By Terry Mutsvanga
Zimbabwe remains a source, transit and destination for human trafficking with an estimated 148 cases having been brought before the country’s courts this year.
This was according to an International Organization on Migration report detailing the prevalence of the illegal trade in Zimbabwe with internal trafficking involving 12-18 year old girls who are recruited as domestic servants taking its toll in the country.
The Zimbabwe government recently passed the Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Act 10:20 into law thus criminalizing the practice but the problem still remains a challenge.
But regardless of the signing into law of the TiP, human trafficking cartels are operating at border posts namely Nyamapanda and Tongogara refugee camp were they are luring desperate refugees to pay sums of money ranging from US$200 promising to secure them jobs in Harare.
Upon arrival in the capital the refugees are either dumped or tricked into working for peanuts at downtown shops or brothels.
One such refugee is, Mohamed Farah Rahman (34) a Somali shop attendant at a Bangladeshi owned grocery shop located in downtown Harare. He was made to pay some US$ 200 to travel to the capital where he was promised a decent job and accommodation by a Zimbabwean national.
Rahman had left war torn Mogadishu in 2011 and entered Zimbabwe through Nyamapanda border post.
It was here at Nyamapanda that Rahman got stranded and sought refuge at Tongogara refugee camp, a holding center where hundreds of refugees are temporarily camped by the government awaiting deportation or rehabilitation.
“I was staying at Nyamapanda when I arrived in Zimbabwe until one Zimbabwean guy advised me and my three friends to look for US$200 for the journey to Harare. He promised to get us jobs upon arrival and we gave him the money and he handed over my boss.
“I have been working here ever since but he doesn’t pay well and he doesn’t give me any off days. My intention is to raise enough money to travel and settle to South Africa where my other brothers are living,” he said.
Antonnete Wamba (34) a Congolese national who doubles up as a waiter and commercial sex worker at a night club in Harare’s Avenues suburb said that he was left stranded in Harare after being lured to the capital by a Zimbabwean woman who promised her a job in her saloon.
Wamba had been staying at Tongogara camp since his arrival in Zimbabwe in 2014.
“I had to pay her US$300 to travel with her to Harare as she promised me a job in her saloon. When we reached Harare she just took me to this restaurant and was introduced to another lady who later gave me a job as a waitress.
Later on she told me to service her clients and have been doing that ever since,” said Antoinette who added that she intends to get back to the DRC.
A visit to Nyamapanda border post witnessed scores of foreign nationals mingling with Zimbabwean men. It is at such meetings that the Zimbabwean nationals negotiate and lure desperate foreigners thus fleecing them of their cash.
Political instability characterized by threats of war and acts of terror have resulted in thousands of nationals from Somalia, the Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo leaving their homelands and coming down south searching for greener pastures.
South Africa remains the chief destination and Zimbabwe’s proximity is considered as a temporary “place of rest” by the refugees as they prepare to get into South Africa.
Poverty in Zimbabwe’s countryside has also resulted in desperate young girls to be lured into the country’s major town and cities where they are promised decent jobs as domestic workers.
They later found themselves as prostitutes in brothels where they are forced by those in charge to sell their bodies in return for a certain fee.
The IOM reports states that internal trafficking in Zimbabwe involves young girls between the ages of 12 – 18 and they are recruited as domestic workers in the country’s towns and cities. Here the girls are excluded from attending schools and are subjected to physical and sexual abuse by the host employers.
Roselyn Samanyanga (17 and not her real name) a prostitute at a brothel in Harare’s Avenues suburb told IRIN that she was lured to Harare from her rural home by an Aunt who promised her a good job upon arrival to the capital.
“My aunt took me from my rural home and promised to give me a job at her liquor selling business. At first I was not happy with the environment that was dominated by men as I was made to serve them beers. She later told me to be wiser as other girls and I started sleeping with elderly men who came at her business and have been doing so ever since,” she said.
According to a local daily, a Zimbabwean woman Shamilia Roopen was arrested on charges of recruiting 22 women, promising to secure them employment in Saudi Arabia.
Another woman Jesica Mahuni (62) is currently in remand prison after being arrested for trafficking two teenage girls to Angola for the purposes of prostitution.
Mahuni had misinformed the young girls that she had organized them jobs in Luanda but they ended up in a brothel were they later escaped and later assisted by a fellow Zimbabwean woman who took them to the Zimbabwe Embassy.
Investigations by the police revealed that she had extorted an estimated US$6000 from the desperate women.
Zimbabwe is facing a new threat of economic decline following the end of the Government of National Unity (GNU) after the July 2013 elections.
Negative economic growth characterized by company closures resulting in unemployment opportunities has resulted in citizens falling into traps of human traffickers.
Again the IOM reported that it had recorded fresh cases of human trafficking at Chingwizi refugee camp where thousands of people from Tokwe and Mukosi who were displaced by heavy floods early this year are currently camped.
Justice and legal affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said that anybody who engages in human trafficking will face the full wrath of the law.
“As government our position is that anybody who engages in the trafficking of humans will be prosecuted. That is why we put the Trafficking in Persons Act into law making it a criminal offence to traffic human beings.
We urge all stakeholders including the police to assist towards implementing TiP so that human trafficking won’t thrive in the country,” he said
According to the IOM they had gathered reports of people who are frequenting the camp in search of housemaids.
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal trade in the world generating an estimated US$6-9 billion annually. About 4 000 000 people are believed to be trafficked each year.
Between 1994 and 2013 the IOM assisted some 58 551 people from across the world with over 50 percent being women.
According to the United Nations Palermo Protocol of 2000, human trafficking refers to the transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of threats or use of force for purposes of exploitation
The bill empowers the police and immigration officials to search, question and detain people entering or leaving Zimbabwe or seize property or assets of suspected persons where there exists a reasonable suspicion that the crime of trafficking in persons is being or is about to be committed.
It also provides for the establishment of centers for victims of trafficking in persons and for the programmes that might be offered to them as well as protection.