Members of the Standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide in the Lower Chamber of Parliament yesterday started scrutiny of a government bill that seeks to enact a specific law against human trafficking and exploitation.
The draft law relating to the prevention, suppression, and punishment of trafficking in persons and exploitation of others was tabled in Parliament by the government, which wants to rigorously fight crimes such as taking advantage of prostitution as a pimp, coercing people into doing forced labour whether in Rwanda or abroad, or employing children among other offences.
The State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, told MPs that the government wants to fight cases where people are lured into leaving the country to do torturous work abroad or young girls who end up sexually being exploited.
"We know that human trafficking is a big problem and we need to think broadly as a country on how we can fight it, especially through prevention," Uwizeyimana said.
Lawmakers in the committee took turns to ask more questions about the bill as they seek to refine how it is written before tabling it in a plenary session of Parliament for further debate.
"What does the law provide for in case parents don't become vigilant enough to protect their children against human trafficking? How are we ensuring that parents have a responsibility to protect their children and that failure to protect them from human trafficking will be penalised by the law?" asked MP Iphigénie Mukandera.
MP Libérata Kayitesi wondered how the law will be implemented given that many crimes of that nature tend to be done in secrecy or for purposes of survival by some poor and ignorant people.
"Aren't we going to end up with a law that will be shelved while the practices continue unpunished? We are talking about punishing those who will deal in human exploitation and trafficking but how will we catch them?" she asked the minister.
Among other provisions, the bill stipulates the setting up of a task force for the prevention of trafficking in persons, the role of individuals and commercial carriers in the prevention of trafficking in persons, as well as how victims of trafficking will be protected.
The bill also proposes how trafficking in persons and exploitation of others will be penalised both at the individual level and at the corporate level in case the offences are committed by companies, associations, or any other organisations with legal personality.
"Human beings have to be different from animals," Uwizeyimana said, explaining that inhuman practices against people have to be penalised.
The penalties in line with preventing the crimes include punishing with an imprisonment of between three to five years those who will fail to report the offence of trafficking in persons.
Under the proposed law, penalties for private companies, institutions, associations and organisations with legal personality that are convicted of the offence of trafficking in persons or exploitation of others could reach a fine of Rwf100 milion.
The bill also proposes serious penalties for those who sexually exploit children and underage people through prostitution or pimping, with punishments involving a life imprisonment and fines of up to Rwf15 million.
"Everyone needs to take responsibility and fight these practices. Being poor doesn't mean that we have to do evil. Once human dignity is lost we are no longer human beings," Minister Uwizeyimana said, urging lawmakers to actively fight sexual abuse of children.
The draft law also proposes penalties for taking advantage of prostitution activities or other forms of sexual exploitation committed against another adult person with fines reaching Rwf5 million on top of an imprisonment of three to five years.
Under the proposed law, any person who is convicted of trafficking in persons is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten years but not exceeding 15 years with a fine of between Rwf 10 million to 15 million.
MP François Byabarumwanzi, who heads the parliamentary committee that is currently analysing the bill, said that the process will be fast-tracked so that the draft law can be soon tabled before the plenary for approval.