From babies being kidnapped at birth and killed for their organs, to Ugandans sitting on death row in China after being exploited as drug mules – members of the national taskforce on human trafficking heard just how deep the scourge runs at their official inauguration in Kampala yesterday.
Though Uganda enacted its Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act in 2009, since then, any interventions have been scattered and underfunded.
“Traffickers have often taken advantage of this fragmentation of interventions and uncoordinated responses and have exploited the vulnerabilities of the very people we seek to protect,” said Hon Minister of State for Internal Affairs James Baba in his speech to officially commission the taskforce.
“This is a situation that cannot continue and that government is now addressing.”
Lack of communication
When headlines broke more than two months ago of more than 600 Ugandan women having been trafficked into sexual exploitation in Malaysia, a rash of activity followed.
The taskforce was hurriedly assembled, while a small delegation of Ugandan MPs led by Ssembabule Woman MP Anifa Kawooya travelled to Malaysia last month.
The parliamentarians returned with stories of more than 40 Uganda women languishing in Malaysian prisons, but no official report of their findings. Meanwhile, sources in Malaysia said the MPs failed to keep meetings with relevant officials who could have helped in their investigations there.
Eunice Kisembo, the spokesperson for the taskforce said what was supposed to help their investigations along actually set them back.
"The MPs did not share their findings from Malaysia trip, and it delayed the release of our report,” she said.
Across every sector
Kisembo insists that a comprehensive report detailing everything from the domestic trafficking of Karamoja street children to the harboring of foreign sexual slaves in Uganda will now be out next week, and that the taskforce will release a comprehensive action plan “within one and a half months”.
For now, the overwhelming task remains the coordination of the multitude of players on board.
“You find five people training one organization, and no one building capacity for the others,” Kisembo said.
This gap should now be addressed in part by a coalition of civil society organizations, managed by the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABAROLI).
“Uganda is known for drafting excellent legislation, but does little on implementation,” said the program’s manager, Dorah Mafabi. “Services required by the act are not in place.”
State Minister Baba called for the NGO coalition to be represented on the taskforce, to streamline much-needed service provision such as repatriation and rehabilitation.
Helen Namulwana, who spoke on behalf of the Ugandan Child Rights Network, said that complicity in human trafficking extends across Uganda’s health sector, judiciary, child homes, immigration officials, and more.
“All Ugandans are facilitating this vice,” she said.