Saturday, May 18, 2024

Human trafficking a challenge in SADC

Despite its rising profile in many parts of the world, and periodic efforts to raise public awareness in southern Africa, the region remains a fertile ground for traffickers who prey on the vulnerabilities created by a number of factors.

These factors include conflict, poverty, limited access to healthcare and education, gender inequalities, high unemployment, and a general lack of opportunities, especially for women.

Poverty and inequality are the major challenges facing SADC in this regard, with negative impacts on many aspects of human and social development.

The SADC International Conference on Poverty and Development once noted that poverty affects as much as 45 percent of the population in the region and is particularly acute among vulnerable groups such as rural and peri-urban households, and families headed by older persons and children due to the impact of the AIDS pandemic.

The region is hardest hit by AIDS whose impact is leaving many widows and child-headed households, often teenagers who must provide for a number of younger siblings.

Such conditions have forced some women and girls to turn to prostitution or begging for survival, thereby exposing them to criminal syndicates that traffic in persons.

SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax says trafficking of people is also a major challenge in the SADC region. She said women and children made up the majority of people that were most vulnerable to trafficking.

However, Tax said in some instances, men were targeted by trafficking syndicates for forced labour in mines and farms. “The SADC policy frameworks for addressing trafficking on persons, include the Strategic Indicative Plan of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (SIPO), the Protocol on Gender and Development, and the 10 year SADC Strategic Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, especially Women’s and Children,” she said.

She said the baseline report on trafficking of persons in the SADC region aimed to highlight the nature, extent and impacts of trafficking of persons in the SADC region. “This Gender Monitor highlights the lack of information and the need to identify demographic and characteristics of traffickers, their organisation formation and the strategies that they use to recruit, exploit and control victims and provides pointers to what needs to be done effectively control trafficking in persons,” Tax said.

A distinction is made between Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and smuggling, although there are linkages between the two. Human smuggling refers to the illegal movement of an individual into a country in which she/he is not a national or a permanent resident. The smuggled individual is assisted for a fee by criminal syndicates to cross into another country.Smuggling ends with the arrival of the migrants in the country of destination whereas trafficking involves the ongoing exploitation of the victims to generate illicit profit for the traffickers.

The head of the SADC Gender Unit, Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, said this is “no longer just a security issue but a human rights issue that is affecting our society,” and she urged southern African countries to “break the silence”.

While older women and men as well as children as young as five are forced to beg and steal, work as domestic slaves or forced into pornography and sex work, young women are at greater risk because traffickers can make a lot of money by forcing them into prostitution.

Abandoned children are also vulnerable. Without parents, guardians or anyone to take care of them, abandoned children seek refuge in orphanages and shelters, or on the streets where they try to find a way of supporting their families.

Various initiatives have been introduced by SADC member states, including drafting legislation to curb the vice. Eight of the 15 SADC member states have specific legislation that addresses the issue of human trafficking. These are Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.

Mozambique has been one of the champions in this area, enacting a comprehensive law against human trafficking which prescribes penalties of 16 to 20 years imprisonment for those convicted. Five other countries have draft laws at various stages of development ÔÇô Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Seychelles and Zimbabwe.

Despite these positive developments, the region still faces a myriad of challenges in this regard, including the evolving nature of tactics used by the traffickers.

Also daunting is the challenge posed by the absence of accurate statistics and documentation to provide a holistic picture of the extent of human trafficking in southern Africa.

Most countries in the region have no reliable statistics in this regard and rely on “anecdotal evidence” from unofficial sources.

The national action plans, which include measures to improve data collection and sharing, and greater cross-border cooperation, are to be incorporated into a regional five-year implementation plan to be developed by the SADC Secretariat.

The five-year implementation matrix is expected to inform the 10-Year SADC Strategic Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The regional strategic plan runs from 2009 to 2019. 

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