How our culture normalises human trafficking

Poverty and hardships often drive cultural human trafficking PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Poverty and hardships often drive cultural human trafficking PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

Imagine a scenario where you meet a foreigner who pretends to be in love with you and takes you on vacation to Dubai, only to find yourself sold for prostitution. Or how about you’re living in the village and your aunt in the city takes you in as an unpaid babysitter and maid? Which one of these two is human trafficking? Well, both writes Mmegi Correspondent NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE

Technically, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receiving of another person by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion.

It also involves abduction, use of fraud or deception, abuse of power or abuse of a position of vulnerability. It can include the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.

When Batswana think about human trafficking, the picture that comes to mind is of foreigners tricking fellow citizens into forced employment or worse in foreign lands. Most of the cases before the courts today involve foreigners in one way or another, such as the driver intercepted with children in Francistown en route to South Africa, or the baby who it was feared would be shipped off to Nigeria. But experts say human trafficking is alive and well within Botswana, sponsored by habits and attitudes supported by our culture.

Madoda Nasha is keenly aware of this. As the deputy manager in the Department of Trafficking in Persons at the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, he has his fair share of first hand knowledge.

“In Botswana we tend to get involved in human trafficking unawares and here is a typical example.

“Let’s say I ask my sister to give me her child (recruitment) to stay with in Gaborone (transportation) so that I can help her raise that child and I promise her that I will take that child to school and take care of that particular child like my own children.” “When she refuses I threaten her that if she does not let me take the child, I will stop sending her the money that I always give her to buy some groceries every month (coercion and vulnerability).  “When the child arrives in the city, I make that child wash my children’s clothes and cook for them and I do not take that child to school as promised whilst mine go to school (exploitation of that person).

“All this is considered human trafficking,” he explains.

Unlike the human trafficking involving foreigners that cause outrage and headlines in the media, this type of activity is rarely reported. It may even, to some extent, appear culturally appropriate.

Nasha says even though these types of harmful cultural practices are never reported, the perpetrators can be charged with human trafficking and face serious charges.

One tragic way in which these cases come to the surface is when the child who has been culturally trafficked is injured or goes missing in some way. For instance, when a child suffers burns, if you dig deeper on the cause of such cases, you may find that a “benefactor” took their niece or nephew under the false pretext of caring for them when in reality the “benefactor” was looking for cheap, slave labour.  Experts say the sad reality is that in Botswana, many such children or young women are forced to do unpaid chores such as cooking, washing dishes, laundry and baby-sitting without formal agreements and proper conditions of service.  According to Nasha, this is wrong and the Anti-Human Trafficking Act has the right “remedies” for offenders.

“According to Section 2 of the Act, exploitation includes keeping a person in a state of slavery, subjecting a person to practices similar to slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labour, child labour amongst others,” he says. According to section 10  (1) of the Act, a person who for the purpose of trafficking in persons adopts a child or offers a child for adoption, fosters a child or offers a child for fostering or guardianship to a child or offers a child for guardianship, commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding P500, 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 25 years, or to both. This means that any person who commits an offence as described on the above examples might find themselves in prison or paying the maximum of stated amount.

The Act further states that a person who initiates or attempts to initiate adoption, fostering or guardianship proceedings for the purpose of subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding P100, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or to both.

Enforcement of the Act, however, will be determined by how prepared Batswana are to self-introspect and root out cultural human trafficking.

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