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Human trafficking drive needs rescuing

A sex worker in Kenya. For generic use, PlusNews
A sex worker on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya (Siegfried Modola/IRIN)

Uganda set up a national human trafficking task force in April, but a national action plan to combat trafficking - originally due in June - could be delayed for months as officials take stock of existing and fragmented law enforcement efforts.

Minister of State for Internal Affairs James Baba, who set up the task force, highlighted the importance of improved coordination.

"Traffickers have often taken advantage of this fragmentation of interventions and uncoordinated responses and have exploited the vulnerabilities of the very people we seek to protect," he said in his speech to officially commission the task force.

A government inventory showed that everyone working on the issue - from Interpol to immigration - is understaffed, underfunded, and operating ad hoc, essentially lacking the very coordination the task force was put in place to address.

The TIP office itself is currently operating out of an existing immigration office, with only four permanent staff and is yet to confirm its own budget.

A report by Uganda's honorary consul in Kuala Lumpur in February said more than 600 Ugandan women were trapped in Malaysia's sex industry, the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs has begun to implement the requirements under its 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) legislation.

Meanwhile, Umar Mutuya, deputy Special Investigation Unit (SIU) commandant and officer-in-charge of its TIP desk, said his officers could not get ahead of traffickers as things stand. "It is so rampant," he said. "Unless someone makes a complaint we won't follow it because we are overwhelmed already."

According to the US State Department, which publishes an annual global trafficking report, Uganda remains in a middle-tier ranking.

US report's criticisms

The report highlighted the lack of prosecution as a major barrier to progress in Uganda. Although officials identified five trafficking cases in the past year, and prosecuted three, it is yet to convict anyone under its trafficking legislation.

In mid-June, police said a suspected human trafficker was released from a magistrate's court in Kampala on 600,000 Ugandan shillings (about US$240) bail despite an investigation which suggested he exploited more than 50 people through a front company that also acted as an illegitimate labour recruitment agency.

"Some of these courts don't give us time," said Mutuya. "We know he is involved - we have cases of people he had trafficked who are coming out now."

The US report also singled out the one-person External Employment Unit (EEU) - the Labour Ministry's arm in charge of the country's 22 recruitment agencies - as lacking both the financial and human resources to adequately monitor their activities.

Following accusations of women ending up in domestic slavery in Iraq thanks to contracts by Ugandan labour recruitment agencies, the EEU put in place a policy prohibiting any Ugandan from being sent abroad to do domestic work. EEU travelled to Iraq in 2010 to investigate the slavery claims, but admits to not being able to get a full picture.

In the past year, the US TIP report said, Ugandan trafficking victims were reported in the UK, Denmark, Iraq, South Sudan, Kenya, China, Thailand and Malaysia. In addition, Interpol reported Ugandan women trafficked to India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

''[Human trafficking] is so rampant. Unless someone makes a complaint we won't follow it because we are overwhelmed already''


Meanwhile, the task force says action is being taken: Since the task force’s inauguration, more than 50 victims have been repatriated or prevented from being trafficked, according to Eunice Kisembo, the taskforce chair, who oversees the range of ministries involved.

She said under their watch, SIU had been given three more officers to handle complaints, police are keeping better records, and airport security has become much more stringent. According to Kisembo, last week eight young women were prevented from being trafficked into domestic slavery in Egypt thanks to the vigilance of border officials.

A parliamentary committee which visited Malaysia in March recently released a report detailing at least 13 Ugandan women languishing in prisons there. The MPs called for a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking.

"Trafficking will only continue if the public isn't aware," said Dorah Mafabi, Uganda programme manager of the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative, who coordinates civil society partners working on the issue.

She called on the government to fund a campaign modelled on those designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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