Human trafficking remains high in Zim: Report

The number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant in Zimbabwe, as the government did not convict any traffickers nor amend its anti-trafficking law to criminalise all forms of trafficking, a new report has revealed.

As a result, the country remains on the United States of America’s State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for the second year in a row, as the government did not fully comply with the 2020 Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards but is making substantial efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards.

According to the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Zimbabwean government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but has done some investigations, prosecuted human trafficking cases and conducted training for law enforcement, immigration officials and other key anti-trafficking officials.

However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, on its anti-trafficking capacity.

“The government did not amend its anti-trafficking law to criminalise all forms of trafficking. The government did not identify any trafficking victims or provide care for victims in its designated shelter. The government did not convict any traffickers. Therefore, Zimbabwe remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year,” read the report.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Zimbabwe, and traffickers exploit victims from Zimbabwe abroad.

“Internal trafficking is prevalent and underreported. Traffickers exploit Zimbabwean adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labour, including in cattle herding, domestic service, and mining in gold and diamond sectors,” read the report.

The report states that more than 71 percent of child labour occurs in the agriculture sector, including on tobacco, sugarcane, and cotton farms, as well as in forestry and fishing sectors, where children weed, spray, harvest, and pack goods.

“Some of these children are victims of forced labour, including some who work on small, unregulated farms. Due to pandemic-induced school closures and worsening economic conditions, observers reported child sex trafficking and child labour likely increased, particularly in agriculture, domestic service, informal trading, begging, and artisanal mining,” read the report.

“Children ages nine to 14 work as nannies, housemaids, and gardeners in urban areas and mining communities; some employers force children to work by withholding wages, denying them access to school, and subjecting them to Gender Based Violence.”

The report also notes that several traditional practices rendered young girls vulnerable to forced labour and sex trafficking.

This included “the practice of trading daughters for food or money, using them as ‘replacement’ brides for a deceased family member, and for ngozi, a reconciliation process where a family gives a family member to another family to make amends for a murdered relative.”

Traffickers exploit women and girls from Zimbabwean towns bordering South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia in forced labour, including domestic servitude, and sex trafficking in brothels catering to long-distance truck drivers on both sides of the border.

The report stated traffickers exploit child labourers working as gold panners and ore couriers by providing inadequate compensation, stealing their income, worsening food insecurity, and forcing them to take drugs to perform strenuous tasks.

Near gold and diamond mines, traffickers force children to sell illicit drugs, which increased during the Covid-19 pandemic while the report said illegal mining syndicates exploit Zimbabweans in trafficking.

“Experts estimate thousands of children have joined illegal diamond mining syndicates in the Marange fields in Chiadzwa since March 2020.”

The report says traffickers use false promises of legitimate employment opportunities, particularly in nursing, including through social media and messaging applications, to lure Zimbabweans into sex trafficking and forced labour in neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa, and the Middle East.

“In South Africa, traffickers exploit Zimbabweans for labour without pay in agriculture, construction, factories, mines, information technology, and hospitality businesses. Syndicates operating in South Africa recruit undocumented Zimbabwean migrants with promises of legitimate employment in mining and force them into labour in the illegal mining industry,” said the report.

Another factor in the report was undocumented Zimbabwean women and children, who due to economic conditions caused by Covid-19 pandemic increasingly travel to South Africa for employment, where lack of legal status increases their vulnerability to traffickers.

“Traffickers have exploited Zimbabwean women in domestic servitude, forced labour, and sex trafficking in Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the People’s Republic of China and Uganda, often under the guise of legitimate employment,” read the report.

“Zimbabwean labour recruiters recruit Zimbabwean women for exploitation in domestic servitude in Oman, where their passports are confiscated, and they are forced to work without pay. Traffickers use fraudulent scholarship schemes to lure Zimbabwean students to Cyprus ostensibly for educational purposes and exploit them in forced labour and sex trafficking.”

Traffickers also recruit Zimbabwean girls into neighbouring countries with promises of marriage and, during marriage, force them into domestic work.

“Zimbabwe is a transit country for Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians, and Zambians enroute to exploitation in South Africa. Zimbabwe is also a destination country for forced labour and sex trafficking,” said the trafficking report.

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