculture and cattle farming in remote areas, increasing their vulnerability to forced labour,” the report says.
It says young Batswana serving as domestic workers for extended family may be denied access to education and basic necessities or subjected to confinement or verbal, physical, or sexual abuseÔÇöconditions indicative of forced labour.
“Batswana girls and women are possibly exploited in prostitution within the country, including in bars and by truck drivers along major highways. Some women may be subjected to trafficking internally or transported from neighbouring countries and subjected to sexual exploitation,” the report says.
According to the report, officials confirmed adults and children of the San ethnic minority group are subjected to labour conditions on private farms and cattle posts in Botswana’s rural west that might rise to the level of forced labour.
“Undocumented migrant Zimbabwean children might be vulnerable to trafficking in Botswana. There has been no comprehensive international or domestic study of trafficking trends within the country,” the report says.
It notes that the Government of Botswana does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.
It says the government did not amend the 2009 Children’s Act to include in the definition of child trafficking, the commercial sexual exploitation of children without requiring the means of force, coercion, or movement.
“The government’s efforts to protect victims were uneven. In the government’s first trafficking conviction, the trafficker served only eight months of an 18-month sentence in prison, although the government’s appeal of that sentence was pending at the end of the reporting period,” the report noted.
The report recommends that Botswana should formalize the system to refer victims to social services and ensure all victims receive protective services; amend the anti-trafficking laws to ensure penalties are sufficiently stringent by eliminating fines in lieu of prison time and disallow suspended sentences when sentencing convicted traffickers.
Botswana was also urged to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers; implement formal victim identification procedures for all stakeholders, including law enforcement and immigration officials, and train officials on the procedures.
The country should also continue to encourage victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers through formal procedures; develop guidelines for specific protective services for trafficking victims, to be provided either directly or in partnership with NGOs; continue to conduct awareness campaigns, particularly in rural areas; and provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel.
The report says the government maintained uneven efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims.
“The government identified 27 victims during the reporting periodÔÇöfour child sex trafficking victims, three child victims of forced labour, and 20 adult victims of forced labourÔÇöan increase from six victims identified during the previous year. However, the government’s referrals of victims for assistance were limited. It referred four girls to an NGO-run shelter to receive protective services,” it says.
The government, the report observes, did not provide formal written procedures to guide social service, law enforcement, or immigration officials in proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations.
It says the NGO-run shelter used its own assessment process for victim eligibility for admission to the shelter and access to care services. The government had not fully operationalised the victim referral measures detailed in the 2014 Act. The government paid for legal expenses and repatriation of a Motswana child trafficking victim exploited in Canada during the reporting period. The government was not known to have penalized trafficking victims for crimes committed in relation to being subjected to trafficking.
“All trafficking victims voluntarily provided written testimony as evidence. However, due to a slow judicial process, one foreign child victim had to remain in Botswana for a prolonged period of time to testify during the lengthy trial process,” the report says.