East African states do not fully comply with international minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, and are susceptible to exploitation by criminal rings that conduct modern slavery, a new report says.
The Trafficking in Humans Report 2016 by the US Department of State, released on Thursday, places countries in different tiers, with those that fully comply with international standards to combat human trafficking at the top.
Although Uganda and Kenya do not fully comply with international standards, they are better placed than other EAC members — and the report says they have made significant efforts to comply with the standards.
According to the report, Rwanda and Tanzania failed to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons in 2015.
Rwanda and Tanzania are a source and, to a lesser extent, transit and destination countries for trafficking women and children.
There have been instances in Rwanda of older women forcing younger girls into prostitution, according to the report, while some refugee girls residing in Rwandan refugee camps are sold for sex.
“Some Rwandan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking in the agricultural and industrial sectors, and domestic work in East Africa, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, China, the US, and Europe,” the report states.
In Tanzania, the report adds, unscrupulous individuals “manipulate the traditional practice of child fostering — in which poor children are entrusted into the care of wealthier relatives or respected members of the community — where they are subjected to forced labour.”
The government of Rwanda has lambasted the report for “characterisation” and being politically motivated.
“What this report says about my country has nothing to do with reality or facts on the ground. It has much more to do with politics serving some purpose, played by some known groups and interests. It has more to do with politics,” Rwanda’s ambassador to the US, Mathilde Mukantabana, said in Washington on Friday.
She said the report was “vague and subjective,” with the aim of downgrading Rwanda.
“Our efforts to provide for our brothers and sisters from the region, who sought refuge in various parts of Rwanda, are based on our long-standing values rather than any external reports,” Ms Mukantabana said.
“This announcement is a deliberate misrepresentation of how these issues are being addressed in Rwanda. It ultimately damages the international effort, to which Rwanda is no less committed than the US, to protect people, especially women and girls, from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. I categorically reject this report, its conclusions and the false allegations to support them,” she added.
The report places Burundi and South Sudan in the second last tier, with governments that do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Somalia, Libya and Yemen have the lowest standards and political will to overcome human trafficking, the report says.
No African country is placed in the first tier, where countries fully meet the minimum standards placed by the Trafficking Victims Protection Acts. A Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking and made efforts to address the problem.
The minimum standards include whether the government of the country vigorously investigates and prosecutes acts of severe forms of trafficking in persons, and convicts and sentences persons responsible for such acts; whether the government of the country protects victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons; and whether the government of the country monitors immigration and emigration patterns for evidence of severe forms of trafficking.