Whilst young teenage girls are customarily the public face to human trafficking, there are silent and unseen victims across the corners of Botswana who are gradually coming out of the shadows.
These are young boys who are increasingly being preyed upon and some are trapped in the clutches of human traffickers.
Studies conducted by the Centres for Disease control show that one in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. This means that 1 in every 10 children either has experienced abuse, is experiencing abuse, or will experience abuse by the time they are 18. The hidden tragedy is that while it is generally accepted that when we talk of human trafficking, we will be referring to young girls or women, sadly young boys who are exploited often go unnoticed.
Over the years, society has pushed the idea that boys are almost always considered as culprits of sexual exploitation, and their circumstance as victims is grossly overlooked in laws and policies.
A former law enforcement agent who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity indicated that boys remain hidden from crime and violence statistics because they are less likely to report their experiences of sexual violence than girls.
“If you closely look at our local culture you will realise that boys and men are socialised not to be victims. When you are a victim, you are often regarded as a weakling,” he says. He also cautions that if we neglect boys as victims of sexual exploitation, this could upset concerted efforts to end the cycle of violence.
The U.S State Department’s annual country report on human rights identified child exploitation as an issue in Botswana. The report — which covers incidents reported in 2020 — highlighted that child labour occurred in domestic work and street vending, especially in the Ghanzi area.
“Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, child labour occurred mostly on small-scale cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region,” states part of the report.
Arts & Society sought to inquire about the exact figures and scale of victimisation of young boys and male survivors of trafficking, but the efforts bore no fruit and the actual number remains sketchy. However, the ex-officer who spoke to this publication indicated that due to economic hardships young boys are left with no other choice but to look for jobs which is classified as child labour and this is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful. “That is how some fall prey to exploitation,” he said.
The law in Botswana does not allow worst forms of child labour and the minimum age for work is 15. However, 14-year-old children could be employed in light work activities which is not risky to their “health and development” and can only work if permitted by a parent or guardian.
More than 1 million children, according to the International Labour Organization, are exploited each year in the commercial sex trade.