Urgent call for laws on trafficking

Date: January 1, 1970
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Addis Ababa, 23 November. Delegates meeting at Sixth African Development Forum which closed last Friday have called for urgent and standardised laws to address human trafficking – the newest form of gender violence that, according to UNICEF, afflicts more than four-fifth of African countries.

Because of the newness and complexity of the issue, most countries lack specific, efficient and modern laws to deal with human trafficking. Blazing the trail, leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) signed a Protocol on Gender and Development in August that requires its 15 member states to have anti-trafficking laws by 2015.
According to the United Nations (UN), human trafficking is the transportation of persons, by coercion or abuse of power, for the purpose of exploitation, ranging from forced prostitution or labour, and, crucially, the “removal of organs.”
A 2006 study by the United States State Department estimated that up to 800,000 people are trafficked in the world each year.  This number does not include trafficking within a country’s borders. This staggering number of people – about 80% of them women and children – end in forced prostitution; forced labour in farms, factories, and sweatshops; domestic servitude; soldiering; in commercial or illegal adoption or as sellers in the organ trade.
One problem that hampers the fight against human trafficking is its often imprecise contours. Trafficking lies in a grey area; it encompasses many issues and, being a fairly new concept, laws against it lag behind reality.
“There is a lack of data, a lack of legislation, few statistics, little reporting, and many people confuse it with kidnapping,” says Karen Stefiszyn, programme manager of the Gender Unit at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, in South Africa.
“It is not sex work, it is not economic migration, it is not smuggling foreigners into a country, although trafficking can contain those elements,” explains Stefiszyn.
Not all sex workers are coerced into prostitution. Many people willingly pay money to gangs to be smuggled into richer countries. This is not trafficking. But the public, the police and the legislators often confuse the issues. It is easier to pass laws against illegal economic migrants and sex work than to tackle the complexities of human trafficking.
Botswana, for example, has laws that penalise kidnapping. But people who are trafficked into Botswana and are caught may say they agreed to be brought into the country. “Then that would not be against the law,” says Ronald Ridge, a Member of Parliament and chair of the Parliamentary Committee on population and development.
In southern Africa, the AIDS epidemic both feeds the traffic (luring poor or orphaned children) and the sex trade (leading to more HIV infection) in a vicious circle, says Stefiszyn.
In West and Central Africa, trafficking of women is growing for exploitation primarily in domestic services and the sex industry, remarks Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking.  While civil conflict in West and Central Africa results in the abduction of boys and girls by rebels, to serve as porters, soldiers and sex slaves.
A new and frightening form of human trafficking emerging in West Africa concerns female genital mutilation. Nearly all West African countries have passed laws banning female genital mutilation. There is some progress in eliminating the practice but one effect of the laws is to drive it underground and across borders.
Wherever a country is lax in implementing the laws, like Niger, or has no law against it, like Mali, or is in conflict and effectively lawless, like Cote d’Ivoire, communities living near the border take their girls there to be excised.
A study published last month by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) looks at cross-border excision between Burkina Faso and neighbouring countries. Sometimes the family travels with the child; sometimes the circumcision practitioner travels to a village across the border. The ceremony is no longer announced in the market and people deny it happens – but it does.
“Communities couldn’t care less about the geographical barriers represented by borders,” says the study. The ethnic links across borders, lax police controls, the still strong social acceptance of excision and resistance to change, weave a network of alliances and secrecy.
Between July and November, the peak agricultural season, amidst the flow of Burkinabe youth going  by donkey, ox-cart, bicycle and bus to work in the Malian cotton fields, the girls go for their excision, unnoticed. Cross-border excision also involves flying from France to Mali to escape French sanctions against genital mutilation, or from Portugal to Guinea Bissau in search of a famous exciser.
Asked whether this constitutes trafficking, Florence Butegwa, UNIFEM representative to the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union noted,  “This has never been tested legally but advocates should be encouraged to look at it.”
”This interpretation could be a very good advocacy tool,” adds Zineb Touimi Benjelloun, UNIFEM regional director of programmes in North Africa.
Mercedes Sayagues is freelance journalist. This article is being distributed by the GL Opinion and Commentary Service as part of a joint initiative by GL and the Economic Commission on Africa to publicise key issues arising from the sixth African Development Forum that focused on women’s empowerment and ending violence against women.  

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