Most families in Ngwazani, a remote village in Buhera North District, cannot afford a decent meal per day, thanks to gripping poverty and drought induced by the El Nino phenomenon. The Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas (2015) testifies that poverty in the country is mainly a rural phenomenon and the overall poverty prevalence in Buhera was 78 percent. Buhera generally receives low amounts of rainfall, hence all districts in Buhera grapple with high poverty prevalence exceeding 65 percent. To development partners, people living in Buhera need assistance as soon as possible, but to human traffickers, Buhera is a good example of a lucrative source of cheap labour. Buhera represents the type of areas likely to be gripped by the problem of human trafficking.
Poverty and the general economic crisis in the country have made Zimbabweans more vulnerable to Trafficking in Persons (TiPs). Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines TiPs as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” Zimbabwe is one country that is badly affected by TiPs, with about 99 600 estimated victims, as per the latest Global Slavery Index. The index, which also examined practices such as forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage, child exploitation and forced marriage, ranked the country at number five.
Sadly, girls and women are the most vulnerable when it comes to this serious violation of human rights and subversion of societal values. In an interview with the Herald, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Zimbabwe, Dr David Okello, said human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, the children and weak people around the world for different purposes including forced labour, physical and psychological abuse. The Soroptimist, a global volunteer organisation working to improve the lives of women and girls through programmes leading to social and economic empowerment, also notes that women and girls are most vulnerable and typically trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
Co-ordinated and consistent measures key
Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC) director, Virginia Muwanigwa, conversely, believes harmonised and consistent measures play important roles in curbing TiPs as well as improve the lives of girls and women and local communities in Zimbabwe and throughout the world. The United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally and this approximate also includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. ILO added that while it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, it is noted, the estimate implies that currently there are millions of human trafficking victims in the world.
To address this scourge, the United Nations General Assembly has put in place a Global Plan of Action to combat Trafficking in Persons, urging governments worldwide to take “co-ordinated and consistent measures to defeat the bane”. The plan also calls for integrating the fight against TiPs into the UN’s broader programmes in order to boost development as well as strengthen security worldwide.
In response to this global call, Zimbabwe launched its Trafficking in Persons National Plan of Action on July 26, 2016 to operationalise the Trafficking in Persons Act which was passed in 2014 to fight against human trafficking in the country. The plan is underpinned by the 4Ps – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership – and will be implemented over two years from 2016 to 2018. It prioritises strengthening tools for the identification of victims of trafficking, which is the baseline for measuring an effective response.
At the launch of the Trafficking in Persons National Plan of Action, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa noted that Zimbabwe is a source and transit country for human trafficking. “The launch of the TiPs National Plan of Action demonstrates the government’s commitment to fight human trafficking and to protect its citizens, especially children and women who are most at risk of trafficking,” he said.
Advocacy and awareness building among the public are essential
Journalist and head of Journalism at Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), Gibson Nyikadzino, says TiPs is under-reported, and when reported, the quality is very low. He, therefore, urges the media to support the government and other stakeholders in combating this modern slavery. “The media, as the voice of the voiceless, is undoubtedly one of the key partners in raising awareness and combating TiPs, a ‘cancer’ stalling socio-economic development,” he says. “Accordingly, it is important that the media is able to clearly interpret and delineate TiPs against smuggling of migrants, and report accurate information, always mindful of fundamental human rights as well as victim sensitivity.”
Speaking during the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Training of Trainers for Media Practitioners on TiP workshop held in Botswana in June 2016, SADC Programme Officer responsible for research, information and documentation under the programme that deals with TiP issues, Mukundi Mutasa, also said media should be committed to raise awareness on trafficking so that “we prevent TIPs from ever happening or even spiralling out of control.”
Address root causes
More commitment is needed in tackling poverty, unemployment, lack of social security, gender inequality, conflict and violence – the root causes of human trafficking. In one of his recent media instalments, Dr David Okello described TiPs as a ‘parasitic crime’ and added that it feeds on vulnerability, thrives on times of uncertainty and profits from inaction. He also said human traffickers as well as migrant smugglers are taking advantage of misery to make a profit and criminals prey on people in need and without support, and they see migrants, especially children, as easy targets for exploitation, violence and abuse. Therefore, the essential strategy would be for the government to propagate economic development, fair trade, education of the poor rural dwellers and to implement sustainable pro-poor policies that add value to the economy and reduce poverty among citizens.
A strong legal basis needed
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the occasion of the 2016 UN World Day against Trafficking in Person, called every nation to overcome TiPs by supporting and protecting victims while prosecuting the criminals. “On the World Day against TiPs, let us resolve to act as one in the name of justice and dignity for all,” he said, urging all countries to establish a strong legal basis for action against human trafficking. Ki-moon also encouraged all states to tighten border controls and adopt and implement the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its protocol on human trafficking as well as all core international human rights instruments.
Frankly, if Zimbabwe and other countries truly want to end TiPs, the governments should be committed to developing and engaging their communities. Healing is in communities and intervening TIPs needs to start before people become victims. Communities should be conscious that trafficking does not only occur across borders, but also happens inside a country. Further, every member of community should be committed to end TiPs since it is stalling socio-economic transformation – HerZimbabwe.