Human trafficking in Namibia

18 November 2020 | Columns

Martha N.T. Hasheela



News headlines in recent months have shown that people are going missing at the speed of light. Our country is no longer safe, especially for women, although men and children are not spared either.

Every time a person is reported missing, one cannot help but think of the worst. That their body is buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of a small town or in a riverbed. Other times, it could be attributed to human trafficking. Did you know that children are being subjected to forced labour in agriculture, cattle herding, domestic services and prostitution? Most of us do not really know what constitutes human trafficking and some could be committing it without even knowing.

Is it right to employ a male minor illegal immigrant as a cattle herder and not pay him? Is it right to call your impoverished 13-year-old niece to the city and offer her to older men for sex in exchange for money in order to sustain yourself? These are common scenarios that are occurring within our society, and typical examples of human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery.



What is human

trafficking?

Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion.

Victims of human trafficking can either be adults or children. It is important to note that victims of human trafficking can never give consent to being trafficked.

A decade ago, human trafficking predominantly involved women and children being trafficked from a poor country into an affluent country for sexual exploitation.

Of late, human trafficking has branched out, and it involves men as victims; and exploitation has extended to forced labour, forced marriages, selling of body parts, etc.

Human trafficking, which was once known as an international crime, and which seemingly was never a problem in our country, has now increased domestically at alarming proportions.

The first human trafficking case in Namibia was only reported in 2010, and between 2010 and 2018, the Namibian police had only recorded 39 cases of trafficking. In August 2015, the High Court handed down the country's first conviction under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which made trafficking in persons a criminal offence in its own right.

The numbers are likely to be more, because of the lack of knowledge on the crime by the majority of our society. Most of the victims are from poor educational backgrounds, impoverished social backgrounds and marginalised communities. Among Namibia's ethnic groups, the San and Dhemba children are particularly vulnerable to forced labour on farms or in our homes. It is also important to note that the majority of these victims usually do not have identity documents or are illegal immigrants.

In rare instances, it can just be an ordinary person like you and me who falls victim to the crime.



Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated human trafficking in Namibia. Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwa emphasised that global slavery is a brutal criminal enterprise, and traffickers are not hesitating to cash in on the chaos, including increasing poverty and hunger, unleashed by the pandemic.

Human trafficking is often a hidden crime; therefore it is difficult to detect how widespread human trafficking is in Namibia, which then results in it being difficult to address.

Namibia has many unofficial border crossings that are used to smuggle illegal immigrants into the country.

And some of these illegal immigrants fall victim to gender-based violence or human trafficking, or commit crimes here and then flee back to their countries.



Laws

Before 2018, the main statute against trafficking was the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 2004 (POCA), which criminalises the trafficking in persons under its Section 16. In 2015, trafficking in children was addressed by a chapter of the Child Care and Protection Act.

Parliament subsequently repealed this chapter, along with the provisions on trafficking in POCA, to consolidate all of these provisions on the trafficking of adults and children in the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2018 (CTPA). The aim of CTPA is to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, provide measures to protect and assist victims, criminalise trafficking and to give effect to Namibia's international obligations.

The government of Namibia has useful laws on human trafficking, and it has fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

Namibia is the only country in Africa to achieve a Tier 1 ranking this year, joining 34 other countries, for the enactment of the anti-trafficking law and training of frontline responders, as well as increased awareness campaigns and criminal prosecutions.