Human Trafficking in Africa

Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. It has historically taken different forms but always new dimensions. Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon that is multi-faceted and which involves several stakeholders both at the institutional as well as commercial level. Research reveals that up to 900 000 people are trafficked every year around the globe (Adepoju 2005). Human trafficking is rated as third in terms of the biggest profit earners (at about $7 billion) after drugs and armaments for international organised crime.

It is described as a global business that is demand driven because of the huge market for commercial sex and cheap labour that are tackled by policy frameworks that are either insufficient or unexercised.

The number of trained people to prevent this vice is also insufficient. Traffickers understand that while they can make profit only once on drugs, the same person can be sold overt and over again earning them infinite profit. Studies also show that the primary victims of human trafficking are women and children (Adepoju et al.

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, 2008).

According to Hagen (2004), these victims are primarily sold into forced marriage, sexual slavery or various forms of debt bondage and forced labour. Adepoju (2005) explains that poverty is the key driving force for the supply of humans for trafficking. Other forces include poor education standards as well as lack of employment that make people vulnerable to traffickers (Adepoju 2005). The human trafficking industry which is responding to the escalating demands for cheap and malleable labour as well as an increasingly expanding sex industry that has been globalised assures a ready supply to meet that demand (Altman 2003).

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According to statistics, developing and third world countries such as those in Asia and Africa are more prone to human trafficking and in fact report highest incidences of this vice (Coday 2003). The rate of human trafficking is said to be escalating in Africa as years pass by. South, west and Central Africa report the highest incidences of human trafficking. War torn areas in other regions such as eastern Africa are also reported to experience higher rates of child trafficking (Sita 2003). Factors that Contribute to Human Trafficking in Africa

Poverty has been cited as the primary cause of human trafficking in the world. In Africa, it is worse as most people live in poverty. Poverty as a result of unemployment, poor education and war increases the vulnerability of population to the deceptions of human traffickers. According to (Fitzgibbon (2003), human traffickers target poor people with promises of better job opportunities and employment in the places they bare going to. Destitute families who are not able to provide support to their children are in fact most vulnerable to traffickers’ persuasion to sell them or hire them out (Mooney, Knox & Schacht 2008).

Girls, who are perceived to be the weaker gender in Africa are the most susceptible to commercial exploitation. Because of the desperation and desire to end their situations, poor people are easily convinced by traffickers either through deception of better jobs or convincing of families to sell out their children for a certain amount of money (Fitzgibbon 2003). Poverty contributes largest to multinational trafficking as vulnerable persons are promised of greater things in European and Asian (particularly the Middle East) countries.

Gender discrimination is also widespread in Africa and is one of the factors contributing to the high rates of human trafficking in the region. It denies women of their rights making them defenceless against such vices (Truong 2006). Gender discrimination is also characterised by attitudes that perceive women and girls to be inferior and weak encouraging their objectification (Masika 2002). This objectification and tolerance of violence against women as a result of gender discrimination support the existence and continued trafficking practices that deliver women and girls into in atrocious working conditions (Truong 2006)

Africa also happens to be one of the most affected regions by the effects of HIV AIDS and in particular orphanage. AIDS has been identified as one of the factors that contribute to the escalating human trafficking in Africa mainly because of family disintegration it causes through death (Kristof 2000). Millions of African children have been orphaned by AIDS and left to live in poverty, fending for themselves with no one to look after them. Such children are very vulnerable to traffickers who deceive them with promises of better lives.

In their innocence and desperation, orphaned children end up being victims of human trafficking trade (Beeks & Amir 2006). Child prostitution and normal prostitution as a result of poverty and orphanage is also prevalent in Africa (O’Connell & Sanchez 1996) Such women are more prone to emotional intimidation which makes them vulnerable and easily moved into the hands of traffickers (Kristof 2000). Such individuals are often trafficked for sexual exploitation abroad. Armed conflicts are also very common in most African countries.

In addition to destroying livelihoods, armed conflicts destroy national economies and bring about mass population movements. The heightened insecurity during wars makes women and children more vulnerable and promotes dramatic survival tactics including prostitution (Martens et al. , 2003). During these tomes, women and children are often abducted into armed factions where children are used as armed soldiers and the women are sexually exploited (usually raped) (DeStefano 2007).

These conflicts increase the number of orphans and widows. One of the endemic characteristics of armed conflicts is intensified poverty for survivors, particularly orphans, widows and those families that are headed by females. This increases the vulnerability of these groups to traffickers. Migration of people as a response to insecurity and armed conflict results creation of large refugee populations which expose the most vulnerable groups (Hollenbach 2008).

African countries have also remained indifferent and lack domestic commitment to protection of those vulnerable to trafficking through awareness, legislation, information and training of the responsible authorities to provide the protection (Sita 2003). Most laws on human trafficking are lenient. Penalties for those found guilty of trafficking humans are not severe. In some countries such as Kenya, the maximum sentence one gets if found guilty of child trafficking is 15 years and sometimes these offenders are set free because of corruption that manifests itself in the region.

It should be noted that human trafficking is a very lucrative business with estimated annual profits of up to $ 10 billion (Adepoju 2005). Such individuals get away freely in countries with corrupt systems which most in Africa unfortunately are. Most African countries have weak state structures which are as a result of the turmoil of transitional economies (Hart, 2009). Such structures encourage an environment that favours predatory criminal groups/organisations. Such economies are usually dominated by parallel structures that thrive through intimidation and fear which replace state security (Ciment & Shanty 2008).

The fact that these networks are widespread and the perception that they have the ability to get even with victims and their families strengthens their underground nature making investigation difficult because of lack of evidence. Purpose of Human Trafficking People are trafficking for various purposes. Sexual exploitation is one of the main reasons as to why women and female children are trafficked. Other purposes include underpaid and exploitative forced labour in the manufacturing, agricultural, construction and mining industries (Adepoju 2005).

Exploitative domestic labour is another reason. It has also been established that children and particularly infants are trafficked for organ harvesting. Strategies used Though the profiles of victims and traffickers vary, the tactics used to deceive, recruit, transport and later exploit the trafficked persons are similar. Victims are more often than not tempted (promised) plausible promises of income, employment and educational opportunities, and sometimes shelter or care within adoptive families in the countries they are being transported to (Marta 2008).

Traffickers exploit income and opportunity disparities, poverty and effects of armed conflicts within the region. Case Studies South Africa has been identified as one of the African countries where human trafficking particularly of women and children is most common (Sita 2003). The country is argued to have a large market for the services of trafficked people both from regional as well as extra-regional locations (Cross & Gelderblom 2006).

Armed conflict and related dislocation, food insecurity, political and economic turmoil, poor education and lack of employment opportunities, as well as the plight of affliction of the AIDS pestilence make the country a magnet that attracts human migration from all over the continent. Organised crime groups, refugee populations and local traffickers exploit this vulnerable population for agricultural and industrial labour, organ harvesting and sex industry (UNEP 2007). South Africa acts as a transit as well as source country for international market in human trafficking.

As a transit hub, South Africa happens to offer direct flights to Asia and Europe. The escalating growth of human trafficking from Africa to the Middle East and Europe implies that South Africa along with other several African countries are already feeding multinational business. It has also been established that internal trafficking also does exist within the continent and the country (Pommerin 2009). According to a study conducted by IOM report (2003), nine distinct patterns of human trafficking have been identified in South Africa.

They include trafficking of; women from countries that produce refugees to South Africa (SA), children from Lesotho to Eastern Free State of SA, women and girls from Mozambique to brothels in Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng, women from Malawi to SA itself overland and through it to Northern Europe, children (both girls and boys) from Malawi through SA to Northern Europe, women from China, Thailand and Eastern Europe to SA. There are certain factors that contribute to human trafficking in South Africa.

According to reports, about 245, 000 children are being exploited for labour including commercial sex (prostitution) making them exposed and vulnerable to exploitation and deception of human traffickers. It is approximated that South Africa has at least 30, 000 children working as prostitutes. Once involved in such an environment, children are easily emotionally intimidated and physically pushed and trapped into trafficking. South Africa also happens to be the regional powerhouse, with a GDP that is almost four times greater than most its neighbours and representing approximately 25% of the entire continent’s GDP.

The country is aenjoying a relatively constant economic growth making it an attractive destination for those seeking greener pastures in the region. Traditional migration patterns of labour from the neighbouring countries, the habit of children being sent to their relatives who are better situated in the country by their relatives to be raised and unregulated cross border regulations due to casual border procedures enhance human trafficking (Richards 2004). The capacity of South Africa’s security forces is also challenged by the expensive sea state borders (Pommerin 2009).

Unemployment has also increased in the country as a result of retrenchment of migrant labourers from South Africa’s farms and mines in the recent past. This has increased poverty and desperation making the populations vulnerable to traffickers’ deception. Despite the country’s overall economic growth, poverty still is high in both rural and urban areas particularly amongst women and children and is the primary cause of trafficking of these groups. Influx of refugees is one of the practical effects of armed conflict in South Africa’s neighbouring states and extra-regional states.

According to studies, refugees are another group that is vulnerable to trafficking because of their desperate situations. In spite of South Africa having a progressive constitution assures gender equality and protection of human rights, gender discrimination has not stopped making women susceptible to traffickers. For South Africa, the apartheid regime legacy is playing a great part in encouraging human trafficking and has to be deconstructed for this trade to stop.

Just like most countries, South Africa is yet put in place legislation and policy that will ensure a continued established of a system that will comply with international norms and standards and reinforce responses that are locally and culturally appropriate. The country is however making efforts to curb this internationally prohibited trade. South Africa continues to participate in congresses and campaigns against human and child trafficking such as the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm in 1996.

The country has also participated in the Terres des Hommes International Campaign against Child Trafficking which was launched in the year 2001 under Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu’s patronage. Subsequent to these events, several programmes such as social reintegration, protection, rehabilitation and awareness-building have been established. In spite of the government’s participation and efforts, human trafficking still remains a crucial problem in the country.

According to Skinner (2010), prevention of this vice requires an integrated and multi-sectoral strategy that deals with migration and trafficking from an overall national as well as development policy perspective (Morehouse 2009). This author suggests exploration of an integrated approach to fighting trafficking through rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches to give livelihoods for women needs. According to him, it is poverty that drives the manifestation of human trafficking and elimination of poverty will help combat the vice.

Other countries also report their share of human trafficking. In Eastern Africa, armed conflict between the government and the rebels of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has resulted to abduction of thousands of women and children by the rebels. Uganda is argued to be the supplier of trafficked children in the children. These children end up being recruited into rebel ranks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan (other areas experiencing armed conflicts).

In West and Central Africa, six forms of child trafficking have been identified. They include abduction, giving poor parents money with the promise that their children will be well taken care of, bonded placement of children as repayment for debt, payment for a token sum for a certain duration, or as gift items, enrolment of the child by the parents for a fee by an agent for some work, usually domestic and deception of parents that they are enrolling their children for school, training or trade (Coluccello & Massey 2007)..

Ghana, Burkinafaso, Benin, Togo and Mauritania are the main sources of child labour in the region. These are taken to Gabon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Congo and Equatorial Guinea as domestic workers. Togolese girls are often trafficked into domestic markets while the boys are trafficked into agricultural work. In this region, poverty and ignorance played the greatest role as parents are either deceived that they are enrolling their children to school or paid some amount to hire their children out (.

A considerable amount of Ghanaian women and children are often trafficked in the neighbouring countries for prostitution (Anarfi 1998). Most women in this region are trafficked to Europe where they are forced into prostitution. Italy, Spain, France, Germany, The UK, Sweden, UAE and Saudi Arabia are particularly known as destinations for trafficking women for prostitution and pornography (Anarfi 1998). Senegal is reported to be both a source as well as transit country for trafficking of women to South Africa, the Gulf States and Europe for prostitution.

It is also a reported to be a destination country for children trafficked from Guinea Conakry and Mali. Women from Liberia, a war-torn country are forced to work as prostitutes in Mali while others are trafficked to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and France. Mali is also reported to be a transit country for trafficking women from African Anglophone countries to Europe. Most of these women end up working in brothels abroad.

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Human Trafficking in Africa. (2016, Sep 24). Retrieved from

Human Trafficking in Africa

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