"Hear their voices. Act to Protect"

Giving voice to victims of Trafficking in Persons

Pretoria, South Africa - Wongani was a single mother of two from Mzimba in Malawi before making the long trip to South Africa in search of making a better life. As many before her, she set off without knowledge of the challenges to be encountered along the way, relying on a transporter for safe passage.

"The demeanour of our once gracious and trusted hosts and transporters suddenly changed.  They began to bark commands at the women on the bus. They ordered us to look presentable. […]

We obliged, as we were people without any choice. We did the best we could under the circumstances […]

Once were presumed presentable and appropriate, we were ordered out of the bus and expected to line up against it. Like lambs to the slaughter, we filed out of the bus without a sound […]

An unbelievable event was unfolding right before me…Right before my eyes, simple codes of civilised behaviour seemed to have been suspended. A degrading transaction was unfolding and I was in the thick of it - an active participant in an auction of women […]

In my naivety, I wondered how a person in their good conscience would do this - sell another human being to the highest bidder.  I wondered where people's humanity had gone. […]

The transporters showed a chilling and unnerving inhumaneness. Without finding answers, I searched within myself for something that would justify such a gross violation of these women's rights."

Wongani was not the first to endure unimaginable hardships in the bid for a better life. Human trafficking is a crime and violation of human rights at a global scale, almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country origin, transit or destination for victims. While the number of men being trafficked has risen over the last ten years, women and children remain the highest proportion of victims.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons indicates that 51% of victims are women, 28% are children (20% female, 8% male) and 21% are male, with 69 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa reported to have detected victims between 2012 and 2014.

Despite improvements in the assistance and protection provided to victims and solid legislative progress putting traffickers behind bars, the average number of convictions still remains low.  Malawi, as a country with the majority of the population living below the poverty line, with low economic or development growth attributes to the want of those to leave their country in pursuit of better opportunities and livelihoods elsewhere.

It is under this framework that 'Fula Africa', a community based organisation providing advocacy and awareness raising on the risk of unsafe irregular migration, has put together a compilation of individual stories - The Wamama Chronicles - to give 'voice' to the accounts experienced by victims seeking 'greener pastures' in South Africa.

In partnership with UNODC, the launch of the Wamama Chronicles on 8 December was done as a continuation of UNODC's Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT) theme "Hear their voiced. Act to Protect".  The theme emphasises that we must listen to the voices of the victims to better prevent, improve and strengthen responses to human trafficking and most importantly, meet obligations to victims.  The book also serves as an awareness raising tool for the general public, law enforcement and other agencies that have a statutory duty to protect migrants vulnerable to trafficking and smuggling. In addition the launch served as a platform to enable discussions between South African authorities and Malawi officials on regional and trans-regional cooperation in trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. John Jeffery used his opening remarks to highlight: " there should be an investigation of the traffickers who violated the rights of Malawian victims who told their stories in the Wamama Chronicles […] trafficking in persons is transnational organized crime, so law enforcement's response needs to be transnationally coordinated".

Charles Ephraim Luhanga, Chairperson and co-founder of Fula Africa, followed by emphasising "the secrecy and mystery that shrouds trafficking and smuggling in persons in the region has bred disturbing gross abuses in plain sight that needs to be arrested […] Amongst other strategies, Fula Africa believes breaking the silence, standing up for and voicing for the vulnerable migrant women is an imperative.

Following the launch, the Department of Justice expressed commitment to follow up with the cases published to increase response and capacity to address individuals. It also enabled gaps to be seen in the current systems uses, which would need to be addressed to effectively respond to victim of trafficking.

"I cannot stop imagining how many more innocent and vulnerable victims there were and what more happened before and after me … I am absolute that the unnerving wanton pillaging of women's humanity and dignity today prevails and that the predators continue their activities with the impunity that I witness with my own eyes, body and mind"

Masozi, from Chief Chindi in Malawi.

To view the short documentary shown at the launch of the Wamama Chronicles, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWDZiuRazb4&feature=youtu.be