11 June 2019

Namibia: Human Trafficking Under the Spotlight

Bringing up somebody else's child and making him/her work for you while keeping them out of school is human trafficking.

This came to light during a capacity-building workshop held on Thursday at the Inner-City Lutheran Church in Windhoek West.

The workshop, held under the auspices of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), was organised by the Salvation Army Namibia, and attended by various members of society.

A baseline study on human trafficking conducted by the gender equality ministry in 2009 states that human trafficking occurs transnationally and within Namibia.

Another report by the US department of state titled 'Trafficking in Persons' last year said Namibia is a source and destination country for children subjected to sex trafficking or forced labour. The report is released on an annual basis.

Highly affected regions are Zambezi, Kavango East and West as well as Ohangwena, particularly at the Oshikango border post, the report said.

The workshop pointed out that some children who sell sweets on the streets or some women engaged in sex work, as well as some manual workers at farms, could have been victims of trafficking.

Police officer Celestine Alweendo said some parents send their children away with the hope of getting benefits, only to be turned into slaves, while some mothers push their daughters into sex work for money.

She explained that promises of better opportunities and lack of knowledge contributes to human trafficking in Namibia.

"You cannot trust anyone these days. It is those who are close to you - your uncles or relatives - who do that to you or your children," said the officer.

Another issue discussed was that some cultures perpetuate human trafficking when they make children stay at home and do household chores, instead of attending school.

Education and the consistent raising of awareness can thus assist communities to fight human trafficking.

Penoshinge Shililifa, the deputy director of research and legislation at the gender equality ministry, said although human trafficking can happen to anyone, those in rural areas are most vulnerable.

According to her, there have been over 1 000 cases of human trafficking in Namibia over the years, including forced labour at farms.

She said people in key departments have been trained by the ministry on how to deal with victims of human trafficking, but shelters meant to house gender-based violence and human trafficking victims in the regions are in a bad state.

"The government is financially unable to equip or hire staff for these shelters, and we have tried to outsource them, but potential partners have been asking too much money," she observed.

Shililifa said churches and non-governmental organisations must come on board to assist, but not as a way to make money.

She also expressed concern about the way in which some stories are reported in the media as they sometimes give away key information.

The deputy director highlighted the government's efforts since the first study was done in 2009 to assess the human trafficking situation in the country.

Shililifa added that there is a top-level ministerial committee approved by Cabinet to fight human trafficking, a second one consisting of executive directors and a third one comprising officials from offices, ministries and agencies of the government.

Florence Situmbeko from the International Organisation for Migration said it is a myth that human trafficking only happens to the poor and vulnerable.

She said there are a lot of adverts on scholarships and job opportunities which are just used as a lure for trafficking people.

"Look at some institutions which offer opportunities that are too good to be true. If they are using a Gmail account, then they are probably not genuine," said Situmbeko. According to her, highly educated women are at risk, especially if they apply for jobs that offer more money than what they would be making currently.

"Do some research before you apply, accept or go anywhere for any opportunities, because you never know. This is organised crime," she stressed.

CCN's acting secretary general, Ludwig Beukes, said there are many churches in Namibia which are also used as fronts for human trafficking.

"At these overnight prayers or gatherings at the churches, it is where recruitment happens. Some sisters or brothers are being sent abroad for alleged work opportunities, or sent to sell their kidneys and stuff like that," stated Beukes.

He said although he cannot reveal names of the churches, the pastors involved are well-respected members of their communities.

Captain Edouard Zola of the Salvation Army said their church has made several surveys in South Africa which showed people fall for scams, such as apparently winning trips.

He also showed the participants a video of a man who lost his sister to human trafficking in South Africa after they were told by someone they trusted that she would be a waitress, only for her to be forced into sex work.

"It is as easy as that. It can happen to anyone," said Zola.

Namibia has made efforts since 2009 when the fight against human trafficking started with a baseline study by the gender equality ministry.

Laws in place to fight human trafficking are the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 2004, Combating of Domestic Violence Act, and the Trafficking in Persons Act 2018.

In 2016, the country started commemorating the Trafficking in Persons Day on an annual basis on 30 July.

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