Bail for suspected traffickers

Date: April 27, 2010
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When the South African weekly newspaper City Press exposed a human trafficking ring operating across the Mozambique – South Africa border in late March, many expressed joy at the perpetrators being caught. With the upcoming World Cup in South Africa just around the corner, there was satisfaction that at least some of the traffickers would be out of business and so not able to take advantage of the increased demand for sex workers during the mega-event.

However, the elation was short-lived. At a press conference, Maputo city command police spokesperson Arnaldo Chefo first told reporters that the arrests were just “speculation,” suggesting some doubts about the story, despite the images and transcripts of speeches by the traffickers that were available.

Soon after, his colleague, national police spokesperson Pedro Cossa, confirmed the arrests of the alleged traffickers, but announced their release on bail by a magistrate who claimed there was not enough information to hold them.

This slap in the face led the respected Mozambican weekly newspaper, Savana, to carry an editorial headlined ‘Human Trafficking: A lost Cause? in its April 2, 2010 edition. According to the article, even some of the alleged victims denied that they were trafficked.

The City Press newspaper’s reporters went undercover pretending to be brothel owners looking for sex workers – especially teenage girls. The reporters tracked the human traffickers from their “bases” in South Africa to their “markets” in Mozambique detailing all information through secret cameras and hidden recorders.

The sleuths then tipped off the Mozambican police after they had “agreed” with the traffickers that they would be buying a woman for their “brothel.” With the police, the journalists then mounted a sting operation, with police arresting the unsuspecting traffickers.

The reporters went on to write their story, shocking its readers that Mozambican women were being sold for as much as R5,000, and providing scary details of how women are forced to submit to their roles in the sex industry, a far cry from the promised work as waitresses. Also included in the same ring were Chinese nationals who were also responsible of bringing women from their continent for sale in South Africa.

Many people say that poverty pushes women into sex work in neighbouring South Africa, which is considered by many Mozambicans “heaven on earth.” This makes it easy for human traffickers to prey on high hopes.

According to a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report released around the same time, people are trafficked from Asia and across the extensive land borders of South Africa, mostly from Mozambique and Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho. Longer-distance trafficking involves victims trafficked from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria and Somalia.

When President Armando Emilio Guebuza signed into law the anti-trafficking legislation in 2008, many thought it was a long lasting solution to the one of the continent’s problems. With the signing of the legislation into law, Mozambique became the first country in the region with dedicated anti-trafficking legislation, according the United Nations.

However, even with legislation in place, there are still many challenges when it comes to prosecution. Many survivors do not even want to admit what happened to them, let along testify in any kind of court of law. Moreover, lack of awareness means that many are easily duped.

If trafficker knows that “lenient” courts will release them on bail, they will continue to transport their victims with impunity, even as they wait for a court dates that may or may not come. A big question, which begs an answer from authorities, is how far legislation is really put into practice? And what will this mean as the region heads into the World Cup.

Fred Katerere is a Maputo based freelance journalist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.



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