Every year, the country of Zimbabwe faces the ever-present issue of human trafficking. The targets of human trafficking in Zimbabwe and the rest of the world are typically women and children whom the traffickers exploit as free labor for their businesses. This business of human trafficking is especially prevalent in Zimbabwe, rooting itself into the country similar to weeds. However, there is hope as Zimbabwe can pass legislation to suppress human trafficking.
Targets of Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe
Every year, the United States Department of State conducts reports on the various levels of human trafficking in countries across the world. The U.S. Department of State uses three different criteria to determine a country’s level of human trafficking.
- “Tier 1: Countries and territories whose governments fully comply with the minimum standards.
- Tier 2: Countries and territories whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
- Tier 2 Watch List: Countries and territories whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards and the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions.”
As of 2023, the U.S. Department of State recognizes Zimbabwe as a Tier 2 watch list. According to the report, human trafficking in Zimbabwe uses the victims of trafficking for various reasons including, mining for gold and diamonds, sex trafficking, cattle herding, domestic service and agriculture. About 71% of children who are victims of human trafficking work in the agricultural industry of Zimbabwe, where the children labor on tobacco, sugarcane and cotton farms. Another part of working in the agricultural sector is forestry and fishing, in which children harvest and pack goods.
The report also states that children ages 9-14 are used as “nannies, housemaids, and gardeners in urban areas and mining communities,” where employers withhold wages and deny the children access to school, as an incentive for the children to work. Zimbabwe also has multiple traditional practices which make young girls subject to trafficking including trading girls for food or money and using girls as “replacement brides” for deceased family members.
The Failure of Zimbabwe’s Legislation
In 2019, Zimbabwe released a three-year plan with hopes of reducing human trafficking. Strategies named in the plan to lower human trafficking include:
- To improve access to services for victims of trafficking (VOT)
- To reduce bribery corruption in trafficking in persons (TiP) cases
- To offer specialized continuous training for investigators
- To facilitate the provision of appropriate shelter and psycho-social support services to identified VOT
- To enhance cooperation at international levels
Each of these strategies fundamentally failed, which the U.S. Department of State goes into detail about in their 2022 report on Zimbabwe.
VOT access to services has not seen significant improvement. In fact, the Zimbabwean government has still held no trials for 17 VOT from a case in 2016, regardless of the victims urging for a trial. The report states that bribery is still highly prevalent too. The U.S. Department of State has reported one example of this in which border officers accept bribes in exchange for allowing unauthorized crossings over the border.
The US Department of State’s Report on Investigations
The report also finds judges accepting payments of “farms and houses” to turn a blind eye in court. While 500 officers and 10 immigration officers have received training on trafficking, the government did not provide effective procedures to investigate cases. The lack of proper procedures results in law enforcement dishing out wage infractions or immigration violations, instead of human trafficking violations.
Shelter for VOT is lacking as well, in which traffickers kidnap children from one of the government-run homes and force the children to work on citrus farms in Mazowe. Cooperation at the International level requires improvement as well. One key way Zimbabwe is not in cooperation at the International level is concerning how they write their laws on human trafficking. Zimbabwe’s law regarding human trafficking, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Act, is not consistent with International law by way of not defining “exploitation” adequately. This leaves Zimbabwe without “comprehensive prohibitions of trafficking crimes.”
Improvements by the Zimbabwean Government
The Zimbabwe government hopes 2023 will be a year of improvement for the human trafficking situation. In April 2022, the Information Minister of Zimbabwe, Monica Mutsvangwa informed the media that the government will introduce a Trafficking in Persons Bill. The contents of this bill are focusing on strengthening the current laws regarding human trafficking in Zimbabwe. This bill also contains the definition of “service exploitation.” Introducing this definition will allow for much less leeway for human traffickers, as there will be strong legal guidelines on what is technically human trafficking.
The situation of human trafficking in Zimbabwe is deep-rooted and corruption has accelerated it. While the level of human trafficking in Zimbabwe is not ideal by any measure, it is seeing improvement. With the hopes of new legislation on the horizon, Zimbabwe could see massive changes in 2023 which would drastically improve the situation for the country.
– David Keenan