Zimbabwean migration camouflages human traffickers

human_traficking.jpgMUSINA - To the untrained eye, the human tide surging through the South African border town of Musina is just that: a mass of people leaving behind Zimbabwe's collapsed economy to seek job opportunities and a better life, or refuge in a neighbouring country.

Sebelo Sibanda, of Lawyers for Human Rights in Musina, is a more acute
observer; he sees changes taking place in a migration that is believed
to number between one million and more than three million people.

"A trend started in the last two or three months, where you see more
and more women coming in with groups of children – the children are too
numerous and often too similar in age to be from one mother," he said.

The Zimbabwean migration, comprising asylum seekers fleeing political
persecution, economic migrants from a shattered economy, traders,
shoppers and unaccompanied minors, provides ample camouflage for human

The border between South Africa and Zimbabwe is a fertile ground for
criminal gangs. The "magumagumas" prey on migrants, robbing and raping
them as they make their way to South Africa, while the "malaicha"
arrange safe passage for migrants, but do not always keep to the

Nde Ndifonka, the southern African spokesman for the International
Organization for Migration, told IRIN: "The conditions are there. We
believe there is a high incidence of human trafficking happening there
[the South Africa-Zimbabwe border]".

Parents living in South Africa often pay a malaicha to bring children
across the border, Sibanda said, and it was a "small step" to becoming
a human trafficker.

Ndifonka said the malaicha were part of trafficking rings and targeted
"specifically, vulnerable young children, as there is a demand for
labour and sexual exploitation in South Africa".

In mid-April 2009, during a spot check, police found two unaccompanied
minors – boys aged about four and five – in a car en route to
Johannesburg. "The woman at first said they were her children, but when
I interviewed the children separately they said they did not know who
she was," Sibanda said.

The unseen crime

"The woman then maintained that she was their mother’s sister, but the
children did not know who she was, but were told by her to call her
‘aunty’. The woman then said she was taking them to meet their mother
in Johannesburg, but the children said their mother was living in Cape

The woman is expected to be charged with kidnapping or a lesser charge
of smuggling, as South Africa has yet to adopt human trafficking

An international children’s agency, which declined to be identified,
fearing it might attract human traffickers to its offices, told IRIN it
had begun trying to trace the children’s relatives. The aid worker said
people claiming to be the relatives or friends of parents had tried to
lure children away from the shelter.

Human trafficking is difficult to detect, as people are generally not
aware they are being trafficked. We know it [human trafficking] is
happening but cannot detect it"Human trafficking is difficult to
detect, as people are generally not aware they are being trafficked. We
know it [human trafficking] is happening but cannot detect it," Jacob
Matakanye, CEO of the Musina Legal Advice Centre, told IRIN.

"The only way to prevent trafficking is to educate people about it in
the country of origin … Zimbabwe is an ideal opportunity for
traffickers, as it is next to South Africa [the continent’s richest
country]," he said.

The UN defines human trafficking as "The recruitment, transportation,
transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of
force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception,
of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the
giving of or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent
of a person having control over another person for the purpose of


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