Forced Sex and Slavery :The Law on Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe

Human Trafficking

Trafficking in Persons Act [Chapter 9:25]

Human trafficking has been defined as the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. As reported over the past five years, Zimbabwe is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in agriculture and domestic service in the country’s rural areas, as well as domestic servitude and sex trafficking in cities and surrounding towns (United States Department of State, 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report – Zimbabwe). In 2014, the Trafficking in Persons Act [Chapter 9:25] was implemented, criminalizing the involuntary transport of a person, and the voluntary transport for an unlawful purpose, into, outside, or within Zimbabwe.

The Act was progressive on paper, but failed to adequately protect the victims it was enacted for. Internationally it was argued that the Act did not align with international law because it was not strict enough for application and erred in its definition of human trafficking as a movement-based crime and did not adequately define exploitation. Simply put there is a social ill spreading, where relatives bring in their rural relatives, children especially, into urban areas with the promise of an education or better livelihood only to be forced into unpaid labor in inhumane environments or coerced into sex work. Low reaching legislation and cocktails of negative socialization made up of classist and elitist attitudes lead many wealthier relatives to believe even in the disgusting conditions these victims are made to live, they are still doing them the favor of taking them out of the rural areas. So little attention has been brought to the criminal element of free labor that it has become a norm that goes without interrogation.

In 2018 alone, 87 potential victims of trafficking were identified, which realistically cannot possibly be true because there are women and children transported on a daily basis from many remote parts for the sole purpose of forced labour. I imagine that if I were to throw a stone with my eyes closed, it would hit someone who has been a victim of, a perpetrator, transporter or a by stander to human trafficking in Zimbabwe. Of the 87 potential victims 47 were placed in children’s homes. Since attention has been brought to this ill, committees have been set up and headlines have been printed and yet the real victims to these crimes do not reap the alleged efforts of the legislature and the executive to tackle the injustice.

There is a domino effect that comes with child trafficking that cannot be avoided once a child is labor in an urban home. One goes from being let down by the Trafficking Act to the Labor Act. Another unfortunate reality is the abuse and of domestic workers and failure by the Law to take steps to protect the profession. The regulation of domestic work is broken down so coherently in Labour Relations (Domestic Workers) Employment Regulations, 1992, (the regulations address wages, overtime, working conditions) but without a cohesive legal system that prioritizes women and children it will remain a piece of paper. Without a registry for domestic workers there are no records of the profession that make it viable to protect every single individual in their respective work environment.

The indescribably unfortunate children end up worse off, being forced into selling sex and are labelled as willing victims.   Young girls with no understanding of consent, their bodies or the concept of intimacy are being empowered into rape and sexual assault while perpetrators benefit from the fruits of trafficking. The sexual, mental and psychological effects on young girls are of serious detriment. The labeling of them as sex workers is foul to begin with. It is rape. The Act prevents such victims from conviction but it does not take away that the social perception after one exchanges sex as a service they are no longer a victim regardless of how they got there.

There are many sectors in which the law falls short and although we can practice patience and understanding in the inadequacies of our Companies Act, banking provisions and other corporate hot topics, there is simply no room for complacency where children are left vulnerable by the law.