Zimbabwe is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in persons, it is against this background that the Vukarhani Trust through their research has identified Mberengwa as a point of origin where most cases come from. For this reason, they have launched the Survivor Project in that area of the Midlands Province.
The deterioration of the country’s economic status continues to cause concern and unrest among citizens. This uncertainty can prompt people to look for employment opportunities and student scholarships in other countries, resulting in an increased potential for innocent lives to become victims of trafficking.
Gerald Shirichena who is the Director and pioneer of the Vukarhani Trust spoke in an interview with this reporter and stated that human trafficking was posing great danger to Zimbabwe especially in Mberengwa where he originates from, hence the formulation of Runde Survivors Project to curb this heinous act.
“Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe is very serious and it is a factual reality. Zimbabwe is a transit which means victims of trafficking or possible victims of trafficking are ferried across our country from the East and Western Africa and also people from the region pass through Zimbabwe to get to their next destination which is mainly South Africa and from there we have people being taken to the other parts of the world. Zimbabwe is a source because we have victims that have been found in many parts of the country. We have victims from Saudi Arabia, Oman, and South Africa that were from Zimbabwe.
“With the empirical researches that we are doing and that we have done we compiled data that suggest that we have source districts in the country of people that have become survivors of human trafficking and Mberengwa where I come from has emerged to be one of those places. I give you an example if you go to any public drinking place, where prostitution is rife in Zimbabwe specifically in places such as Rutenga, Beitbridge, Ngundu, and Chiredzi you will see a lot of children in prostitution and many of them point to originate from Mberengwa. So this is why we decided to have Mberengwa on the radar and decided to do a livelihood survivor project in Mberengwa, the Runde Survivors project.
“Zimbabwe is a source because we have internal victims found in the different parts of the country. To a larger extent, Zimbabwe is becoming a destination for trafficked people. Recently we have a case of the Korean and we are sitting on the issue of the Chinese companies employing in an exploitative situation. It seems even some of the Chinese people are victims of trafficking because they do not have a life outside their working environment. So generally we have internal and transitional trafficking going on in our country,” said Shirichena.
The covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated factors that fuel human trafficking such as poverty, unemployment, and gender-based violence. This has seen more cases being recorded, and Shirichena revealed some of the cases that have transpired recently.
“Yes, we have examples of Zimbabweans who have been trafficked internally and internationally. What comes to mind right now is the case of a woman with a disability from Chiredzi, who was known to her and live in the same town as her. She was told that there was going to be a workshop for people with disabilities in Masvingo and when they arrived in Masvingo at a particular place she discovered that there was no workshop. The man there started to talk about the price and started arguing that they did not want a person like that and this is how she managed to escape because when they were discussing in another room she managed to text one of our associates and we rescued her. The woman who recruited her was arrested but she is out on bail and the case is still pending at Chiredzi Regional court.
“We also have a case which took place recently towards the end of last year (2021), a lady recruited or went to Epworth, and talked to a guardian of two minors, a boy and a girl though she actually wanted the girl because where she traveled with them she promised the guardian that she was going to provide a good life, good education, but when they arrived in Masvingo she dumped the boy and went with the girl. So when she went to South Africa it was not the case of a good life, she was using the small girl for begging. As they were begging people noticed her because we have a great network in South Africa, we were notified and managed to secure the arrest of this woman. The case is pending at the Johannesburg High Court right now.
“We also have a situation where we prevented people, Zimbabweans from traveling to Oman when we did some background check of the job that they were offered in Oman last year. We managed to prevent about seven women who were already at the airport to Oman where they were going to work as maids. We explained to them what was going to happen there and they understood and we blocked their travel. We also have cases of girls that we have rescued from Chiredzi who were into prostitution. The only challenge with some of these situations is that it is difficult to secure an arrest because it might sometimes involve people that are known to the victims so after the rescue they will opt not to press charges or go to the cots as witnesses to give their side of the stories,” he said.
Shirichena talked about the issue of age with regards to human trafficking stating that there is no specific age group that is at risk. He mentioned that in Zimbabwe traffickers exploit Zimbabwean adults and even children in sex trafficking and also forced labor, including cattle herding, domestic service, and mining.
“There is no particular age group that is at risk of trafficking although young people, children they are a high-risk group because it depends on the type of exploitation that the person is being recruited for. For example, for sexual exploitation, they would recruit younger ladies that look beautiful, in fact for sexual exploitation the traffickers have specific characteristics that their customers want. When it is trafficking for human body parts it can be anybody who is healthy and when trafficking for the labor of course they will need people who are much stronger and can work. Basically, there is no particular age group I can emphasize but young people are at risk because they are likely to be anxious because they have hope, they have got dreams and as they are likely to pursue their hopes and dreams they are likely to fall in the hands of traffickers. Children are also at risk because of child prostitution and possibly for ritual purposes,” he said.
New research conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows hoe victims are being lured via social media and online dating platforms, where personal information and location details are available. Nowadays human traffickers who trick people with fake job offers and promises and exploit them for profit, are taking advantage of online technologies for every step of their criminal activities.
A solution is needed to end such problems, and according to Shirichena though it is a huge task to deal with, there is surely something that can be done in terms of educating society on the dangers of human trafficking, while sensitizing the community on what they can do to end this evil act.
“To end human trafficking is a tough task considering the fact that this is a multibillion-dollar industry. However, educating people on the dangers of human trafficking is what we are aiming to do to end this challenge. We want to educate society more on this because anybody is a possible trafficker and anybody is a possible victim. So we have started awareness campaigns, this is something that we want to do on a larger scale, going to schools, churches to talk about the dangers of human trafficking and probably scale up the bioscope phenomenon where we will show human trafficking movies and explain and also educate people. We also want to build safety nets for survivors and possible victims. We understand that the drivers for human trafficking are the desire for a good life, making money, being successful, and studying abroad.
“We want the community to have income-generating projects so that they would have a buttress to human trafficking. If families have enough food, enough resources to care for the girl child, the chances of human trafficking or falling into prostitution will be reduced. As an organisation, we also engage in the background check for opportunities like scholarships, intern, and jobs that are posted on social media. We also rescue people who are in an exploitative situation of trafficking,” said Shirichena.
However, the task of dealing away with human trafficking is not a one-man job and it requires action from both corners of the society, hence the Vukarhani Trust has partnered with the government and other key organisations. Furthermore, Shirichena said they target to inform or train people in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry and even those in the medical profession so that they are able to identify possible victims of human trafficking.
“We look forward and we are working with government institutions to fight this heinous crime of human trafficking. We cannot do it alone, we are in partnership with other organisation, coalitions so that we will be able to do this work because the government is working on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and human trafficking falls under SDG2.8, SDG7.16, and SDG16.2, so we have a win-win situation with the government. Also, we are complementing what the government is doing so we have referral cases where we refer cases if it needs social welfare, we have a system where we refer our clients, survivors, victims to social welfare. Also, social welfare if they think they have a person they can refer to us they do that oftentimes. So we have an amicable relationship with government actors and other entities in the fight against human trafficking. Our biggest stakeholder is the population of Zimbabwe, our people should be on the lookout to identify victims of human trafficking and they will be able to pass in the information so that we can help them.
“We are placing our program to train people from the hospitality and tourism and the medical profession for them to understand and to have an appreciation and perhaps to be able to identify victims of trafficking who come to seek their services. So this is how we are partnering with the different entities so that they will be informed. We want to partner with schools so that we will be able to reach out to them and educate students especially where some are likely to drop out at schools, we need to bring awareness so this is where we partner with the Ministry of education. We are also partnering with the police department because they are there to protect us and help us mitigate these problems,” he said.