Recently, The EastAfrican newspaper reported that human trafficking is on the increase in the region.
Since travel between the East African countries is now easier with passports no longer required, the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are said to be the main transit locations for trafficking.
Although the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation and forced labour, there is also a growing market for human organs.
According to a report by Health Development Initiative, a Rwandan NGO, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of people rescued from human traffickers in the country in the last five years. This is mainly through public sensitisation in vulnerable communities.
In addition, government of Rwanda has increased efforts to curb human trafficking by investigating and trying suspected perpetuators.
The Uganda Police Force annual crime report indicated a steady increase of trafficking in persons with 177 cases being registered in 2017 as compared to 125 cases in 2016, indicating a 41.6 per cent increase.
According to Moses Binoga, the coordinator of the Ugandan National Counter Human Trafficking Taskforce, government of Uganda has made efforts in the last year that has significantly reduced the number of human trafficking through Entebbe airport.
However, it seems the criminal networks have changed routes and now use alternative routes such as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya to board flights to the United Arab Emirates.
According to the 2018 human trafficking report by the United States (US) Embassy in Kampala, government of Uganda does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
The ruling NRM government has not institutionalised anti-trafficking training among law enforcement and frontline officials and there are still reports of misclassification of cases and poor investigations.
Furthermore, it seems government did not investigate allegations of corruption impeding government oversight of labour recruitment agencies. Therefore, no action was taken.
There is suspicion among Ugandans that; 1) corruption in the labour recruitment agencies may lead to traffickers using alternative routes through different countries.
2) The hidden personalities behind the labour agencies are part of the untouchable elites in government.
3) If it is true that the lucrative labour agencies belong to certain powerful individuals in government, then it is highly unlikely that concrete efforts will be made to fight human trafficking through public awareness and sensitisation programmes.
The US Embassy 2018 human trafficking report also acknowledges that the national task force led by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs seems to be operating with a small budget, no strategic mandate and no authority to fund and propose improvements, hence being limited in its effectiveness in Uganda.
In a country where the youth make up majority of the population and with unemployment going through the roof at almost 85 per cent, labour agencies continue enticing desperate unemployed Ugandans with prospects of working abroad.
To some extent, they take advantage of government’s failure to create employment at home. The ruling government seems to be ignoring its responsibilities in honouring its commitment made in 2015 when the international community adopted the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda, especially the goal to target and combat human trafficking.
Ms Victoria Nyeko is a media commentator.