A new form of slavery: sex trafficking


Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

Described as a modern form of slavery, the trafficking of women in Africa has as devastating consequences as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Taken from their families – whether willingly or not – their bodies labour and beings exploited for capital; trafficked women are vulnerable to a range of psychological, physical, emotional and economic threats.

Described as a modern form of slavery, the trafficking of women in Africa has as devastating consequences as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Taken from their families – whether willingly or not – their bodies labour and beings exploited for capital; trafficked women are vulnerable to a range of psychological, physical, emotional and economic threats.
 
Many media reports on trafficking are often framed in a northern African context, identifying Nigeria and surrounding countries as countries of origin and transit for trafficked women. But it is much closer as Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi have been identified as countries from which women are trafficked. These Southern African countries have been named in an International Organisation for Migration aptly titled: “Seduction, sale and slavery: trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation in Southern Africa.”
 
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Persons of the US State Department disclosed in a recent report that of the 600 000 – 800 000 people trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80 percent are women and girls. However, these statistics do not include those trafficked within their own countries who are enslaved and exploited as domestic servants and factory workers.
 
Poverty fuels the trafficking of women and children. Promises of good jobs with high salaries and luxurious lifestyles are tempting to women and girls who oppressed by poverty and illiteracy. Many who want to escape from early marriages and other harmful and sometimes violent, traditional practices, see the options offered to them by traffickers as a way out of their misery. So, it can be argued that women voluntarily become involved in trafficking rings.
 
My experience in Ethiopia is of many women and girls exposing themselves to local and international traffickers with the intention of acquiring an education, a job or even a husband. They visit the underground offices of “brokers”, sign agreements and go wherever they are sent. But it is not only the women themselves who approach the “brokers.” There are also families who pay thousands for the processing of their daughters applications for domestic work outside the country. Some families borrow the money necessary to process the application and their daughters pay it back once they have been “employed.”
 
Once I saw hundreds of young girls lined up at the office of an employment agent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The agent was involved in the export of Ethiopian women to the Arab world as domestic helpers. All the girls I spoke to said they had completed secondary school but failed to obtain the points necessary to continue to higher education. High levels of unemployment in Ethiopia meant that they had to earn an income elsewhere.
 
They said they would be able to earn on average US$200 dollars a month – much more than they would earn in Ethiopia where they could not find any employment anyway. I asked them about the risks of going abroad through such agents. One said: “If I am lucky, I may get good employers, though the risk of falling into the wrong hands may cost me my life.” I heard later that the government revoked the license of the agent, accusing her of being involved in illegal trafficking. I wondered about the girls I saw standing in that queue.
 
At a workshop in Kenya in August on trafficking in the region, it was noted that information and documentation on trafficking in Africa is lacking and this is contributing to the ineffectual combating of the problem by national governments. Tanzania is the only country in Southern Africa that has specific provisions for sex trafficking legislated in its Sexual Offences Bill. Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries in the SADC region to have signed the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children which was adopted in 2000.
 
Human Rights Watch reported in 2003 that an estimated 20 000 children have been abducted during the 16-year conflict between the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. Children abducted by the LRA are frequently beaten, and are forced to carry out raids, burn houses, beat and kill civilians, and abduct other children. Girls are sexually enslaved as "wives" to LRA commanders, and subjected to rape, unwanted pregnancies, and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In the Darfur region of western Sudan, the Janjaweed, government- sponsored militias, have been known to rape and abduct women in the villages they attack.
 
Human trafficking, mainly women and children is widespread in Africa and requires a concerted effort by governments, NGOs, community leaders and the public at large to be halted. Amina Titi Atiku Abubakar, wife of the Nigerian Vice President and the founder of the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF) says: This scourge [strips] human beings of their dignity, particularly women and children who are its main victims.”
 
Helen Mohammed is an Ethiopian journalist and former Voice of America Amharic Service reporter. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.


Comment on A new form of slavery: sex trafficking

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *