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Human trafficking: A women's issue – Women’s Watch
September 20, 2010

Women comprise at least 56% of the world’s trafficking victims. The feminisation of poverty and the feminisation of migration mean that women from poorer and developing countries are particularly vulnerable and the proportion of women trafficked is higher in these countries. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and ties with the illegal arms industry as the second largest, after the drug-trade.

There are more people being bought and sold at this moment than in the entire 300 year history of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Its victims are men, women and children in search of better prospects in life. Lured with promises of better jobs or education, they often end up in prostitution or forced labour.

Definition: “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." Note: The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation shall be irrelevant. Trafficking is not necessarily cross border – it can take place within a country.

Two major forms of trafficking in this region are:

  • sexual exploitation
  • forced labour

Statistics: 12.3 million adults and children in forced prostitution and or forced labour or bonded labour around the world. [Taken from the USA Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 10th Edition, 2010]


The above-cited report describes Zimbabwe as a country of origin, transit and destination for men, women and children subjected to trade in persons. “[The government] has provided anti-trafficking training to some public servants but officials make no apparent effort to proactively identify victims of trafficking. Some members of government security services forced men and boys to perform hard labour in the diamond fields.” According to the report Zimbabwe did not record or release information on the numbers of trafficking investigations or prosecutions, or convictions over the past year. Public awareness seems sparse. The media does not seem to view it as a serious threat in Zimbabwe, hence it has received very little coverage.

An activist in children’s rights told Women’s Watch that: “Until it happens to someone you know, human trafficking is something we never think of. We fight for children’s rights to education, health and shelter among other things but we have honestly never dwelled on the threat of human trafficking. There is no readily available information on it. If one is privileged enough to have access to the Internet then one has chances of stumbling onto information about trafficking in persons. We need more information and we need to know if there are any hotlines one can call if they feel they are in danger of being trafficked or if one is aware of a trafficking syndicate.”

UN Takes up The Fight Against Human Trafficking

Ten years ago the United Nations negotiated the international standards against trafficking in persons. Since then, some countries that denied the existence of trade in humans now work to help eradicate it

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime: This was adopted by General Assembly resolution on 15 November 2000, and is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. It entered into force on 29 September 2003.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children: This protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime was adopted by the General Assembly and entered into force on 25 December 2003. It is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition of trafficking in persons. The intention behind this definition is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offences that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases. An additional objective of the Protocol is to protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons with full respect for their human rights.

The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) mobilizes State and non- State actors to eradicate human trafficking by a three-pronged approach of prevention, protection and prosecution:

  • reducing both the vulnerability of potential victims and the demand for exploitation in all its forms;
  • ensuring adequate protection and support to those who do fall victim; and
  • supporting the efficient prosecution of the criminals involved.

What Can be Done in Zimbabwe

1. Zimbabwe needs to sign and ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children

2. Pass legislation to outlaw human trafficking

3. Have a clear policy on human trafficking:

  • ensure statistics are kept
  • raise awareness
  • take urgent steps to prevent it
  • provide for the prosecution of traffickers
  • rescue those who have been trafficked

Proposed Legislation against Human Trafficking in the Pipeline

The Zimbabwe Government is working on a Bill on human trafficking, but the draft is not yet available. Women’s Watch will circulate it as soon as it is available. It is important that the proposed Bill addresses the issue of minimum standards required to eradicate trade in humans.

Note: Zambia has an anti-trafficking law, a Cabinet approved Plan of Action and an inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee.

UN Minimum Standards for Governments

  • The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish such acts.
  • For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault.
  • For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offence.
  • The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.

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