KAMPALA – The Coalition Against Trafficking in Persons in Uganda has called on the government to employ a public-private partnership in delivering support services to victims of trafficking.
“The government should partner with NGOs and CSOs that are registered or have shelters or reception centers to provide rehabilitation services and other support services to strengthen support for victims and survivors of trafficking,” said Dr. Annette Kirabira, Coalition’s Chairperson Board of Directors.
She says that the private sector is supposed to be a key player in the fight against trafficking, not only to resource but also to come up with some sustainable solutions so that the country can absorb the vulnerable population into meaningful and gainful employment.
She says the private sector needs to up the safeguarding protocols within their spaces so that there is reduced domestic trafficking.
Dr. Kirabira was on Sunday speaking at the commemoration of the World Day Against Trafficking in Person in Kampala. This year’s event was held under the theme, “Leaving No One Behind”.
She revealed that women, girls, children, youth, migrants, and refugees are the most vulnerable groups to trafficking in persons.
She says that the vice is highly attributed to poverty and economic inequality, gender inequality and discrimination, violence and abuse, limited access to education and decent work, political instability and conflict in the region.
She also blamed inadequacies in the law enforcement and judicial systems, and corruption which escalate the rise of trafficking in persons.
“Uganda remains a source, transit and destination country for victims of both domestic and transnational trafficking in persons. According to the 2022, national report on counter-trafficking, a total of 1200 cases of trafficking persons were recorded.”
Out of these, Dr. Kirabira says 55.7% were adults, 43 44.3% were children, and the majority (89.3%) were cases of domestic trafficking while 10.7% were cases of transnational trafficking.
However, she showed fear that most transnational cases don’t get recorded.
“Statistics show that over 70% of trafficking happens domestically for each country, not only Uganda. But I also know that we have so many transnational cases that don’t get captured because quite a number of victims don’t identify or even when they return, they would rather go home without dealing with law enforcement.”
Dr. Kirabira says inadequate shelters for victims of trafficking remain a big challenge for them, noting that whenever victims of trafficking are intercepted they end up sometimes with police.
“As a country, we have no government shelter to cater for victims of trafficking. What is currently provided for under the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, or reception homes like the remand homes, and rehabilitation centers to cater for children in conflict with the law. But victims of trafficking are not persons in conflict with the law. They are people who need protection.”
The Coalition also decried the lack of a witness protection law which continues to hinder victim participation in investigation and prosecution.
“Additionally, law enforcement officers are unable to implement the victim-centered approach in criminal proceedings, which further discourages victim participation. There are limited resources to support the investigation, coordination, prosecution of crime and provision of victims’ support in Uganda.”
Corruption by government officials also remains a big limiting factor inhibiting law enforcement.
The Coalition called upon the Parliament of Uganda to recover the witness protection bill to increase protective services for victims participating in criminal proceedings and prevent re-traumatization.
Julius Twinomujuni – Commissioner Police, at the Ministry of Internal Affairs said that unemployment remains the biggest contributor to trafficking in persons since “the government of Uganda is the chief employer and cannot employ everybody.” He noted that the youths are normally tricked into trafficking through empty promises of getting employed, bursaries, and marriages, especially, for younger girls who end up being sexually exploited.
“I want to inform you that we are all potential victims or to some extent we are traffickers ourselves [because] most of us when you got to our families, we use maids but we don’t always get to know where they come from. Sometimes we abuse their rights.”
He called upon all the stakeholders and Ugandans to work together and we fight this vice.
Mr. Sanusi Tejan SAVAGE – Chief of Mission – International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted that in the quest for freedom of movement of persons, many migrants end up victims of the crime of trafficking in persons.
He said that the collaborative data indicate that between 2001 and 2021, over 150,000 victims of trafficking were identified just by IOM and its partners across the world.
“Global crisis conflicts, disasters and climate emergency are leaving people vulnerable and at an increased risk of trafficking. Displacements and socio-economic inequalities are impacting millions of people worldwide, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.”
Mr. Sanusi noted that often, the primary targets of traffickers are those who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education healthcare and decent work, but also those who face discrimination and violence.
“The COVID-19 pandemic also changed the characteristics of trafficking, pushing it further on the ground and potentially increasing the danger to the victim by making the crime less likely to come to the attention of the authorities.”
In fact, noted that barely 41% of victims manage to escape their ordeal, and reach out to the authorities on their own initiative.
He called on the government, civil society and all stakeholders to step up efforts to strengthen prevention, identify and support victims and end impunity.
Officiating at the event, Lt. Gen. Joseph Musanyufu, Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Internal Affairs, called for continued partnerships if they are to put an end to the vice.
He said that every year, people are trafficked and are forced to work in factories, farms, harvest crops, toil in terrible conditions in mines, on construction sites, or work in private homes for little or no pay.
“Many victims are exploited for commercial sex.”
Among other contributors of the vice, he said are the porous borders Uganda has, noting that out of 2698 kilometers of border line the country has with five different countries, immigration only has 67 points.
“So we need coordinated action from within the country with all the law enforcement agencies and the partner states that border with us.”
However, he noted that people are not only trafficked outside but also inside, noting that figures show that even in the country trafficking is the highest.
Gen. Musanyufu also called for public awareness and sensitization campaigns against trafficking in persons and strengthening investigations, coordination among stakeholders, and capacity building of investigations.