Increased human trafficking is a threat in East Africa

Have the East African governments acted on this warning yet? Not convincingly, if not at all!

By Guest Writer

Opinion: The East African region is currently battling with the menace of human trafficking. Men, women, and children are trafficked from rural communities to large cities like Kampala, Nairobi, and Dar-el-Salaam for labor and sexual exploitation.

For example, Banyarwanda commercial sex workers in Nairobi and Kampala are often trafficked from Rwanda with promises for better jobs, and children in the Karamoja region and Northern Kenya are always seen begging on the streets of Kampala and Nairobi.

Where do these young kids get transportation to come to these major cities? And urban authorities in these cities often don’t care about the enslaved young kids!

Others, who seek better job opportunities in the Middle East, are often recruited under vague contractual conditions that can encourage subsequent abuse by human traffickers.

According to victims, they are convinced of lower monetary costs to dodge the high costs and bureaucracies associated with licensed labor recruitment companies and are often offered visit visas to go and work in the Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, among others.

An increasing number of East Africans are being lured by online job scams that promise to pay well in Southeast Asia. For example, a’sales specialist’ is promised US$2 098 a month, while a bilingual translator is promised up to US$3 000.

These job opportunities overseas are particularly appealing to youth in East Africa, where recent studies show that up to 80% are unemployed and the average monthly salary is around US$634 a month. Are the ICT regulators in the respective East African nations aware of these scams? Undoubtedly, yes!

Trafficking young people is a growing and profitable business in East Africa. At times, these are often aided by respective immigration officials to enable the transit of victims.

In June 2023, INTERPOL issued a global warning on the increased activities of human trafficking networks fuelled by fraud. In particular, INTERPOL noted an escalation in human trafficking networks using online scams to lure victims, who are then forced to commit cybercrime and financial crimes on an industrial scale.

Have the East African governments acted on this warning yet? Not convincingly, if not at all!

According to the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women, there is an increase in East African human trafficking victims in the Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines. It said that on arrival at the border and airports, victims are often driven to deserted hotels where they are forced to work in ‘fraud factories’, conducting love scams, money laundering, and illegal gambling. Victims who try to leave are often asked to pay back a debt that can be as high as US$10,000.

Well, most states tend to focus on state security as the only key security concern. There is an urgent need to adopt human security awareness and protection initiatives in order to guarantee the survival of human beings.

There should be efforts to counter human trafficking and also to repatriate hundreds of thousands of East Africans from the Middle East and Southeast Asia through the required collaboration between Southeast Asian countries.

East African governments should adjust their cyber legal regimes to ensure that technology companies embrace more robust scanning practices to detect cons that result in human trafficking online, for example, Google, Meta, Twitter, and WhatsApp, among others.

It is also important that vulnerable groups are made aware of these cons and scams, for example, university graduates, commercial sex workers, children, and the entire population, and protected from the consequent harms. In this case, the target group for Middle East and Southeast Asia traffickers is educated youth desperate for employment, and the rest of the categories are trafficked and enslaved internally within East Africa.

The author is Byamukama Richard Bard, a lawyer and also a student of security and strategic studies.

Disclaimer: As UG Reports Media LTD, we welcome any opinion from anyone if it’s constructive for the development of Uganda. All the expressions and opinions in this write-up are not those of UG Reports Media Ltd. but of the author of the article.

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