Sex slavery for East African women despite 50 years of independence

Story in the East African of 6th May 2012 by Joachim Buwembo

So, when are we going to get serious about the trafficking of girls from East Africa? Recent reports indicate that 600 young Ugandan ladies who were lured to Iraq with promises of jobs like working in supermarkets are now unaccounted for. And who is so naïve as to imagine that so many black women who cannot speak Arabic just merged into the crowd like they would in America?

And if the less exposed Uganda can supply 600 sex slaves to just one country, what about Kenya and Tanzania, which have greater exposure to foreign “opportunities”? What about Rwanda, where most girls have features that are supposedly marketable out there?

We are seeing more media reports of girls being lured to places like Malaysia for “good” jobs and the minute they touch down in the promised land, the traffickers confiscate their passports and start them on a life of slavery until they become too weak and their captors kill them off. Some bodies have been brought back home with unbelievable signs of torture. The question is, which government departments are supposed to stop innocent girls being lured into sex slavery and eventual, accelerated death?

When HIV/Aids struck, it was the ministries of health that had to set up programmes to combat the epidemic. And things worked well until donor cash started coming in and the programmes became a sham, but awareness had been created on how to avoid infection and treat the infected. Now who is going to create awareness that job offers abroad can lead to slavery and death? If we wait for donor projects to fight trafficking, the vultures will do what they have done to the HIV/Aids money.

What I find most painful is that most girls who get trafficked are promised jobs paying salaries of $500 per month. This is money that someone can earn at home in the agriculture sector if they are just shown the right thing to do. For a poor woman to sell all she has and borrow from relatives to purchase a ticket that leads her to the most horrible things being done to her and then death, all in search of $500 — such things should not happen to nations that have been independent for 50 years. All the victims were born after Independence, only to end up in foreign slavery.
At least if the girls were being lured to Europe and America, they would have recourse to the law if their employers turned out to be traffickers. But when one is lured to a part of the world where a black person is accorded the same or less dignity than a dog, the chances of escaping slavery are nearly nil.

Stories have been published of women who have painfully left their children home to go and work “for a couple of years and return to invest,” only to end up in the worst form of slavery. Maybe I am ignorant but I am not aware of government programmes in this region that have made every girl aware of the dangers of pursuing job offers in “promising” new destinations outside the traditional ones — America and Western Europe. The least the governments can do is create awareness ,so that if some girls still take up the poisoned offers, they do so aware of the risks.

Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International fellow for development journalism. E-mail: buwembo@gmail.com

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