By Chikondi Magalasi:
It is yet again new growing season and farmers across the country are preparing their fields for production. But while everyone gets busy preparing their farms, this is also the time a lot of children are exposed to child trafficking.
Over the past few years in Malawi, child trafficking cases have been on the rise mainly in districts bordering neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia, where most of the children are trafficked to, lured by supposed financial prospects through farming season piece works.
For Vincent and Mabvuto who are both 17, if it was not for an interception by a police officer at Chiringa Trading Centre in Phalombe District, by now, the two would have been in Mozambique.
Vincent recounted that while at his home in Traditional Authority Ndanga in Mulanje District, he was approached by one of his older friends whom he just called Sandi, and was asked to accompany him to Mozambique where Sandi had allegedly found a high paid job and had promised Vincent that he could easily find one for him and his friend (Mabvuto) in Mozambique.
He then told Sandi that there is need to notify his parents first before embarking on the journey but Sandi quickly dismissed the idea by claiming that he had already approached the parents and they had agreed.
“Looking at problems that I was facing, I accepted to go with him without suspecting any bad intentions in the whole arrangement,” he explained.
Vincent, who has sat for 2020 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations, said he had opted to sacrifice the examinations for the piece works which the suspected trafficker had allegedly found for them.
Just like Vincent, his colleague Mabvuto said he was also told by the suspected trafficker that his parents had given him a go ahead to go with him to the Portuguese speaking nation to work in maize and cassava fields, hoping that on return they would both be owners of bicycles.
The two said they were persuaded by high wage offers projected by the trafficker, who told them that after the work, the two would both be able to buy bicycles and some good clothes.
“He told us that we will get more money in Mozambique which we can use in buying our needs, He told us that payments are good in that country,” Mabvuto said.
According to the two, their journey started at around 3:00 AM using a bicycle of the suspect and as they were going towards Chiringa Trading Centre, they met a police officer who stopped them.
Mabvuto narrated that the police officer quizzed them about where they were going and the trafficker stuttered when answering; and the officer deduced from the conversation that they were going to Mozambique.
The law enforcer then threatened the three by producing his mobile phone, saying he wanted to call his colleagues and upon hearing this, the suspect quickly abandoned his bicycle and started running away and though the police officer pursued him, he could not catch him.
According to Mabvuto, from there, he was taken to Chiringa Police Unit together with Vincent, from where they were ferried to Phalombe Police Station where they were being accommodated, awaiting their parents to pick them up.
He however alleged that while at Phalombe Police Station, they were not provided with any food.
“We stayed at Phalombe Police without any food, but it’s good that we were stopped we didn’t know how hard the work would be,” he said.
The story of the two young men is just an example of how bad cases of trafficking in persons; especially child trafficking, is in many districts of this country.
In Phalombe, according to the police publicist in the district, Innocent Moses, cases of trafficking in persons are being fueled by porous borders with Mozambique and inter-marriages.
Moses said in 2019, the district registered 33 cases with 16 suspects of trafficking in persons, where six were convicted, with one getting 90 months Imprisonment with Hard Labour and two suspects acquitted.
And as of September 28 2020, the cases recorded at the police were only four since January this year and Moses mentioned activeness of the communities as one of the contributions to the decrease of the cases.
“Unlike last year, this year we’re doing great in terms of reducing these cases, we are working with chiefs whose areas are closer to the borders with help from members of community forums,” Moses said.
He added that most times, traffickers use Phalombe as a transit route to Mozambique with children from districts of Zomba, Chiradzulu and Mulanje.
Sub-traditional Authority Phweremwe whose area borders Mozambique in the eastern part of Phalombe District, said through community policing forums, his area has been rescuing children in the course of being trafficked for many times.
“My people have been in forefront helping in apprehending traffickers, we have by laws here which people need to adhere to, parents who let their children being taken to Mozambique are ordered to pay Mk50, 000 so they are also frightened with that,” he said.
The Chief added that recently, an old man was cornered with two 14-year-old boys on his motorbike going to Mozambique. He was apprehended and had his motorbike seized before being handed over to police.
He said being the period which most farmers in the neighbouring country prepare their plantations where they need manpower, it is pertinent for stakeholders to step up measures and ensure that no Malawian child is taken away.
One of the campaigners against trafficking in persons in the district, Richard Muluzi, said currently, awareness campaigns are in progress, using various mass media platforms, so that people should know the consequences of the malpractice.
“We met with Ministry of Homeland officials recently to strategise on how we should reach people with messages as you know this is a period which the traffickers take our children, the campaign is underway currently,” Muluzi, who is also the vice chairperson for the district coordinating committee against trafficking in person of Phalombe, said.
Child trafficking breaks various child rights, ranging from the right to be raised by parents to the right to education, hence the need for communities and other stakeholders to remain vigilant and guard against