Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery across Africa

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Traffic in persons is a modern form of slavery. Traffickers recruit children and women and then transport them to other places or countries. They exploit the labour of these women and children. Many of the trafficked children are forced to work as sex workers or to engage in fraudulent marriages. Some children are forced to participate in polygamous relations. Many of these trafficked children are employed as cheap labour in mines and industries, and as domestic workers. Their working conditions are similar to those of slaves. Although, the traffic in human beings may vary, due to factors, such as political and geographical conditions, the motive and characteristics are the same (Social Alert).

Irrespective of the form of trafficking, traffickers adopt and implement deception, fraud, terror, isolation, physical violence and debt servitude towards their captives. There are several factors that contribute to the ever growing business of child trafficking. These factors are the same in almost all regions and nations. They include poverty, extreme cultural and traditional practices, ignorance, lack of proper education, tendency to migrate among children, economic opportunities and demand for cheap labour. Rampant corruption among the authorities is of great help to these traffickers, and helps the latter to improve their business (Social Alert).

Children are frequently exploited for carnal purposes, in order to generate income, and this insidious practice has become commonplace. There are organised trafficking groups that buy and sell children, and their number is on the increase. The ILO has identified five major international organised networks, indulging in child trafficking (Social Alert).

One of these networks operates in the region stretching from Latin America to Europe and the Middle East. Another has extensive operations between South Asia and Southeast Asia to Northern Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, there is a regional market for the sale and purchase of children, whilst there is a special female oriented group in West Africa. In addition, there is a regional market catering exclusively to the Arab market (Social Alert).

The Special Rapporteur of the UN on child trafficking and child trade, child prostitution, and child pornography had submitted its report in 1996. This report disclosed that the sex trade in Asia was flourishing and that millions of children had been forced into it (Social Alert).

In Southeast Asia, there are various well established child trafficking routes. These routes stretch from Myanmar to Thailand and from Thailand to China, the US, Japan, and Malaysia. In addition to these nations, child traffic routes extend to other neighbouring countries and other continents. In Asia, there are more than one million children who are the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Traffic in teenage girls is growing rapidly in Thailand. In Latin America a large number of children live on the streets, and they are vulnerable to abduction and the sex trade (Social Alert).

Human trafficking is a major problem in Africa. Many nations of the African continent are striving hard to counter this problem. Several of these countries have resorted to the communicative power of sports to quell this activity. It is difficult if not impossible for these countries to employ sophisticated measures to deter this problem. The reason is not difficult to ascertain, these nations can ill afford to incur the expenditure that sophisticated measures entail (Morrow).

A measure adopted in many African countries to prevent trafficking is the Red Card program. In soccer if a player breaches the rules, he is issued a red card, which indicates that he has to leave the game. Similarly, the Red Card programme indicates that the trafficking of women and children is a serious breach of human rights (Morrow).

South Africa

In the year 2004, South Africa ratified the Palermo Protocol against Human Trafficking. South Africa continues to be the centre for human trafficking in Africa. As such, there are no specific laws that proscribe human trafficking in South Africa. However, the South African Government prosecutes traffickers under other criminal laws, such as the Children’s Bill and Sexual Offences Act. These laws contain provisions for prosecuting those who indulge in human trafficking (Morrow). Such being the state of affairs, it would be profitable for South Africa to emulate the legal endeavours of the other African nations, which have achieved some success in preventing human trafficking.

Sporting events and international soccer tournaments provide a great opportunity for traffickers to illegally transfer women and children between nations. This transpired in the African Cup of Nations football competition held in Ghana in 2008. This was offset to a certain extent by the Ghanaian Police’s discovery of a conspiracy to recruit children for immoral purposes during the tournament (Morrow).

The ILO took advantage of this Ghanaian sporting event, to conduct awareness campaigns amongst the public in respect of human trafficking. It utilised the Red Card campaign to disseminate its message that human trafficking was criminal and illegal. Under the provisions of Ghana’s legislation, trafficking is a crime, punishable with imprisonment for a minimum of five years (Morrow).

The first conviction on charges of trafficking occurred in February 2005. As part of the preparations for the 2008 football tournament, the British High Commission sponsored a workshop conducted by the Ghana Journalists Association, which was entitled “Combating Child Trafficking in Ghana – the Role of the Media” (Morrow).

There were several articles in the media about human trafficking. However, information regarding the efforts taken by the government to prevent trafficking during the tournament was scant. South Africa took cognisance of the problem of human trafficking and in the year 2006, it inaugurated South Africa’s National Human Trafficking Awareness campaign. During the course of the programmes conducted in connection with this inauguration, South Africa’s soccer team donned t-shirts displaying anti human trafficking slogans. This display was telecast all over the country (Morrow).

This campaign is aimed at preventing human trafficking much before the 2010 World Cup. Several NGOs have been frequently persuading the South African government to adopt adequate measures to prevent trafficking (Morrow). In addition, they have requested the government to enact more stringent legislation against human traffickers

The Southern African Counter – Trafficking Assistance Program (SACTAP) organised by the NGOs provides rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking and helps in their reintegration with the society. The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) accepted it social responsibility and volunteered to work with the South African government, in order to prevent trafficking in the World Cup 2010 (Morrow).

Accordingly, FIFA has introduced 20 Centres for the 2010 programme. Under this programme, FIFA would establish facilities to provide health and educational services to young people in South Africa. This programme will comply with the provisions of the Palermo Protocol Against Human Trafficking. This Protocol aims to reduce the number of victims of trafficking. FIFA has inaugurated the Win in Africa with Africa programme, in collaboration with the UN (Morrow). Under this programme, FIFA provides support to local bodies seized with social and human development in South Africa.

South Africa can effectively reduce this immoral trafficking. Writers, journalists and scholars have declared after considerable analysis that a large amount of money stands to be earned by immoral means, on account of the extraordinarily large turnout of fans expected to attend these events. A few of the scholars had recommended the deployment of large numbers of police personnel, as this would prove to be a major deterrent to immoral soliciting. A few other scholars opined that participation by the members of the community would of immense aid in preventing this immoral trafficking (Morrow). Increased public awareness and increased police presence would definitely prevent immoral trafficking.

According to the 2006 TIP Report, South Africa should undertake the measures initiated by Germany to discourage demand side issues in its territory. Germany had been successful in its attempts at preventing trafficking (Morrow).

The European Parliament made a strident call for a European level campaign to address the issues relating to trafficking during major international sport tournaments. The chief concern of such a campaign should be to curtail demand by generating client awareness (Morrow). South Africa is a major centre for human trafficking, and shares this dubious distinction with Germany. Consequently, it would be wise for South Africa to adopt the measures undertaken by Germany, such as media coverage, and nationwide public awareness campaigns.

The problem of prostitution is on the increase in South Africa. Many young South African women are forced to enter prostitution in Macau, after being enticed by traffickers, who make false job offers to these women (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa). Similarly, poor and uneducated women from the rural areas in China are taken South Africa, on the same pretext, and subsequently forced into prostitution.

A meeting was convened in Johannesburg, appropriately termed as the Next Steps to Path Breaking Strategies in the Global Fight against Sex Trafficking in South Africa (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa). This meeting focused on women trafficking to South Africa and related issues.

According to Linda Smith, founder of the War Against Trafficking Alliance, young South African women were found to be working as prostitutes in several brothels in the Netherlands. Similarly, Thai girls were found in the South African houses of ill repute. According to the reports of the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) the estimated annual income of traffickers exceeds $19 billion (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa). The sole objective of traffickers was pecuniary gain, and the country of origin was immaterial for these traffickers. Trafficking has become a global phenomenon and a severe problem for many nations.

The modus operandi of traffickers is to bring in women from foreign countries to Johannesburg. Subsequently, these women are sent to Swaziland, Lesotho or Mozambique. Thereupon, the traffickers bring in these women, across the borders into South Africa (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa). This ingenious methodology helps them to circumvent immigration controls at airports.

After arriving in South Africa, the passports of these hapless women are forcibly taken away by the traffickers. After this, they are informed that they have to repay amounts ranging from $12,000 to $15,000, in exchange for freedom. These women have to obey these conditions, and those who protest are subjected to physical violence (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa).

The Institute for Security Studies, based in Pretoria, has estimated that there are more than five hundred organised criminal gangs in operation in South Africa. There are several Nigerian criminal groups that operate in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa. Many of these criminal gangs, indulge in trafficking and lure Mozambican women to South Africa. Thereafter, these women are sold to people working in the Johannesburg mines (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa). The women thus sold are rendered sex slaves, and in addition they have to perform the duties of domestic labourers for the person who purchases them. Children are also traded in this trafficking industry.

According to Molo Songolo, a Cape Town based child activist group, there are nearly 28,000 children working in brothels in South Africa. In Cape Town, nearly a quarter of the prostitutes are children. Moreover, nearly 5,000 boys and girls provide carnal pleasure to foreign tourists visiting Cape Town (Sex trafficking stretches across Southern Africa).

In South Africa, the rate of unemployment is increasing persistently. This leads to severe competition among job aspirants. The number of unemployed women has seen to be disproportionate, in comparison to the number of unemployed men, in respect of the skilled worker group. However, when it comes to unskilled labour or part – time jobs, women outnumber their male counterparts (Arnott).

In addition, there are a large number of women working in the unorganised sector as seasonal workers. The extant labour legislation of South Africa has failed to protect vulnerable labourers, like domestic and seasonal workers. Gender inequality is rampant in South Africa, and women who are the victims of such gender bias, are routinely deprived of educational opportunities (Arnott). This has enhanced the number of illiterate women in South Africa.

As such, in South Africa, unemployment is a persistent problem, and women find it very difficult to obtain adequate employment. In addition, there is a steady increase in the number of women seeking employment is also increasing. As such, women constitute the most vulnerable group of persons seeking work (Arnott).

Limited employment opportunities have compelled many women to resort to immoral means of earning money. The sex industry is flourishing because of male migrant workers who live away from their families for extended periods. This creates a huge demand for sex workers. Many unemployed women have taken to the world’s oldest profession, in order to survive.

The armed conflicts and poverty in the neighbouring nations has increased the influx of refugees into South Africa. Many refugees enter illegally without valid work permits. Women refugees chose sex work, in order to survive. They are more susceptible, because they are liable to be arrested on charges of prostitution as well as illegal entry. Moreover, the absence of documents prevents them from obtaining health care and other social services. Moreover, women refugees are vulnerable, on account of ignorance about local dangers, customs and language (Arnott).

South Africa has not been urbanised through its length and breadth. Only a few areas of this country can be designated as urban areas. Moreover, the necessary infrastructure for transportation is not yet in place. The absence of a well developed railway system, thrusts the brunt of transportation needs on trucks. Most of these truck drivers are men, and they have to travel for long periods of time, in the course of transporting goods. These truck drivers constitute the major clientele of the sex industry. Subsequent to the year 1994, trade between South Africa and countries of the Sub – Saharan Africa became a reality (Arnott). The outcome was an increased demand for sex workers.

Human trafficking exposes women to physical violence and sexual abuse. It is not legally defined in South Africa, and offences are recognised on a case to case basis. The new legislation specifically deals with human trafficking for sexual objectives (South Africa; Human Trafficking Legislation to Be Gazetted for Public Comment).

There have been a number of research studies by several non-governmental and research organisations, in the context of human trafficking in South Africa. International organisations, such as Molo Songololo, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) have conducted research in this area. The findings of their research suggest that South Africa has emerged as the chief centre for human trafficking (BuaNews).

These research endeavours have disclosed that the driving force behind the sex industry in South Africa is poverty. Women and children are traded like commodities, despite the contention of the Department of Social Development that the government had established effective programmes to rescue and rehabilitate the victims of trafficking. It is the persistent stance of the South African government that it is seriously committed to suppress human trafficking (BuaNews).

Under the empowerment programmes, the government is establishing facilities to house victims. Through its efforts, South Africa demonstrates its intention to end the human trafficking problem in its territory. The IOM has established a toll-free helpline to help victims of trafficking who have been brought to South Africa illegally (BuaNews).

The government has drafted legislation to dissuade human trafficking, which is a comprehensive legislation, relating to human trafficking. It identifies and punishes the perpetrators of trafficking. There are several pernicious practices adopted by the people of the Eastern Cape region, as a tradition. As such, child abduction and forced child marriages are practiced under the ukuthwala tradition (South Africa; Human Trafficking Legislation to Be Gazetted for Public Comment).

The government claims that poverty and unemployment are the main factors that contribute to the increase in women trafficking. Sex tourism is on the increase and women are ruthlessly trafficked as domestic labourers from other developing nations. Organised marriages are performed between women brought from developing nations and foreign nationals. These are the new forms of sexual exploitation of women under sex tourism (South Africa; Human Trafficking Legislation to Be Gazetted for Public Comment).

In 2000, the member states of the UN had consented to establish an anti – trafficking protocol. This protocol would supplement the UN Convention against organised crime. The Deputy Secretary General requested member states to ratify this protocol, which is a powerful instrument to prevent trafficking. South Africa, as a member of the United Nations, ratified several international charters and treaties. It also ratified the UN Protocol, which prevents, eliminates and imposes punishments for human trafficking. To its credit, South Africa has enacted strict laws to oppose human trafficking (BuaNews).

Trafficking is not new to South Africa. It was in practice since centuries as its denizens were routinely detained and transported to other continents as slaves. After its independence and after the abolition of apartheid, public opinion was raised against trafficking. It is a very evil practice that emerged from social, political and economic deficiencies.


Ghana is beset with the challenge of child trafficking, which is intertwined with child labour. This is evident in agriculture, the fishing industry, mines, quarries and street hawking. Interviews conducted with child traffickers revealed that they were not aware that they were indulging in any illegal activity, and that employing children as labourers was in breach of the law (Johansen).

Many traffickers do not realise that separating a child from its parents, in order to extract strenuous physical labour is morally wrong. For instance, Benjamin Tornye, a fisherman, stated in the interview that he considered children to be good fishers. Consequently, he had trained them to sail a boat, swim and dive. He failed to realise that there was anything wrong with what he was doing. In his opinion, he was doing a favour to the children and helping them to become skilled fishermen and thereby earn a livelihood (Johansen).

The campaigns conducted by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) spread the message among fishermen and traffickers that children should not be engaged in labour. Several individuals, like Tornye have become active opponents of child trafficking in Ghana (Johansen). These campaigns were so effective that many traffickers realised that children should remain with their parents and that they should not be made to work like adults.

In Ghana, trafficking occurs internally, as well as across the borders. The traffickers, chiefly target impoverished children from rural areas. There are several forms of trafficking in Ghana. One instance of such activity is the trafficking of boys from the Northern Region to work in the fishing communities along the coast of the Volta Lake. In addition, some boys are sent to work in mines in the west (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

Girls are trafficked from the northern and eastern regions, chiefly from the Accra and Kumasi areas. They are sent to work as domestic helpers and assistants to local traders. Trafficked children are forced to work in dangerous and hazardous work environments. In several instances children were either injured or killed in these dangerous working conditions (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

In the international trafficking of children into Ghana, children between the ages of 7 and 17 years are brought in from neighbour countries, like the Ivory Coast, Togo, Gambia, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea. They are subsequently, made to work as farm labourers, divers, street hawkers and domestic labourers. The parents of these children willingly allow traffickers to take their children, and the reason for this reprehensible behaviour is their abject poverty (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

The parents of such children were either made advance payments or regular monthly stipends by the recruiters. In addition, these parents were assured that their children would receive food, shelter, training, and education. Some parents send their children to work for their relatives in urban areas. Such children were seen to receive varied treatment (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

A sizeable number of the recruiters were women, who procured employment in urban areas for these children. The amount earned on a monthly basis ranged from $2.20 to $3.30, or 20 thousand to 30 thousand Ghanaian cedis. The recruiters were, in several instances, guilty of not providing any education or training to the trafficked children. Trafficked female children are at risk of being sexually abused and forced into prostitution, by their employers. In addition, many women were taken to European countries like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. International traffickers entice women, by promising them employment. However, they do not keep up to their promises and force women into prostitution on their reaching the destination (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

Females who are trafficked are taken to European nations either directly or through other nations. Many young women are trafficked to the countries of the Middle East. Lebanon is extremely popular with the traffickers of women, because of the vast demand of assistants, unskilled labourers and domestic workers. Some young women are traded in Nigeria, which constitutes a transit nation for women destined to be employed as sex workers. Whilst the remaining women are sent to Western Europe or the Middle East (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

International traffickers use Accra as a transit hub to the European countries and nations of the Middle East. Women trafficked from Burkina Faso are taken through Ghana to the Cote d’Ivoire. The Ghanaian authorities claim to have scant information regarding organised crime groups involved in human trafficking (Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery).

In December 2005, Ghana reinforced its legal system to effectively counter human trafficking. During that process, the government enacted an anti-trafficking law to deal with trafficking. The government took the assistance from various international bodies that deal with trafficking to prepare this comprehensive legislation. Ghana is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime treaty. The IOM provided incentives to traffickers who set free the children appropriated by them, and who returned these children to their parents. The IOM provided loans to these traffickers on the condition that they would commence viable businesses (Johansen).

Ghana enacted the Human Trafficking Act, whose objective is to prevent, suppress and punish human trafficking. It also aims to provide rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for the victims of trafficking. In order to achieve the targets specified in the Millennium Development Goal, such comprehensive legislation is essential (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

It is a deplorable fact that Ghanaian children are traded in this day and age. Children are sold to others, in what best can be described as a modern form of slavery. This deprives children of their rights and childhood, for no fault of theirs. Children who have been sold live under inhuman conditions. They are compelled to work in dangerous and harmful environments, in the absence of hygienic and nutritious food, and decent clothes. Such children do not have formal education or moral training. Ultimately, these children emerge as illiterate and undisciplined (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

The IOM made strenuous efforts to put an end to this inhuman practice. It supported the implementation of the Human Trafficking Act. The IOM chiefly focused its efforts on children working in fisheries. As a part of its endeavours, it organised several workshops and conventions, to inform fishing communities about this evil practice. In addition, the IOM disseminated this information among the partner organisations and the media. Furthermore, the IOM conducted a programme on migration in the Yeji, Mfantesiman and North and South Tornu District. These areas consist of a large number of fishing communities (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

The IOM launched the project, in order to rescue and rehabilitate captured children. It had collaborated with government organs such as the Department of Social Welfare, Ghana Health Service, Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. The IOM rescued more than 500 children from their captors and made them join the mainstream of society (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

The officials of the IOM frequently visit these fishing communities and arrange meetings with their leaders. They inform the people of those communities about child trafficking and its impact on children. They also tell them about the punishment for such deeds under the Human Trafficking Act (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

According to the IOM, people are unaware that employing children in fishing is a crime. The implementation officers of the IOM visit the fishing community and inform them about the importance of the project. They urge people to release children. After rescuing the children, the IOM camps them at Yeji for a period of one month. Then it shifts them to Accra where it provides them rehabilitation and reunites them with their parents (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

The IOM provides micro – finance assistance, in order to prevent the needy families from giving their children to fishermen. Such parents are required to start a small business with the loan amount. The implementing partners conduct an inspection of such families, so as to ensure that the loans are being properly utilised (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).

It always acts in the best interests of children. Most of the children belong to poor families whose parents gave them to fishermen due to poverty-stricken conditions in their families. Furthermore, this reintegration process includes offering incentives to parents. The IOM pays money to the families that take back their children, and make monthly, quarterly or annual payments (Fighting Child Trafficking in Ghana).


Child trafficking has plagued Mali, but it has not been treated with the seriousness that it warrants. The victims of this great iniquity are generally between 7 and 15 years, and are mostly male. These abducted children are made to work on cotton, corn and rice plantations in the Ivory Coast. Many others are compelled to handle dangerous tools and highly corrosive chemicals, which prove to be of great risk to these hapless youngsters (Social Alert). Mali has laws that deem such trafficking to be a criminal act; however, the lack of proper implementation of such legislation renders it futile.

Mali ratified several international instruments, such as the Convention relating to Children’s Rights and ECOWAS Convention on free movement of persons and goods, which relate to human rights. Unfortunately, their number is paltry and they are conspicuous for not being implemented (Social Alert).

In the year 1998, a National Brainstorming Committee was instituted. This committee, which related to international adoption and child trafficking, was directed to prepare and put into operation a national policy that would combat child trafficking. This Committee was required to prepare a report on the prevalence of child trafficking in Mali. Moreover, it was to put forward proposals for improving the extant laws that aimed to prevent child trafficking. In addition, this Committee was instructed to prepare new laws that would mitigate the evil of child trafficking (Social Alert).

Mali had signed and ratified various international human rights instruments and treaties. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the ECOWAS Convention on free movement of persons and goods. The implementation of these international instruments in Mali is not satisfactory. It had failed to implement them wholly or even to some extent. In 1988, Mali established a National Brainstorming Committee to address the problem of chid trafficking. This committee was made up of representatives from society (Social Alert).

The objective of this committee is to adopt international measures to combat child trafficking in or through Mali. This committee is authorised to take part in the drafting of the national policy against child trafficking. It has to report to the government about the practice and impact of child trafficking in the nation (Social Alert). It can make recommendations to the government for the better implementation of the existing legislation. It can also suggest the drafting of new legislation to deal with the problem.

Debt servitude is the major cause for women and young girls to be trafficked. Several of such these trafficked individuals end up as the slaves of their masters. They have to work without any remuneration till their debt is redeemed. However, in many cases, the debt amount is increased every month, on account of the steep interest charged on it by the trafficker (Social Alert). This effectively keeps the trafficked persons in perpetual debt.

The chief origin of this debt is the travel expenses provided by the traffickers, whilst transporting these persons. The employers of the trafficked women repay the loan amounts to the traffickers, and do not pay any wages to the women. Moreover, the employers confiscate their passports, and take all measures to prevent their escape (Social Alert). As such, they take full advantage of the vulnerable condition of the trafficked women.

In general, the trafficked individuals cannot communicate in the local languages. In addition, their recruiters threaten them of arrest by the local authorities. Moreover, these persons are always under the control of their employers, who isolate and threaten them. The measures and efforts of the government to counter human trafficking are always insufficient, ineffective, and unsound. Government officials take bribes and issue counterfeit papers to tr

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