By Thabani Zwelibanzi
In a rare bit of good news from the United States, Zimbabwe has been commended for the significant efforts it has made in eliminating human trafficking, with the southern African country being ranked in Tier 2, an improvement from the last rating.
The “2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Zimbabwe”, which is compiled by the US Department of State and was released on Thursday, notes that the Zimbabwean government had demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period.
Tier 2 is for countries whose governments do not fully comply with the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
Among the positives was that a trafficker had been sentenced while Zimbabwe was also increasing cooperation and coordination with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to identify victims.
“The anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee (ATIMC) finalised and adopted a national referral mechanism (NRM), which outlined standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim identification and referral,” reads the report.
“It (Zimbabwe) also drafted and adopted implementing regulations, which gave legal force to key procedures set out in the NRM, empowered provincial operational task forces, and defined clear roles and responsibilities for front-line responders.”
But the report was quick to point out that Zimbabwe had not meet minimum standards in several areas.
The country came up with draft amendments to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Act, but so far there had been little movement in passing and adopting the proposed changes.
Compared to 2018, the report says, Zimbabwe had prosecuted and convicted fewer trafficking cases compared to the previous year; and there was a backlog of trafficking cases dating back to 2016.
In addition, the report says Zimbabwe identified fewer trafficking victims and did not provide adequate funding to its NGO partners on which it relied to provide protective services to victims.
The report has some recommendations for Zimbabwe such as that the country should amend its anti-trafficking law to criminalise all forms of trafficking in line with the 2000 UN Trafficking In Persons Protocol, increase efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including complicit government officials and internal trafficking cases and to provide financial or in-kind support to NGO service providers.
Furthermore, the report urges Zimbabwe to expand training for law enforcement officers on investigative techniques, allocate adequate funding for law enforcement to proactively carry out investigations and to train prosecutors and judges on trafficking and trafficking-related legislation.
Zimbabwe was also urged to establish safe houses for trafficking victims in each province and to develop mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) and other agreements to facilitate information gathering and sharing with foreign governments.
In the Zimbabwean context, trafficking in persons involves exploiting women and girls from towns bordering South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia in forced labour, including domestic servitude, and sex trafficking in brothels catering to long-distance truck drivers on both sides of the borders.
The US report said traffickers subject Zimbabwean men, women, and children to forced labour in agriculture and domestic service in the country’s rural areas.
“Traffickers exploit women in domestic servitude, forced labour, and sex trafficking in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” the report says.
“There were previous reports of Zimbabwean women lured to China and the Middle East for work, where they are vulnerable to trafficking.
“There were reports of traffickers luring Zimbabwean students to Cyprus and elsewhere with false promises for education via scholarship schemes where they are exploited in forced labour and sex trafficking.”