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Trafficking or modern slavery threatens Lesotho’s young people

Last month, the US state department published its latest report on human trafficking, which estimates there are 20.9 million victims of ‘modern slavery’ around the world at any one time.

The majority of victims are in Asia (11.7 million), but a growing number are in Africa, which has an estimated 3.7 million people in forced labour. The publication of the 2012 report comes 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery of Africans in the United States. In a personal address, the US Secretary of State and campaigner on the issue, Hilary Clinton, spoke about how there was still much work to do to abolish modern forms of slavery and help millions of “women and men, girls and boys” who are “trafficked” into the sex trade or other forms of servitude.

Victims of trafficking are defined as those being forced to work in the commercial sex trade (an estimated 4.5 million people), in other forms of forced labour (14.2 million) or in state-imposed forced labour (2.2 million). Whereas previous estimates were based on the movement of people, under the new definition of “trafficked persons”, victims do not need to be physically transported from one location to another to be considered as being criminally abused.

With ongoing pressure from the USA, many countries have introduced new legislation to comply with US and global anti-trafficking laws, with 29 countries being moved from a lower tier to a higher one. Most countries are ranked in Tier 2, judged to be in breach of anti-trafficking laws but making efforts to end those breaches. One such country is Lesotho in Africa, which passed anti-trafficking legislation early in 2011. However, much progress still needs to be made in implementing the new laws and prosecuting offenders.

Many women and children are subjected to domestic servitude within Lesotho or taken to neighbouring South Africa, where they can be forced into prostitution or made to work in prison-like conditions. IRIN recently spoke to one young girl who’d been lured to South Africa with the promise of help for her education. Once across the border, the fifteen-year old orphan ended up in a tavern, where she was expected to work from 7am until midnight for seven months. Since then, the girl has been returned home after a member of the Police Service’s Child and Gender Protection Unit got involved. But nothing has happened to the girl’s recruiter. Of the 40 trafficking cases reported in Lesotho during 2011, only one conviction was made under the new law.

With limited budgets in place to track and prosecute traffickers, many more people will be targeted in Lesotho. However, with an increase in the number of anti-trafficking campaigns, at least awareness of the issue is rising in the country and that offers some hope for change.

Laurinda Luffman signature