Human Trafficking in Africa Case Study: Somalia, Libya, and Eritrea

Human Trafficking in Africa Case Study: Somalia, Libya, and Eritrea

Recently, graphic images of individuals in Africa being held captive in Libya for auctioning circulated in the media. The emotive pictures portrayed people with severe bruises tied with ropes and others held at gunpoint. The horrendous reality of the slave trade was revealed to hundreds of millions of readers and viewers when CNN shared undercover footage of slave auctioning in Libya. One may assume that the 13th amendment abolished slave trade or human trafficking but unfortunately, that is not the case. Human trafficking is a major concern in the modern day society due to its prevalence worldwide. The vice is among the top three criminal industries, with the other two being weapons and drugs. Each year, a growing number of people involuntarily enter this exploitive market. This paper explores the issue of human trafficking in Africa with a special focus on Somalia, Eritrea, and Libya.

Defining the Concept

Human trafficking, according to the Global Peace Tiles Project, is the sale and transport of people for profit against their will (n.d.). Anti-slavery International further explains that the activity includes recruitment, transporting, and harboring people in an exploitive situation that involves the use of violence, coercion, deception, or forced labor (2018). Human traffickers hold and transport people against their will. These individuals end up being inducted into to forced labor, prostitution, criminality, marriage, organ removal, domestic servitude and forced begging (Anti-Slavery International, 2018). However, the most common reasons are sexual exploitation and forced labor. It is also important to note that human trafficking occurs within and across borders, and it involves men, women, and children. It thrives in poverty and other global disparities. People of regions where employment and education opportunities are inadequate, and cases of refugees, displaced persons, and runaways are common are vulnerable to human trafficking. Indeed, people in search of greener pastures fall in the hands of smugglers who promise to take them across borders but instead lead them to captivity. In other cases, these vulnerable groups are tricked into applying for non-existent jobs and make travel arrangements, only to find themselves in the hands of human traffickers.

Outlining the Problem

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), human traffickers enslave close to 24.9 million people, 50% of which are children under 18 years old (Anti-Slavery International, 2018). The problem of buying and selling human beings has been persistent and considered illegal and unfair. This issue is not only limited to developing countries but has also permeated developed nations. Forced labor is prevalent in various industries in Bangladesh; women are sexually exploited in Los Angeles, Uganda has child soldiers, and in China, illegal organ harvesting is rampant. Furthermore, Europe’s capital has forced beggars while military camps around the world have been associated with brothels (Tonnessen, 2016). Kapstain (as cited in Tonnessen, 2016) explains that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity and the number of people being trafficked today is higher than ever before. A21, an anti-trafficking organization, approximates that only 12% of people held by traffickers are rescued (Tonnessen, 2016). However, data reveals a diminishing trend in the number of women being trafficked. One-third of the human trafficking victims never cross the border, and those who do so are helped by the smugglers. It is important to note that smuggling and trafficking are distinct concepts. Smugglers transport people across the border, usually with the subject’s consent while trafficking involves exploitation and does not always involve crossing borders (Tonnessen, 2016).

Human trafficking is an illegal act in most nations because it violates human rights. Nevertheless, Tonnessen notes that 9 nine countries do not have policies against the vice (2016). As such, approximately 9 million people are not protected against human trafficking by any binding legislation. African states are hotbeds of slavery due to economic limitations. Since Africa is a developing continent, opportunities for employment and education are limited, forcing individuals to leave to pursue improving their lives and their families. Some people, especially women and girls, escape their countries due to social forced marriage and female genital mutilation among other issues. Ethnic fractionalization is another major causal factor of human trafficking in Africa. According to Alesina et al. (as cited in Tonnessen, 2016), 20 out of 21 most ethnically fractionalized nations are African. These republics are highly populated thus intensively fractionalized ethnically. Tonnessen contends that in a highly fractionalized country, minority groups are likely to experience various forms of discrimination, which makes them vulnerable to human trafficking. Ethnic fractionalization is also a strong determinant of a country’s state development, the supply of public services like education and infrastructure, investment, quality of government and economic growth. These factors directly influence human trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Somalia

Somalia has been known as a source, transit, and destination region for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor (United States Department of State, 2018). However, obtaining and verifying information on trafficking in the nation is difficult due to invisible trafficking routes in the country. However, it has been identified that traffickers are likely to use routes from south-central Somalia through Puntland and Somaliland (IOM, 2011). In Somaliland, trafficking victims are majorly women and children who are exposed to forced domestic labor, prostitution, and even organ removal. These victims are transported to Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates among other nations (IOM, 2011). The south-central region of Somalia experienced devastating civil war for two decades, which left it in poor economic status. Consequently, people became vulnerable to exploitation as they searched for economic stability. The vulnerability has also been exacerbated by acute poverty.  Furthermore, many people in south-central continue to be displaced by the disputes. They fled out of the country to neighboring countries like Kenya, being exposed to contact with human traffickers (IMO, 2011). Human trafficking victims are also transported to and from Puntland. The victims from this region are trafficked across the border through the Gulf of Aden to countries such as Yemen, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Children are more susceptible to international trafficking for organ removal than other age groups.

Human Trafficking in Libya

Libya is a destination and transit region for trafficked women and men from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The victims are harbored or transported for forced labor and prostitution (United States Department of State, 2018). The country is also a thriving child recruitment zone. It has been documented that various Libyan militias, some of which are allied to the government for law enforcement, recruit children under the age of 18. These victims are also reportedly subjected to other forms of exploitation, including sexual violence. The situation has been compounded by economic instability and limited governmental intervention. Libyan trafficking victims are subjected to extreme violations of human rights, which are perpetrated by non-state armed groups and government officials. The perpetrators verbally, physically, and sexually assault the victims, abduct them for ransom, kill, and detain them (United States Department of States, 2018).

Libya continues to serve as the primary departure zone for migrants, among them unaccompanied children, who pass through the Mediterranean from North Africa. The migrants traverse Libya in search of employment in Europe. The United States Department of State reports that 147,600 migrants left Libya as of 2017 December and over 3000 died in capsized boats. The country has numerous networks of trafficking and smuggling that operate from Somalia, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, and Chad (United States Department of State, 2018). Smugglers sometimes abandon migrants in the desert or southern cities, where there is a greater risk of human trafficking. Migration routes to Libya are also characterized by prostitution rings and brothels, which expose women and girls from Sub-Saharan to forced prostitution. For instance, Nigerian gangs recruited girls and women from rural regions and transported to European countries for prostitution.

Human Trafficking in Eritrea

In Eritrea, men, women, and children are exposed to forced labor and a lesser extent, sex trafficking across the border. The nation, according to the United States Department of State (2017), has established national laws and mandatory programs that may drive citizens to leave it. Therefore, the law subjects the citizens to human trafficking, majorly in Sudan, Libya, and Ethiopia. For instance, Proclamation 82 (1995) mandates that persons between ages 18 and 40 enroll in a compulsory service of 18 months in military forces. On completion of the program, they are also expected to perform active military and development tasks for 12 months (United States Department of State, 2017). Consequently, Eritreans flee their country to escape labor and seek economic stability in Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden. Women and girls from this country also travel the Gulf States for domestic work but are caught by traffickers in South Susan, Israel, and Sudan.

Prevention Measures

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the European Union, works with communities in Puntland, Somaliland, and south-central to curb human trafficking activities and help the victims of the vice (Global Peace Tiles Project, n.d). Somalia also has established policies that criminalize human trafficking and all the related activities. In 2017, Libya invited Italy to help fight human trafficking particularly in its waters (Anti-slavery International, 2018). This effort complements a set of Libyan laws that criminalize sex trafficking. However, the nation does not have legislation that addresses labor trafficking (United States Department of States, 2018). Eritrea has a joint EU-Africa law that regulates migration from Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. However, according to various organizations, this policy needs urgent reform due to the prevalence of human trafficking. Additionally, the Republic has established various laws against human trafficking including Article 605 (United States of State, 2018) that prohibit trafficking of women and girls.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity worldwide. It is the act of harboring or transporting people against their will in exchange for profits, labor, forced sex, criminality, and organ removal among others. Poverty, global disparities, and ethnic fractionalization are major causal factors of the vice. Individuals in such conditions are compelled to migrate within and across borders to seek economic stability, which subjects them to human trafficking. African countries including Eritrea, Somalia, and Libya are the notorious zones of human trafficking. While these countries have laws against human trafficking, they are ineffective due to the prevalence of the issue. Therefore, there is an urgent need for reform of these laws to prevent human trafficking. The intervention of the international community also needs to be intensified to curb human trafficking and help the victims.




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