On Sunday a young girl was tearfully reunited with her family after a month-long stint in the dark world of human trafficking. The senior six student had been trafficked to Zambia on 18, October and it was only through the hard work of the national police, the ministries of gender, internal security and foreign affairs, Interpol and other regional law enforcement bodies that she didn’t become just another statistic. And thank God for that because the statistics are scary.
Human trafficking, an industry that accounted for a whopping 31.6 billion dollars in 2010 according to expert Jeremy Haken is the fastest growing trans-national criminal activity, leaving the drug trade in its dust. Whether in the form of bonded labour, forced labour and child labour, this trade in human beings has landed right on our doorsteps.
According to a recent UN report, Rwanda is both a source and a transit route for those engaged in the sale of human beings. Police statistics reveal 153 cases of human trafficking registered since 2009, with the majority of the victims being young females below the age of 35.
Thankfully no one is burying their head in the sand; only last month there was a high profile symposium to tackle human trafficking that was chaired by the First Lady. The President himself spoke about the issue on his recent trip to Kirehe District saying, “ those involved in human trafficking should know that we will do everything possible to stop them. We will prove to them that it’s a wrong path and an extremely risky venture for them… We must make it very difficult for the traffickers to operate on our territory”.
As evidenced by the young girl’s return on the weekend, the authorities are doing their bit. However, I’m worried that law enforcement won’t be able to arrest this crime. Not because it’s incompetent, but because it cannot arrest poor decision-making and poverty.
Just look at how the young girl ended up in Zambia.
She met a man on in a taxi on her way home who promised her a good job in Zambia. They exchanged contact information and kept in touch. “He paid all expenses which included a passport, transport fare, feeding and accommodation. He gave me another simcard on which we communicated and he discouraged me from telling my parents about the whole mission,” she said.
He then transported her to Uganda, then to Tanzania and finally to Zambia. Once in Zambia, she was told that there wasn’t a job waiting for her but rather a matrimonial bed. He wanted them to wed. Luckily she had already become suspicious before he declared his intentions and found a way to call home.
Now, I’m loathe to point fingers at the victim; she was young and the opportunity to make ‘big bucks’ seemed like a dream come true. So much so that she was willing to drop out of school, abandon her family and risk everything for the hope of a well paying job. And that, dear readers, is why I doubt whether we’ll stamp out human trafficking in Rwanda anytime soon.
There are too many young people in this country who feel like they aren’t able to fulfill their dreams for self-improvement in this country. They believe that wages are too low and job opportunities too limited. Whether this is true or not isn’t the point. It is all about perception. They simply feel that life outside is better than life back home. So even if the ‘deals’ sound too good to be true, their desperation will make them ignore all the risks involved.
I know that there are tonnes of programmes designed to help young Rwandans get a foothold in the job market but we must ask ourselves a few questions; first, do young people even know that these programmes exist? Secondly, are the programmes reaching the right people? Thirdly, do young people actually find those programmes useful? At the end of the day, unless these young people believe that they have a chance to make a good living here they will always be one wrong step away from becoming just another human trafficking statistic.