Many Batswana desire to see themselves working overseas, hopefully in Europe or the United States, earning better, and living well. This is where agents who promise young Batswana link ups with employers or tertiary education opportunities come in. However, as Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes, not every opportunity is what it seems
When they hear of human trafficking, most people think of strangers snatching unsuspecting victims through a trick or violence. The truth is that the very people you know and trust so much can be wolves in sheep skins.
Just ask Bakgori Molatlhegi.
The year 2008 is one middle-aged survivor will never forget. That year was the most exciting as Molatlhegi secured an opportunity to work abroad and earn a far better income.
The job in Canada had been organised for Molatlhegi by a former schoolmate who was also her church mate. Since the duo had history, Molatlhegi was confident and excited at the thought of being employed overseas. Today, she admits there were red flags that were raised, but the excitement of going overseas clouded the sixth sense that her life might be in danger.
The mother of three believed that the Canadian job was her ticket to a better life. Little did Molatlhegi know that once she boarded a plane out of the country, a life of misery was waiting.
The friend in Canada enticed Molatlhegi with pictures showing people she claimed she had helped find jobs and schools abroad. Molatlhegi was happy and could not wait to see herself in Canada. She even gave away her title deed, losing the right to her home.
“I trusted her because we had gone to the same church and we used to go to the same school. I didn’t know that she was a trafficker.
“When we were preparing for my journey to Canada, she kept telling me not to tell anyone about my trip.
“She even made me sign many documents telling me that they were part of the procedures needed to be followed for me to go and work overseas. I trusted her because she was working for a travel agency,” Molatlhegi says, as she shared her emotional testimony recently at the Young African Leaders Initiative 2018 Mandela Washington Fellows Project Outreach Programme on Human Trafficking.
The big day came and Molatlhegi and a fellow traveller left for Canada. They boarded a flight to Mauritius from South Africa where they met a certain man identified as Mohammed. Mohammed told them that he would fax them tickets so that they could fly to Paris in France.
When they arrived in Paris, they were told that they could not continue with the flight to Canada as they did not have Visas. They wound up spending three weeks in Paris. All the time, Molatlhegi was communicating with her friend, the agent (read trafficker) and began to grow suspicious.
“We were asked what we were going to do in Canada and we told the officials that we were going to work in Canada. We were told that our tickets to Canada were not valid.
“Apparently, the trafficker was working with others and were making fake flight tickets. We only realised this very late.
“The traffickers joined us and eventually we got on a flight to Canada. They told us that we must give them our passports and identity cards.
“They said we must tell immigration officials that we were seeking asylum in Canada.
“From the time I arrived in Canada, I worked with local police and Interpol, fighting to return home,” she explains.
Molatlhegi says during her time in Canada, she was taken to a home where she met other human trafficking victims some of whom had been prostituting themselves whilst others worked odd jobs. She reveals that some had been living in Canada for 15 years and had even had children there.
After spending a year in Canada at the home, Molatlhegi received a ticket home from a church and returned to Botswana, to finally taste freedom.
When she got back home, she had lost her house and almost lost her children as the trafficker was in the process of arranging for them to go to different European and Asian countries. Despite seeking legal help to get justice and her house back, Molatlhegi’s attempts were futile.
She is now homeless and unemployed. However, she is still determined to keep fighting for justice regardless of the odds.
According to Gaborone mayor, Kagiso Thutlwe Botswana and Gaborone in particular, is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Thutlwe says countrywide, those most vulnerable to trafficking include unemployed women, the rural poor, agricultural workers and children.
“In Botswana traditionally there is mutual support in extended families which provides for people to foster and educate their extended families or relatives,” explains the mayor.
“With this, many families send their children to relatives in the hope that they will attend school and earn better wages only for them to end up in domestic servitude and in some instances not even attending schools.”
Such cases are complicated by some parents’ belief that their children were better off earning a living elsewhere.
“Involuntary domestic servitude is also a form of human trafficking found in distinct circumstances that create unique vulnerabilities for victims.
“It is a crime in which a domestic worker is not free to leave his or her employment and is abused and underpaid, or sometimes not even paid at all.
“Many domestic workers do not receive the basic benefits and protections commonly extended to other groups of workers, things as simple as a day off.
“Their ability to move freely is often limited, and employment in private homes increases their isolation and vulnerability.”
The mayor says social media has made it easy for traffickers to recruit their victims.
“Children and women are especially at risk of being recruited into the commercial sex industry. Young people are lured through advertisements on social media with promises of high salaries, good working conditions, air tickets and education.”
Botswana’s laws prescribe prison sentences and fines of up to P100, 000 for human traffickers, but cases have been few and far between. It is only recently that law enforcement authorities have clamped down on the crime, with some cases making headlines in recent years.