Human Trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa
Human trafficking is a global issue that affects nearly every country. Countries can experience trafficking in two different ways: either the victim can originate from that region, or the trafficking circle might function there. In Sub-Saharan Africa, victims have come from over 60 countries, some located outside of the African continent. This issue affects the human race as a whole rather than just the lives of a specific gender or ethnicity. Due to widespread corruption in Africa’s legal system, many consider human trafficking a low-risk organized crime, a belief that has resulted in trafficking becoming one of the most profitable illegal enterprises. Here is some information about human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Situation

Although most people associate human trafficking with sexual exploitation, in Sub-Saharan Africa, less than one-third of trafficking victims that the authorities have identified experienced capture with this intention. Instead, both male and female children, which make up more than half of Sub-Saharan trafficking victims, worked in forced labor. Parents typically volunteer these children, who traffickers have forced into physical labor, as a result of poverty and ignorance of the trafficker’s true intentions. Typically, parents expect that their child will return with wages that would improve the family’s economic stature, yet in many scenarios, these children receive very little pay and become indentured into slave labor in places like Mauritania.

Three different types of human trafficking occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Child trafficking, which includes farm labor and domestic work, is the most common type of human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa. It tends to occur in countries like Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Togo. They supply to Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo and Nigeria. Although less likely, traffickers may transport women and young people outside the region to engage in explicit sexual behaviors. Additionally, traffickers may transport other women throughout the region to contribute to the domestic sex industry.

Trafficking has had an overwhelming global impact. According to the United Nations record, 2.5 million people are either engaging in forced labor or sexual exploration at any given time. Of that figure, 130,000 people, or 5.2%, are from Sub-Saharan countries. Thus, within those African regions, the human trafficking industry has generated an income of $1.6 billion, demonstrating that it is a massive criminal enterprise.


The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has added two related protocols, one being the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which is the first legally binding instrument defining human trafficking. “The Protocol contains provisions on a range of issues, including criminalization, assistance to and protection for victims, the status of victims in the receiving states, repatriation of victims, preventive measures, actions to discourage the demand, exchange of information and training, and measures to strengthen the effectiveness of border controls.”

The other protocol that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime created is the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. This specific protocol aims to prevent the smuggling of migrants as well as the exploitation that usually follows, by promoting cooperation between States parties to protect the rights of these migrants. Both of these treaties establish international models for other laws against human trafficking and those countries that sign agree to oblige by the necessary international actions.

These treaties have also inspired other initiatives, such as the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), implemented in 2007. Even better is that almost every country located in Sub-Saharan Africa has signed this initiative except for Somalia and Zaire. UN.GIFT.HUB says that its mission is to “mobilize state and non-state actors to eradicate human trafficking by reducing both the vulnerability of potential victims and the demand for exploitation in all its forms.” The fight against human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa is expanding and seeing countries unite together to protect one another provides hope to those who may perceive it as a hopeless situation.

– Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr

Given its position among continental Europe’s poorest countries, it is unsurprising that poverty in Macedonia remains a persistent, pervasive issue. In a July 10 meeting, seven Central European member states called on the E.U. to accelerate the accession process of Balkan countries to the body, citing security concerns. The prospect of E.U. membership has been a main driver of reform in the region since the end of the Balkan wars, with Serbia and Montenegro currently in accession talks and Albania and Macedonia recognized as candidate countries. As the western Balkans look toward European Union membership, Macedonia must further pursue measures to eliminate poverty within its borders by addressing the following causes:

Despite significant economic growth over the past ten years, the rate of unemployment in Macedonia remains high, sitting between 25 and 31 percent until it fell to 23.7 percent in 2016. Though employment is growing, labor force participation has declined, and those who are unemployed remain that way for extended periods of time. Of the unemployed population, 81 percent of people have been so for the long term. In addition, labor force participation is declining, particularly among the younger population. The World Bank reports that this decrease has been occurring gradually since 2012.

Rising real wages, growth in unskilled labor markets and increasing relevance of education programs had a notable impact on decreasing poverty in 2016. Poverty in Macedonia has declined from 34.3 percent in 2013 to 30.7 percent at the end of last year. As the 2016 programs continue to grow, the rate is expected to continue to fall.

Government corruption 
While corruption is an internationally recognized vulnerability of the countries in the western Balkans, citizens of Macedonia have placed it among the most important issues facing their country, ranking it just below unemployment and poverty. Exposure varies significantly across regions, but, on average, 10.8 percent of Macedonians aged 18 to 64 have been directly involved in corruption or exposed through a member of their household. Such high prevalence is concerning, but what is more important is that nearly a third of bribes are offered by citizens without solicitation from public officials. Bribes requested by officials, directly or indirectly, account for about 50 percent of all those paid.

The fact that citizens are willingly devoting what is often a significant portion of their resources to corruption indicates a fundamental lack of faith in the government’s operating ability. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that 50 percent of citizens who participate in bribery intend to hasten procedure, 12 percent do so to ensure an outcome, 11 percent pay to receive preferential treatment and 12 percent pay bribes that lack a specific purpose. Improving the functions of Macedonia’s institutions will ultimately work to eliminate corruption, as the population begins to trust their bureaucratic services. However, corruption within the government remains a pervasive issue and must be addressed before such reforms can occur.

Political tensions
Macedonia has faced a tumultuous quarter-century since the breakup of Yugoslavia, leaving the state prone to internal political conflict which has led to instability and poverty in Macedonia. Macedonia’s democracy lacks healthy political-party competition, which has forced its government to often act as a clientelistic service rather than a presiding body. There has also been a resurgence of nationalism in Macedonia, prompting many international media outlets to declare a new ethnic crisis in the spring of 2017. While this so-called crisis ultimately culminated in unrest similar to many other periods in Macedonia, tensions along ethnic lines persist and are regularly exploited by the international community.

Macedonia’s ongoing efforts to bolster its labor force through developing opportunities for job-relevant education demonstrate that the state has recognized the importance of cultivating its human capital as a method for raising its international status as a trade partner and regional player. As the future of Europe moves toward the center of the world stage, the transparency of the Macedonian government and the country’s internal tensions will be under ever-increasing scrutiny, which will likely push Macedonia to seek improvement in both of these areas. While there is still progress to be made toward eliminating poverty in Macedonia, it is clear that the state has recognized the areas where it can improve, and, as pressures to join the E.U. continue to mount, Macedonia will only have further incentive to work toward this goal.

Alena Zafonte

Photo: Flickr