Is Human Trafficking a Problem in Namibia?

politics women human trafficking child rights prostitution
Wednesday, 23 June, 2010 - 09:24

Namibia is among the Southern African Development Community member states suspected of having high levels of human trafficking. Poverty and ‘chronic’ marginalisation of minorities have the potential to turn the country into a fertile ground for human trafficking and other abusive practices. Children are trafficked within the country for domestic servitude and into prostitution. There is a need for public awareness aimed at empowering vulnerable sectors of that country about human trafficking.

It is of utmost importance to, first, look at the definition of the term ‘human trafficking’. Trafficking in person or human trafficking (HT) refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of person, by means of the threat or use of force or other form of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

HT invariably involves forcible movement of a person from one place to another and forcible utilisation of their services with the intention of inducting them into trade for commercial gains. The word ‘forcible’ signifies that the action is against the person’s will or that consensus is obtained by making deceptive claims and false allurements. In some cases, consensus is obtained because of the victim’s social conditioning; where the victim is not even aware that he/she is being exploited.

The Namibia Constitution and relevant principles of international customary, humanitarian and human rights outlaw slavery and other slavery-like practices while the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 2004 (Act 29 of 2004), which was implemented only around 2009, specifically criminalises slavery and slavery-like practice such as HT servitude, forced labour, including forced prostitution and child labour as well as other exploitative practices. The Government of Namibia has put in place certain administrative mechanisms such as Nampol’s Women and Child Protection Unit (WCPU) and Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW).

However, Namibia is among several Southern African Development Community countries suspected of having a serious HT problem. A small number of cases of HT, including instance of both labour and sexual exploitation, have been reported. The researchers have found several cases of suspected trafficking. For example, when trucks are stopped at border posts, individuals are sometimes found hidden inside. It is also important to note that HT does not only refer to cross border movements, but it also includes all coercive intra-country movements. In one intra-country case, a Walvis Bay mother reportedly ‘sold’ her teenage daughter to work as a prostitute against her will, while in one cross-border instance, a former Caprivi Chief Regional Officer is facing the wrath of the Zambian law after he was allegedly caught trafficking four children from remote village in Senanga in Zambia’s western province to Namibia.

Currently, Namibia is facing deep-rooted social problems, such as poverty, unemployment and gender inequalities as well as discrimination of certain ethno-linguistic minorities which have continued to cause and exacerbate the country’s scourge. Female and child poverty as well as chronic marginalisation of minorities are pervasive in the country thereby creating a fertile ground for human trafficking and other abusive practices.

Regional integration, with improved road infrastructures and modern forms of telecommunications, has led to an accelerated increase in illicit movement of people involving Namibian’s neighboring countries such as Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. This scheme of things has turned Namibia into a hub for human trafficking, slavery and or slave-like practices. Some existing reports have also uncovered how pimps, long distance truck drivers, drug traffickers, professional prostitutes and organised crime syndicates operated between the borders of several Southern African countries.

Furthermore, on 10 September 2009, the United States Department of Labour produced a statistical account on the prevalence of the worst forms of child labour in Namibia. According to the report, some Namibian children work in agriculture, raising or tending livestock, charcoal production and domestic service, such as house cleaning, cooking, and child care in exchange for food, shelter, and sometimes clothes and money while others as young as 12 years old are involved in commercial sexual exploitation. This indicates that the largest percentage of Namibian children is trafficked within the country for domestic servitude and to engage in prostitution.

Finally, considering these factors, Namibia needs to decisively act in accelerating public awareness about human trafficking. There is a need to implement the preventive and curative responses aimed at empowering the most vulnerable sectors of our society in order to ensure that illicit practices would not be engaged into with impunity.

- Steven Mvula is Public Relations and Media Liaison Officer at Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights.

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