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From poverty to servitude abroad

By Morris Komakech

Curbing human trafficking requires collective societal effort by State and non-state actors

Iappreciated reading Daily Monitor’s editorial of July 15, 2014 on this subject and the clarification made by Jacob Siminyu from the Directorate of Citizenship and immigration Control about concrete actions being taken to curb human trafficking at national level.

Understandably, the discourse of human trafficking is a very complex one and it cannot be effectively resolved at the policy level only although such interventions are imperative.  The global human trafficking and trade in humans for labor or any other purposes formed the basis of one of my Global Health studies. Indeed, the common pre-exposing risk for humans to be harvested for trafficking from any society starts with the social conditions in which they subsist.

To fully understand the complexity of this problem, one needs to undertake a socio-ecological framework approach to systematically unpack the pervasive nature of this lucrative vice. The socio-ecological framework would allow a critical analysis that focuses on individual level challenges, interpersonal (such as relationships, cultures etc), community level loopholes, societal factors and public policies that make human trafficking possible. Another level of critical analysis would be the supranational level where national, regional and international instruments, policies and efforts can converge to curb human trafficking.


However, it is essential to emphasize that poverty, lack of skills and broken social safety nets – simply put; the social determinants of health – are also the determinants of vulnerability to being trafficked. In Uganda today, voluntary trafficking is taking place because of nationwide despair among the elites.

The rate of unemployment among youths and the semi-elite Ugandans inevitably makes them very susceptible to being trafficked.  In 2013, 62% of the Ugandan youths were reported unemployed and yet 78% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30 years. Almost half the Ugandan population is below the age of 24 years. The prospect of experiencing unemployment makes the youths to develop interests for future prospects outside the country. The process of fulfilling such ambitions also makes them a very vulnerable group.

A study by Amy Hagopia and colleagues in Uganda, which was published in 2014 in Health Affairs Journal, revealed that one in every four Ugandan health professionals aspired to leave Uganda for any destination where they could improve on their professional outlook. But a much more important study conducted among Ugandan nursing students, which was published in 2008 by Lisa Nguyen et al, revealed that 70% of nursing students expressed desire to work abroad after graduation and another 24% revealed ambitions to work elsewhere in Africa upon graduation. In all these studies, participants cited poor pay, poor working conditions and not being valued fully for their services.

A group like these, comprising of the country’s most qualified workforce, are the primary victims of human trafficking because they are driven away by chronic failures at home. Most of them are not aware that their credentials are not valued in Europe or North America until they get trapped there. Majority of them voluntarily register with agencies to be ferried abroad for menial jobs, which subsequently transforms into forced labor and being held in servitude.

While Siminyu was upbeat in his enumeration of the high-level interventions being developed, there are many gaps beneath policy instruments. There is need for systematic and collaborative interventions designed with various state and non-state actors at all levels to stabilize society.

On top of the agenda should be the redistribution of resources, snubbing corruption, creating conducive work conditions, setting a minimum wage, affirmative action for young women to build a pathway to employment, providing vocational training to youths and ensuring that diverse opportunity ventures are opened for youths to practice innovation.

Lastly, public policies targeting human trafficking should be formulated with the focus on removing inequalities and inequities at all levels of society. Key among these are building individual skills and community capacity, and establishing an inter-agency coordination efforts to curb human trafficking.

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Mr. Komakech is a Ugandan Global Health Researcher and Analyst. Contact: mordust_26@yahoo.ca

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