Examining Human Trafficking in SomaliaHuman trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or a commercial sex act. Today, human trafficking is a modern term for slavery. Mayumi Ueno, the counter-trafficking project manager at the International Office for Migration (IOM)’s Somalia Support Office, said the scale of human trafficking in Somalia is unknown. Somal women are often trafficked to Kenya, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates to be sexually exploited.

How Human Trafficking in Somalia Happens

Every day, Najib Jama Abdi’s sister got up and walked to school. One day, she did not return. The Abdi family heard from the media that she had been trafficked to Somaliland. “By Allah’s mercy she was saved,” said Najib Jama Abdi to The New Humanitarian. Organizations like the Somali Police Force’s criminal investigations division 40-officer Counter-Trafficking and Organized Crime Unit work to rescue girls who have been kidnapped off the street and sold into human trafficking, like Abdi’s sister.

Human Trafficking in Somalia is a widespread issue. Women and girls are sometimes lied to and offered job opportunities, marriage or education in far-away places and then sold into sex slavery. In 2009, IOM began the Counter-Trafficking Project for Somalia. In Puntland and Somaliland, its activities included promoting awareness and informing citizens of the risks and dangers of being trafficked through media such as billboards.

History of Trafficking in Somalia

For decades, military dictator Siad Barre committed widespread atrocities, which effectively destroyed Somali civil society. Then, in May 1991, Barre was overthrown. The east desert region of Somalia declared itself the “Republic of Somaliland” after the overthrow of Barre. Somaliland now has a population of 3.5 million people, a functional political system, its own currency and a police force.

Before 1991, the federal and regional laws criminalized slave labor and certain forms of sex trafficking. Then, after Barre was overthrown, No progress was reported again until September 2017, when a human trafficking law was drafted and endorsed by Somaliland.

What’s Happening Now

Officials said they are concerned about the increasing amount of human trafficking in Somalia, specifically in the region of Somaliland. This region lies in the south-central region of Somalia. As a result, the lack of government in Somaliland makes child trafficking easier for traffickers to get away with. In November 2017, the city-state of Puntland in northeastern Somalia made valid a human trafficking legislative framework. It was made of new criminal procedures, penal codes and laws that specifically prohibit trafficking. The authorities recorded two trafficking cases that involved six individuals in 2020, during the period the U.S. government reported on the issue.

The Trafficking and Smuggling Task Force was the government’s anti-trafficking coordinating body. However, slow steps are being taken by the government to mitigate human trafficking in Somalia. Nevertheless, new anti-trafficking initiatives are moving in the right direction to end human trafficking in Somalia.

Madeline Drayna
Photo: Flickr 

Human Rights in Somalia: A Fight for Rebirth
Since being thrown into anarchy following the coup against President Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia’s political terrain has seen slow and stagnated progress. Dubbed the Horn of Africa, Somalia has been attempting to rebuild itself after more than two decades of political instability and violent infighting. Human rights in Somalia are in need of vast improvements.

The country’s efforts have been widely disrupted by insurgent uprisings and terrorist groups, which have flourished in an environment of reduced economic security and weak state control. Egregious violations of human rights in Somalia have occurred from the violent uprisings as well as the inability to access adequate food, water and shelter.

In March 2017, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared Somalia’s drought a national disaster. With an estimated 43% of Somalians living below the poverty line, the dire situation has only been exacerbated by poor climate conditions. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicted that the drought had put further strain on the 6.5 million Somalis who already face resource insecurity due to years of violent conflict.

In the dry and sparse terrain of the most rural parts of Somalia, many young girls and women alike have been targets of gender-based violence as they are forced to venture further out in search of sources of food and water. UNICEF officials fear that the scope of the issue is even larger than is known, as not all cases have been reported. With gender and human rights in Somalia at continued risk, there have been fervent calls for further international engagement with the issue.

The U.S. has been quick to respond to the emergence of insurgent groups and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Experts have called for a multifaceted approach towards eradicating poverty and improving the record of human rights in Somalia. The Human Rights Watch amongst others has articulated that military intervention in the form of drone strikes can only be a part of a much more robust strategy, especially one that does not put innocent civilians at such high risk.

On an international level, 2017 saw the U.N. Migration Agency launch a project, assisted by one million dollars in donations by China, to have emergency relief resources reach Somalia’s most vulnerable. On a domestic level, the 9th Parliament served its full-term after two decades, with the election in 2016 resulting in 17% youth and 26% women MPs, which marked a significant step forward for Somalia.

Although there is much left to be done, with an internationally sponsored government intact and multi-faceted relief projects on their way, there appears to be more hope for stability than there has been in decades for human rights in Somalia.

Sydney Nam

Photo: Flickr