By Agnes Igoye
KAMPALA, May 8 2018 (IPS)
I was 14-years-old the first time I came face to face with a human trafficker. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided my home. Ruthless, they demanded virgins and young girls. In a horrifying escape, I endured a treacherous, long journey that ended in an internally displaced people’s camp. I was lucky. Many Ugandan children were not. By the end of the nineteen years’ civil war, UNICEF estimated that the LRA had abducted some 20,000 children.
Human trafficking is still a problem today. Recently, the Nigeria government confirmed 110 school girls are missing, abducted by Boko Haram in Dapchi, in northeastern Nigeria. This follows a similar attack in April 2014 when Boko Haram abducted 276 school girls from Chibok, Borno State.
Human trafficking is not only limited to Uganda or Nigeria — it is a global problem. In 2016, approximately 40.3 million men, women, and children from every part of the world were victims of human trafficking.
Trafficking is lucrative, generating $150 billion in annual profits from forced labour in the private economy, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In its report Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, two-thirds of the $150 billion is generated from commercial sexual exploitation, while $51 billion comes from forced economic exploitation
While the LRA and Boko Haram kidnap, most human traffickers employ deceit as a recruitment tool. They target those who are low-skilled, mostly women and children. Lured with promises of gainful employment, the 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage indicates women and girls account for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors, including domestic work.
Many of them experience exploitation. Complaints of abuse of Ugandan low-skilled workers in the Middle East, include physical and racial abuse, no pay or underpayment of wages, denied medical help, sexual abuse and long working hours. In Libya, there have been gross human rights abuses in the form of auctioning of migrants.
Trafficking is lucrative, generating $150 billion in annual profits from forced labour in the private economy, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In its report Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, two-thirds of the $150 billion is generated from commercial sexual exploitation, while $51 billion comes from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work and agriculture. The reality is, as low-skilled migrants suffer exploitation, human traffickers become richer.
Profiting from slavery is immoral. And it is time to craft creative solutions to solve this issue.
I have worked to stop human trafficking for almost a decade. I’ve helped build a rehabilitation center for survivors, trained law enforcement to recognize and investigate it, and I advocate globally for the rights of victims. What I have learned is that it is not enough to tell unemployed people about the dangers posed by human traffickers. Instead, we must focus on safe migration and ways to find gainful employment free of exploitation.
We should start by urging more countries to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. So far, only 51 countries, mostly migrant-sending countries, have ratified the convention. Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) and bilateral agreements between migrant-sending and receiving countries will only be effective when driven by respect for migrant’s rights.
Another tactic is for governments and policy makers to recognize and regulate sectors that attracted low skilled workers like domestic work. The lack of contracts/guidelines of what domestic work entails increases the vulnerability of those employed in the sector. Where contracts do exist, statements like ‘any other duties that your employer will assign from time to time’ have been exploited by traffickers to enslave their victims. In my interviews with survivors, ‘any other duties’ have included providing erotic massage to their employers — women and men alike. One victim was severely beaten for giving the massage without a smile.
Discriminatory migration policies and overly stringent visa regimes also must be altered. When policy makers don’t facilitate the humane movement of low-skilled migrant workers, they feel their only option is to listen to deceptive traffickers. Policies can be crafted to meet the needs of countries but also take away the power of traffickers to deceive and continue to draw victims.
While these solutions could help reduce the trafficking of people who are seeking a better life, other tactics are needed to prevent kidnappings like the one I almost experienced. Rather than concentrate resources to military options, governments should tackle the root causes that drive youth to join the ranks of violent extremist organizations. The UN 2015 Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism prescribes dealing with poverty and youth unemployment that make extremist organizations an attractive source of income and belonging.
Governments and development partners also should do more to allocate resources to implement this plan to ensure employment facilitation, skills development, entrepreneurial support, youth involvement in decision-making, mentorship programs, as well as improved education. The World Bank Vice President for Africa Makhtar Diop warned this education should have practical application to improve young people’s productivity to match the demands of a fast changing labour force.
These solutions are key to unlocking the potential of the youth, such as those who raided my home, and now those who belong to Boko Haram and who continue to kidnap girls.
Indeed, these policies are part of the solution to the unemployment crisis that is fueling international human trafficking.
Agnes Igoye serves as Uganda’s deputy National Coordinator Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and heads Uganda Immigration training Academy. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @AgnesIgoye.