Today estimates determine that over 40 million people live in modern-day slavery, making it more rampant than it has ever been in human history. A significant amount of this trafficking takes place in Africa. These 10 facts illustrate what human trafficking in Africa looks like and highlights some organizations that are combatting it.
10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Africa
- Twenty-three percent of global human trafficking takes place in Africa. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, over 9.2 million people living in Africa are living in modern slavery. This makes up nearly a quarter of all human trafficking around the globe. When it comes to countries within Africa that have the highest amount of victims per 1,000 people, Eritrea has the highest prevalence with 93 victims per 1,000, followed by Burundi with 40 victims and the Central African Republic with 22.3.
- Nearly 40 percent of those trafficked in Africa are in forced labor. In Africa, forced labor is the reality for an estimated 37 percent of trafficking victims, according to the Global Slavery Index. Labor trafficking can take on many forms including work in agriculture, mining and fishing industries. Traffickers often force victims to work extensive hours in extremely dangerous conditions and potentially abusive environments with little to no pay.
- Over half of human trafficking victims in Africa are in a forced marriage. In Africa, traffickers force an estimated 63 percent of victims into marriage without their consent, many of whom are children. According to the International Labour Office, forced marriage of young girls and women can be in exchange for money, paying off debt or to settle disputes among families. Forced marriage can result in sexual and physical abuse, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. According to the Human Rights Watch, Africa and other governments included ending child marriage as one of the targets in the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Since then, UNICEF says several African countries have started to create and utilize preventative action plans and strategies to address child marriage.
- A lot is still unknown about human trafficking in special case countries. Libya and Somalia are both special case countries according to the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report. In other words, it is impossible to accurately measure the extent of trafficking due to extensive conflict in the area. It is Libya’s fourth consecutive year to have this classification. Violence and unrest in the region have led to a lack of authority and law enforcement, making it difficult to track human trafficking and combat it. Somalia has been a special case country for 17 consecutive years now, facing ongoing insecurity and a humanitarian crisis. Conflict in the area has continuously hindered efforts to prevent human trafficking.
- No African country fully meets the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. These minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that the U.S. Department of State set includes four main parameters. These include prohibiting severe forms of trafficking, punishing trafficking crimes accordingly and making serious efforts to eliminate modern-day slavery. While no African countries fully meet these minimum standards, 19 are on the Tier 2 Watch List. According to the U.S. State Department, this means they are “making significant efforts” to comply with the TVPA’s standards.
- Over half of those suffering exploitation for labor are in debt bondage. According to Anti-Slavery International, debt bondage is the most common form of modern slavery. Through debt bondage, traffickers force victims to work in order to pay off a debt. However, in most cases, traffickers make debts impossible to pay off by giving laborers insufficient compensation or none at all. According to the Global Slavery Index, debt bondage accounts for 54 percent of people exploited for their labor in Africa.
- Over 400,000 people in Africa are victims of sexual exploitation. This accounts for 8 percent of forced sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children around the globe. According to the International Labour Office, women and girls account for over 99 percent of these victims. 21 percent of all victims are children under the age of 18. These victims are men and women who traffickers have exploited for commercial sex. In some cases, victims may have voluntarily entered the industry but are not able to leave.
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the highest absolute number of human trafficking victims. Over one-quarter (26.3 percent) of all victims of human trafficking in Africa are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the U.S. Department of State, although the DRC government is not making significant efforts to end trafficking, it has made some progress. The government of the DRC has taken steps to prevent the use of child soldiers and has repatriated several trafficking victims. Congolese law has also criminalized all forms of sex trafficking, but only some forms of labor trafficking.
- South Africa launched the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons National Policy Framework. South Africa is not only a major destination for human trafficking but according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), many also consider it a transit country for trafficking in North America and Europe. In 2019, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in South Africa created a framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. This National Policy Framework (NPF) engages governmental organizations as well as civil stakeholders in anti-trafficking efforts and aims to strengthen the criminal justice system in regards to human trafficking in South Africa. This framework is a four-year initiative in collaboration with the European Union and the UNODC.
- People traffick thousands of children on Lake Volta. Lake Volta is the world’s largest man-made lake and is essential to Ghana’s expansive fishing industry. According to the International Justice Mission (IJM), thousands of children work on this lake, many of whom traffickers force to work against their will. Often, traffickers force these children to do dangerous tasks such as untangling fishing nets and deep diving. The majority of trafficking victims are 10 years old or younger. Violence and starvation are common among these young trafficking victims and many are hard for the government to track as they are working on unregistered boats. Since 2015, IJM has been able to rescue 164 victims from Lake Volta’s fishing industry and continues to partner with Ghana’s criminal justice system to bring traffickers to justice.
Human trafficking in Africa is a serious problem. However, with the help of organizations like the UNODC and IJM, awareness of modern-day slavery in Africa is increasing. The new legislation is helping to protect vulnerable populations and many African countries are joining the fight to end modern-day slavery.
– Megan McKeough