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Human trafficking: the brighter side of the coin

Alinafe spent night after night in a foreign country, with two men whom she simultaneously endured their weight, all at the design of someone she once trusted.

She was held against her will, though not beaten, and made to feel like she had no other option at the time, all by the man she thought she loved.

She felt she did not deserve it.

Afraid and confused, Alinafe from Chidothi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngokwe in Machinga District felt she could not escape: she thought the emotional and physical abuse she endured was all would be her life.

Alinafe (a pseudonym) was a victim of human trafficking.

“They made me feel like I was doing it because I loved them, and in the end, I’d have a [food] reward,” Alinafe says.

When Alinafe was 12, her uncle promised to take her to neighbouring Mozambique for a better life.

Laws of hereditary made her believe she would be safe in the hands of her uncle; hence, she did not think of taking extra clothes with her.

Neither did she bother to tell parents about the trip to the promised land of milk and honey.

Three months later, Alinafe realised she was in a foreign country and her uncle had abandoned and left her in the company of strange men.

“I was somewhere very far, my job was to clean the house and take care of the men.

“Being able to sleep with those two old men and get up every day to clean the house and keep doing it and just lying there being helpless was so hard,” Alinafe says.

Fifteen-year-old boy, Joshua (a pseudonym), from the same village, disappeared in a similar fashion.

He crossed borders to Mozambique to purportedly work in a farm and would be paid K50, 000 per month.

Little did Joshua know there were a multitude of boys between 12 and 15 called into service in a similar manner and the said wage was to be shared among all of them regardless of number.

“We left as if we were going to the boma, we were not allowed to carry our belongings because they told us that we would find everything there, and so we just left.

“We worked in tobacco farms all day long and seven days a week and having only a meal per day, the employers’ sole aim was to get the job done,” he says.

Joshua, who lives with his parents and four siblings, says he thought the money promised would extract his family from the pangs of poverty and hunger that had denied the family real existence for so long.

“I thought if I earned all that money in a month, then our family would be better off and live a better life. However, life did not turn out as planned, and I felt relieved when Youth Network and Counselling (Yoneco) volunteers came to our rescue. The three months I spent there were like three years,” he says.

Every day, thousands of young men and women are forced to live lives they never chose.

Some are sold into sexual slavery; others paid minimally for back-breaking work.

For income, companionship and safety, they are totally reliant on their captors, and fear retribution if they attempt to contact the authorities.

For the past years in Malawi, districts which share borders with neighbouring countries have mostly fallen prey to child traffickers.

While boys usually find themselves working in large farms, girls often end up as sex slaves.

The fight against child trafficking has been so long and hard for stakeholders in the country including the police and civil society.

It has taken 10 years of consultations, awareness and lobbying for the Trafficking in Persons Act to be enacted into a law.

Human trafficking victims are not fully protected but government with other United Nations (UN) organisations have upped efforts in order to punish the perpetrators and also deter would-be offenders.

Lloyd Makanjira, one of the volunteers for Yoneco and implementing partners for European Union (EU)-funded project Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (Gewe), narrates how commonly youths are caught in the traffickers’ maze.

Makanjira, who comes from Nawanga Village in the same T/A, says traffickers use commoners in villages to lure children into joining them.

He adds that the traffickers tell the victims not to whisper to parents or guardians about the voyage.

“It’s usually a long journey but the youth are told not to carry their possessions. The strangest thing is that they are tricked by people who are close to them, so it becomes easier for the children to submit themselves, and also due to high levels of poverty, the youth are easily enticed at the mention of money,” he says.

According to records captured by Yoneco Office in Machinga, T/A Ngokwe alone, with the help of chiefs, police officers and security officers in Mozambique, managed to rescue over 150 boys and girls from child traffickers.

T/A Ngokwe says traditional leaders organised a meeting to brainstorm how to punish those caught smuggling children to Mozambique through Lake Chiuta.

“As chiefs, we were part of the value chain, Yoneco needed the chiefs’ assurance that we will act on the perpetrators, so we did our job.

“We came up with by-laws on how we would handle the perpetrators if caught and so after almost a year of awareness, people bought the idea and began reporting human trafficking cases to us.

“For the volunteers to get into Mozambique to rescue trafficked children, they needed a letter from the chief, which would then be taken to the police and then into Mozambique, without these, the authorities in Mozambique would not cooperate,” he says.

Machinga Gewe project Chairperson, Dester Matiasi, says meetings and campaigns involving traditional leaders and police have been instrumental in spreading messages of child trafficking perils, hence reducing child trafficking cases in the process.

“Last year, we got a tip from a fisherman and, without papers, set off for Mozambique to rescue the child. When we got into Mozambique, authorities locked us up, we spent two nights in a police cell,” he recalls.

Matiasi says that incident tickled their brains and they thought of engaging police officers and tradition custodians in their cause.

Yoneco Project Officer, Wanangwa Mumba, says although there has been remarkable progress since the project to rescue children being trafficked started in 2014, the mission encountered a lot of resistance, the reason they decided to engage traditional leaders and police.

“The figures of children being trafficked to Mozambique with the assistance of illegal fishers on Lake Chiuta kept growing until such stakeholder meetings brought much-needed awareness on child trafficking, and we have made a lot of progress in curbing the malpractice,” he says.

Gewe project, among others, aims to promote gender equality and women empowerment with support from state and non-state institutions to accelerate attainment of national development.

The Malawi Government through Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund and EU is implementing the project, which is currently in 13 districts.

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