Uganda is a country in East Africa that resides primarily on a central plateau that the rainforest mainly covers. Uganda is home to approximately 43 million people and a very young population, with an average age of 15.9 years old. Because of Uganda’s prominent position in Africa, it is an important destination for international tourism and trade. With large economic inequality and limited access to employment opportunities, Uganda’s population has grown economically vulnerable. This economic insecurity has lead to high rates of human trafficking in Uganda, as black market traffickers exploit vulnerable populations.
Human trafficking is the crime of using “force, fraud or coercion” on people with the aim of exploiting them for profit. The exploitation typically comes in the form of physical labor, acts of service or sexual favors. Traffickers use varied tactics to lure their victims, including violent force, manipulation, romance and promises of well-paying jobs.
Human trafficking has become a major problem in Uganda. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report from 2020, estimates determined that traffickers are currently exploiting 7,000 to 12,000 children through sex trafficking in Uganda. The report also outlines how human trafficking in Uganda primarily takes the form of forced physical labor and sexual exploitation.
Uganda lacks employment opportunities, quality education and social welfare systems to aid the nation’s young population. The lack of opportunities and access to resources has left young Ugandans who live in rural and underserved areas vulnerable to exploitation. Most young Ugandans emigrants go to the Gulf States to work as laborers, security officers, construction workers and other forms of untrained labor, putting them at risk of human trafficking syndicates. The criminal justice system in Uganda is not adequately prepared to handle international crimes of this scope and nature. Special expertise and the cooperation of the international community are necessary to apprehend and bring to justice human traffickers and their accomplices.
The Fight Against Trafficking
Currently, Uganda has not met the minimum requirements to eliminate human trafficking but has made significant efforts to do so. Necessary measures for Uganda to eliminate human trafficking are varied. They include greater scale and intensity of federal investigations into human trafficking and a focus on prosecuting traffickers on the judicial side. Outside of criminal justice, assisting survivors of human trafficking and allocating resources to NGOs that provide protective services to populations vulnerable to trafficking are both crucial to ameliorate the damage that human trafficking has done. To successfully combat the menace of human trafficking, the Ugandan government must prioritize both survivor resources and relentless prosecution of human traffickers.
Despite its difficulties, the Ugandan government has taken the initiative to combat human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Institute, which emerged in 2015, has dedicated itself to combating modern slavery by empowering law enforcement to stop traffickers. The Institute has met with Ugandan leaders and planned the creation of specially-trained anti-trafficking units dedicated exclusively to combating human traffickers and the criminal infrastructure that enables them. The Institute is currently working with the Ugandan government to conduct trafficking investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. In 2017, the Institute led the training of 175 judges, police and prosecutors in Kampala, Uganda. Working with the Institute, the Ugandan government approved a specialized Human Trafficking Department in the Ugandan police force. The Human Trafficking Department now has approximately 250 staff members across Uganda.
Progress & Future Efforts
In 2009, the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act became law in Uganda. Under the law, which prohibits sex trafficking of any kind and protects the rights of sex trafficking survivors, prosecution and conviction of traffickers have escalated considerably. In 2009, only a single human trafficker received a conviction in Uganda out of three prosecutions. In contrast, 2017 saw 50 prosecutions and 24 convictions of human traffickers and their accomplices in Uganda.
Nonprofits and advocacy groups have also played a role in the fight against human trafficking. Willow International is a nonprofit organization that Kelly Morgan founded in 2015, dedicated to fighting human trafficking in Uganda. After she visited the country and witnessed human trafficking firsthand, Morgan made it her mission to end slavery in Uganda. Willow International combats human trafficking in Uganda through advocacy, aftercare, partnerships, prevention and rescue. Hundreds of trafficking victims and survivors have benefited from Willow’s work, with an estimated 55,000 lives positively impacted through rescue, education and prevention efforts in Uganda.
These efforts by the Ugandan government and advocates from the world are promising and important initiatives. Legal reform and resources for vulnerable communities have helped Uganda’s underdeveloped rural population stand up to traffickers. Simultaneously, the Ugandan government has reaffirmed its dedication to fighting trafficking and cooperated with international organizations to implement its new initiatives. But Uganda continues to be an area with prevalent human trafficking, and as long as modern slavery continues in the country, the fight against exploited labor will and must continue.
– Jose Ahumada