Mercy Raphael (not real name) has no peace of mind as she is haunted by her past. She trusted a Mzuzu-based business woman who came into her life as a good Samaritan but ended up selling her to a dangerous gang in South Africa, where she was used as drug dealer and sex slave. THOMAS KACHERE writes.
Trafficking in persons is a heinous act and has been an issue of global concern, as it puts boys, men, girls and women’s lives in danger. Reports indicate that three out of four girls and women are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
It was in 2018 when Mercy Raphael decided to repeat form four after failing to get good grades in Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations.
However, she did not have any money on her and, to compound matters, she was being forced out of the family house.
Raphael said she was disowned by her father on grounds that she was born when he was in South Africa.
One day, she decided to search for a job in Mzuzu City. Unfortunately, she did not secure one, even after moving up and down the city for hours.
When she sat down for a brief rest, a business woman approached her and offered her a job as a shop attendant after listening to the story about challenges she was facing.
She said the woman took her to her house, where she was offered accommodation.
She said she started working, and, after some days, the woman offered to take her to South Africa to teach her how she used to order goods.
Raphael indicated that, after her travel documents were processed, they left for South Africa.
“When we arrived in South Africa, we were picked by someone who was driving a black Range Rover. The driver was a man but I cannot recall how he looked because he picked us at night.
“We arrived at a multi-storey apartment, where we found a number of men. I did not suspect anything as I thought, ‘maybe this is how she does her business’. The following day, the boss lady asked for my cellphone so that she could transfer her photos into it. She took it to her room and told me that she would give it back to me later in the morning. When I woke up in the morning, she was nowhere to be seen and I started asking people in the compound about her whereabouts,” she said.
Raphael said she started hoping for the best, including that the woman would come back.
She even thought that, on their own volition, the men in the compound would give her answers to her questions.
She was in for a surprise.
“No one provided the answers I was looking for. All they could say was that she would be back to the compound in no time. Days turned into weeks and, before long, I was taken to another apartment where I was told that I would be transferring drugs to places I would never know. I was shedding tears every day but the people were cruel. They could beat me up if I talked or asked for anything. The next day I was given an injection and fell unconscious for hours. Whenever I woke up, I could not remember anything they had done to my body.
“I was told that whenever they injected me with whatever medical drug it was, I was like a dead person. I later discovered that they used to insert illegal drugs into my genitals and transport them to whatever place using my body. I suspect they used to tell those that were carrying me that it was a dead body. This happened for almost two months until I became very sick. Later, they accused me of not being productive to them; so, they handed me over to other people who took me to another place where I was always being locked up and used as a sex slave,” Raphael said.
She said one of the people told her that she would never see the woman who took her from Mzuzu in Malawi to South Africa as she had handed her over to them to do as they pleased with her.
“I was having sex with men of different races with and without protection according to their choice. I knew I would be dead because whenever I fell pregnant, those who were holding me were bringing their specialist doctor into the house to induce an abortion. I can tell you that I had unsafe abortions a number of times until I became very sick. One day, a guard within the compound looked at me and said ‘quickly go out of the gate. You have a few minutes to do this. When you get out, ask anyone you meet on the way to assist you’. That is how I escaped from my captors,” she said.
Raphael said she was picked by a white man, who took her to the hospital, where medical personnel handed her over to South African police and Home Affairs Department officials who processed documents that enabled her to return to Malawi.
The human trafficking survivor, who has been in need of counseling services, is, therefore, appealing to well-wishers to help her with school fees so that she can return to school.
Media Association Against Trafficking in Persons Chairperson Memory Chisenga said Raphael’s issue should serve as a reminder to policymakers and stakeholders that Malawi is facing a silent crisis; that of human trafficking.
Chisenga said it is unfortunate that some vulnerable women and girls are taken advantage of by people they mistakenly trust.
“People should be very careful and learn not to trust other people quickly, especially those that come as good Samaritans and offer to help girls and women secure employment. There are people who are trafficked for organ removal and others that are trafficked and turned into sex slaves,” she said.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services spokesperson Wellington Chiponde said it is against the laws of Malawi to take part in the trafficking of persons.
“We are urging people to desist from taking part in trafficking in persons because the law is very clear that anyone who is convicted of this offence is liable to imprisonment for 14 years without the option of a fine.
“If one is convicted of child trafficking, he or she is liable to 21 years imprisonment without the option of a fine,” he said.
Chiponde urged community members to report to police anyone they suspect to be involved in trafficking in persons.
As at now, police in districts that border countries such as Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique have intensified anti-human trafficking efforts. Working with community members, they are leaving no stone unturned in sealing all loopholes so that human rights can be respected.
In Mulanje District, which is one of the districts that are on the border with Mozambique, police officials have been implementing public sensitisation programmes aimed at sensitising people to issues such as trafficking in persons.
Mulanje Police Station spokesperson Gresham Ngwira said they were equally concerned with cases of trafficking in person.
“Trafficking in persons is a violation of people’s rights. Victims include girls, women, boys and men. We, as police, have a mandate to enforce laws and that is why we conduct sensitisation campaigns and hold sensitisation meetings as one way of teaching people about how they can detect elements of trafficking in persons,” he said.
Ngwira added that, to make headway on the issue, they work with non-governmental organisations, citing Love Justice Malawi as one of them.
However, for gains to be registered in the battle against human traffickers, citizens have to put their hands to the wheel. Otherwise, victory will remain a far-fetched dream.