Scripta Varia

The Current Trends and Challenges Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases in Uganda

Winfred Ahimbisibwe

Introduction

Human trafficking refers to the process through which individuals are placed or maintained in an exploitative situation for economic gain. It affects most countries of the world, and in Uganda, the most affected population are the largely unemployed youth.

The youth unemployment rate in Uganda has been estimated to stand at 64%-70%, with an average of about 400,000 youths being released annually into the job market to compete for approximately 9,000 jobs (ACODE 2014). This has created a spirit of desperation for these youth to find ways of survival, and it is this desperation that has been exploited by the unscrupulous traffickers who promise them employment in and out of the country.

Concerns about the exploitation of Ugandan domestic workers in the Middle East date back to 2009, when a reported 148 girls were taken to Iraq. They subsequently lodged complaints with the Ministry of Gender citing denial of wages, gang-rape, long working hours and torture at the hands of their employers. The migrant women in domestic employment have been the most affected especially because they work in isolated households.

Victim of trafficking includes a person who is being or has been trafficked. Exploitation includes at a minimum, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, child marriage, forced labour, harmful child labour, use of a child in armed conflict, use of a person in illegal activities, debt bondage, slavery or practices similar to slavery or servitude, human sacrifice, the removal of organs or body parts for sale or for purposes of witchcraft, harmful rituals or practices.

Common Charging Sections

Section 3 PTIP Act prescribes the Offence of Trafficking in persons and, on conviction, one is liable to 15 years’ imprisonment. It is important to note that consent of a victim of trafficking or if a child, consent of her/his parents to the acts of exploitation, is immaterial. Liability extends to both natural and legal persons (corporations, commercial companies operating in labour recruitment, adoption etc. Section 4 PTIP Act prescribes for the offence of ‘Aggravated trafficking in persons’ and, on conviction, one is liable to imprisonment for life. Aggravating circumstances include if the victim is a child; contracts HIV; perpetrator in authority over victim/close relative.

Current Trends in prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases

Uganda is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in persons, including both transnational trafficking and domestic trafficking. There is very limited systematic data on the prevalence or prosecution of TIP. The limited research, data, and subjective evidence indicates that the number of women, men, and children trafficked in or from Uganda is increasing. The most common means of recruitment are through deception with promises of employment, care and education. The use of force is not common and is only related to human sacrifice.

Transnational Trafficking

Uganda is a source and destination country for forced labor and trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Trafficking occurs between East African countries, with adults and children from these countries trafficked to Uganda and adults and children from Uganda trafficked to the surrounding countries. Trafficking of Ugandans to some Middle East countries has also been on the rise in recent years: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. There’s reported trafficking of women to China, India, Thailand, and Malaysia too.

The top destination countries in 2016 were UAE, South Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. The recruiters are both licensed and unlicensed agencies/companies, employment agencies.

Prosecution of Trafficking in Uganda

Cases of Human Trafficking are prosecuted by the International Crimes Division within the ODPP, the Gender Children and Sexual Offences Department of ODPP and any other ODPP field stations. Despite the statistical limitations, there has been an increase in prosecution of these cases.

Challenges encountered in prosecution TIP offences

  • High levels of youth unemployment and poverty has contributed to the high vulnerability of many Ugandans who easily become easy prey to the deceptions, manipulation and fraud of the traffickers.
  • The enforcement agencies have a challenge of identifying the real victims before they leave the country because most of the trafficked persons are coached to tell lies.
  • Given the porous nature of the Ugandan borders, it has not been easy to effectively stop illegal crossings across borders.
  • Belief in witchcraft and lack of clear national guidelines for operations of the traditional healers has contributed to the incidents of child sacrifice.
  • Existence of Other Unregistered Forms of Trafficking eg child labor, through domestic/garden/casual employment; child sexual abuse, including child prostitution and child marriages; reports of trafficking activities among the refugee communities, mainly for sexual and labor exploitation.
  • Lack of specialized training to address the unique challenges posed by such cases. Detection methods/ identifying victims.
  • Training needs to suit the current/high technology trend of commission of offences.
  • Lack of Proper Victim Protection and Support Mechanism.
  • Unwillingness of witnesses to testify, sometimes due to fear of reprisals from their traffickers, and sometimes due to compromise/bribery by the traffickers.
  • Challenge of cases taking too long in the system.

Extra territorial challenges

  • Difficulties and unnecessary delays with the communication and exchange of information about transnational HT reported cases.
  • No MLA agreements with most Arab countries where HT is prevalent.
  • Challenges of extradition of perpetrators who ought to be prosecuted with or in addition to the domestic co-perpetrators.
  • Limitations of the capacity and finances of Uganda police to carry out effective investigations abroad.
  • Lack of stringent monitoring of foreign employment companies.

Charging Challenges

  • Trafficking cases are not always prosecuted under the PTIP due to lack of knowledge about the PTIP Act and the victim benefits presented therein.
  • Offences under PCA more straightforward or easier to prove.
  • No centralized ODPP data collection system that aggregates Human Trafficking cases and the appropriate courts.
  • Aggravated trafficking charges that carry up to a life imprisonment may be brought in either the High Court or before a Chief Magistrates.

Responses

  • Timely follow up of registered reports of suspected incidents of trafficking in persons by the more conscious Police Officers.
  • Better organized and coordinated ways of rescuing victims from abroad and providing them with the required temporary assistance.
  • Outreach Programme to sensitize the population about this vice. Victim sensitization to reduce vulnerabilities that lead to trafficking in persons.
  • We also need sensitization programs for law enforcement officers, judicial officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, social workers.
  • Need for better data management and data base for jurisprudence.
  • Stringent monitoring of foreign employment companies.

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