Thursday, October 22, 2009

USA blasts Uganda on child trafficking

Uganda is not doing enough to rein in child and human trafficking, having failed to comply fully with the minimum standards aimed largely at eliminating the practice, the United States government has noted in a highly critical report.

The report published by the US State Department in June this year notes that Uganda remains a major source and destination for children and adults trafficked for purposes of child labour and sexual exploitation.

The report titled Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Uganda states: “Children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania are trafficked to Uganda for agricultural labour and commercial sexual exploitation.”

According to the report, children trafficked within Uganda are usually forced to become domestic servants while those taken outside the country are sexually exploited. The report also resurrects the highly contentious issue that Karimojong women and children are still being sold as slaves in cattle markets before they are forced into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, cattle herding, and ultimately end up as beggars on the streets of urban centres.

This matter was first raised in 2006 after a survey by Save the Children, an international NGO, revealed that Karimojong children were being sold in weekly cattle markets in Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts. The survey, at the time, indicated that the practice was being perpetuated by ‘brokers’ who would then ferry these children to towns like Kampala, Mbale, Iganga and Busia.

Other nationalities are also trafficked into the county for agricultural labour and sexual exploitation, the report notes, singling out Pakistanis, Indians and Chinese workers, who are now a common phenomenon in most parts of the country.

Government’s efforts to tackle the problem are weak, says the report, noting that at times victims are instead arrested when they try to seek justice. "The government’s punishment of trafficking offenders did not improve in 2008; however, extensive training of law enforcement officials and the establishment of an anti-trafficking Police unit occurred late in the reporting period. The government reported no prosecutions or convictions compared to several trafficking convictions obtained the previous year," notes the report.

Jessica Alupo, the Minister of State for Children and Youth Affairs, said the criticism is unfair because government has done a lot to curb the vice. "We have a unit in every Police station that handles child trafficking and we are working closely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to stop the practice," she said.

Alupo also pointed out a number of laws such as the Anti-Trafficking Law passed in April this year as evidence of government’s commitment towards fighting the vice. Among other issues, the law stipulates that it is criminal to employ anybody below the age of 18 years for domestic and other purposes.

Indeed, the report takes note of these achievements only that it urges government to do more. "Uganda must also enact and implement the newly passed anti-trafficking legislation, investigate and punish labour recruiters responsible for knowingly sending Ugandans into forced labour abroad, and develop further mechanisms for providing, in partnership with NGOs, protective services to all types of trafficking victims," the report urges.

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