At least 167 cases of human trafficking involving thousands of people have been recorded in Malawi this year alone.
Globally, human trafficking, described by the United Nations as a serious crime and a gross violation of human rights, which can be classified as a modern form of slavery, generates about $150 billion (approximately K122 trillion at current exchange rate) per year.
A portion of that amount is generated in Malawi.
Global Hope Mobilisation (Glohomo), a non-governmental organisation that is together with 20 others working on creating awareness on the dangers of human trafficking, says several Malawians are making a living out of trafficking people.
But Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, insists government is doing everything possible to ensure Malawians are sufficiently protected.
According to Glohomo, while some strides have been made in dealing with human trafficking, reports indicate the battle is far from being won.
“We are concerned that some of the people who have been arrested in relation to human trafficking are security officers,” Glohomo Executive Director Caleb Thole told journalists in Mzuzu on Friday.
A 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report on Malawi by the United States (US) Department of State indicated that the Government of Malawi does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
“The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Malawi was upgraded to Tier 2.
“These efforts included increased prosecutions and convictions of traffickers. The government identified more trafficking victims and referred them to protective services, launched standard operating procedures and a national referral mechanism for victim identification and assistance, and allocated money to the anti-trafficking fund,” the report, the latest so far issued on Malawi, said.
And, according to Thole, the implication of security officers and politicians in human trafficking makes the fight complicated.
Recently, a Malawi Defence Force soldier and an Immigration officer were arrested for allegedly assisting foreign nationals to enter the country illegally.
Before that, a UTM official had also been arrested in relation to aiding illegal immigrants.
And Glohomo, which works to improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations, maintains that human trafficking remains a big problem in Malawi.
“It is sad that many Malawians have resorted to making money by selling their fellow human beings. On the other hand, while human trafficking is escalating, we find some relief in the fact that arrests are being made.
“State agencies are doing their job but there always is that chance to do more. As NGOs, we will also continue playing our part to ensure Malawi does not become a hotspot of human trafficking,” Thole said.
Reports indicate that apart from foreign nationals that are trafficked through Malawi, most human trafficking systems involve forced labour and sexual exploitation with Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, Chipata and Lusaka in Zambia, and Nampula in Mozambique as mostly the final destinations.
“Trafficking and smuggling activity takes place using both official border posts as well as remote trails and unmonitored border locations in these border districts. As movement by foot is much more difficult to monitor, the data that exists and has been collected focuses primarily on trafficking using vehicles and via official border posts,” reads one such report.
There is a new form of exploitation where some families in Malawi are giving away their children to herd fields in Mozambique. animals and work in crop
Thole has since asked communities to be vigilant and ask questions when they see people missing.
On the case of security personnel being implicated in human trafficking, Thole said his organisation is monitoring the situation to see how everything ends.
Meanwhile, Foundation for Children’s Rights (FCR) has said many of the people who are trafficked in the country are women and children.
“What makes the whole process rather depressing is that most people involved in human trafficking are people who are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting Malawians,” FCR Executive Director Jenipher Mkandawire said.
She added that apart from people being trafficked out of the country, there are others who are stuck in settings such as estates where they are into forced labour.
“These people often fail to report their situations because they are bonded in a way. They are made to work in farms and some of them are children,” Mkandawire said.
On his part, Thole has said there are hints on human trafficking that Malawians should be aware of and should be able to notice if someone is being trafficked.
According to Thole, Malawi is a source, transit and destination country for children, men and women, who are trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation.
The US Department of State indicated that credible reports of official complicity continued to impede the government’s efforts to combat trafficking, including allegations that some police and immigrations officers were complicit in aiding traffickers.
It recommended that State agencies should vigorously prosecute sex and labour traffickers and appropriately sentence convicted traffickers under the 2015 law, including government officials complicit in such crimes.
But according to anti-trafficking activists, all this is minimally happening and the vulnerability of Malawians living in poverty makes them highly susceptible to trafficking.
But according to Kaliati, various stakeholders have put their hands on the deck to deal with human trafficking.
“We are working with the Malawi Police Service and the UN to help us deal with this issue and we know that those 100-something cases that have been registered are those that are trafficked into Malawi and those trafficked outside Malawi.
“But we are serious on this issue, making sure that our people are protected. We have come up with stiff laws for those found on the wrong side of the law regarding human trafficking,” Kaliati said yesterday.
Malawi is currently commemorating 90 days against Human Trafficking.