Trafficking in persons is a major international issue, but poor documentation in Southern Africa is masking the extent of this modern-day slavery.
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 develop- ment.
The Sadc International Conference on Poverty and Development noted in 2008 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.
According to a United Nations Protocol (2000) popularly known as the Palermo Protocol, human trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threats or use of force for purposes of exploitation.
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.
Victims, mostly women and children, are often enticed to leave their homes with false promises of jobs but are later subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or even the removal of body organs.
Representatives of 12 member states of the Sadc met in Johannesburg, South Africa, in early December last year to take stock of these challenges and develop strategies to end trafficking.
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”.
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.
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. – Sardc.net.