After being abducted, two young South Africans, one a 20 year-old woman and the other a 14 year-old boy, were smuggled across borders and trafficked to Malawi. They were starved and abused both physically and emotionally.
Their grandmother, who was back in South Africa, did not give up on them and after a year of the abuse they were rescued and reunited.
Trafficking is not only limited to survivors being brought into Malawi. The Ministry of Gender, Children Disability and Social Welfare and the Malawi Police Service also report numerous child trafficking cases from districts such as Phalombe, Mulanje, Zomba and Nsanje to countries such as Mozambique for child labour.
Globally, an estimated 2.5 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery. Men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers both in their own countries and abroad.
As data is scarce, many experts believe that these numbers are actually higher. Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. Slavery, in both its ancient and modern forms, is not only shameful.
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon puts it: “It denies victims their rights and dignity and generates billions of dollars for organised criminal networks of those that are trafficked, women and girls are disproportionately affected.”
Human trafficking may in fact be the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. The UN recently reported that it was the third most lucrative illegal trade, surpassed only by drugs and arms trading.
And Malawi is not immune to this crime. Forced labour and forced prostitution are the most common forms. The fight for protection from, prosecution and prevention of trafficking has been a long and winding journey; it has taken Malawi 10 years of consultations, awareness and lobbying for the Trafficking in Persons Act to be enacted into law.
This year is pivotal in Malawi’s history as it will be remembered as the year where we have said “No More” to trafficking. However, the journey is nowhere near over, awareness, implementation and enforcement of the law are crucial and still outstanding. Victims of trafficking mostly women, girls and boys are not fully protected under the current law and cannot seek legal compensation for the crimes committed against them.
Yesterday was World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and on reflection, let us all make the conscious decision to do our part in eliminating trafficking in Malawi. The first step is to open up our eyes to the human trafficking problem.
To stop the traffickers, citizens, enforcement authorities and judicial officers all have a role to play. Increased enforcement of laws, cross-border cooperation and information-sharing can all be effective, but ending human trafficking also means tackling the root causes: Extreme poverty, entrenched inequality, a lack of education and opportunities, all of which create the vulnerabilities that traffickers exploit.
The Trafficking in Persons Act 2015 aims at criminalising, preventing and fighting trafficking in persons in a comprehensive manner. We urgently call for the date of enforcement of the Act as well as call for the establishment of the coordinating committee to make it functional.
We can all do more to ensure that women, men, boys and girls are protected and that traffickers are prosecuted. And there is no better time than now as Malawi has made a commitment through the new law to protect victims, prosecute traffickers and prevent trafficking acts.
The most effective way to eradicate trafficking in Malawi is by each and every one taking an active role in preventing these atrocities from happening in the first place. A key tool in prevention of trafficking is the establishment of a national birth registration system which will help in the identification of Malawian nationals scheduled to be launched on the 1 August 2015.
We call on the Ministry of Home Affairs to keep taking a pro-active role to ensure that a comprehensive response on prevention, advocacy, awareness raising, protection, rehabilitation, integration, repatriation, investigation and prosecution are carried out. At the same time, we all must lobby Parliament to ensure budgetary allocations to accelerate its implementation. Closely linked to budgetary allocations is a determination of the magnitude, nature and economics of trafficking.
The impressive civil society mobilisation was critical in getting the Act passed and we must keep momentum in forging new partnerships to enhance the comprehensive response.
Victims are not further victimised by the very system meant to help them. The problem of human trafficking is solvable, let us open our eyes to this crime and our hearts to the victims and put pressure on traffickers. It is time to say: “No to Human Trafficking!”