Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi are included in a group of "watch-list" countries that could eventually face US sanctions for failure to combat human trafficking, the State Department said in a report issued last week.
Uganda is also found to be "a source and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking," the report says.
But the Ugandan government's efforts to stem the trade in persons are judged sufficient for the country to be included in a higher tier that does not entail a looming threat of sanctions.
The new global survey shows trafficking to be widespread in East Africa. Family members often play a role in enslaving girls in the East African countries, the report finds.
In Burundi, for example, "some traffickers are the victims’ family members, neighbours or friends who recruit them for forced labour under the pretext of assisting with education or employment opportunities," the State Department says. "Some families are complicit in the exploitation of children and adults with disabilities, accepting payment from traffickers who run forced street begging operations."
A similar pattern is seen in Tanzania, where, the report says, "the exploitation of young girls in domestic servitude" continues to be the country's largest human-trafficking problem.
Increasing numbers of children are also being sexually exploited along the Kenya-Tanzania border, according to the report. In addition, "girls are exploited in sex trafficking in tourist areas within the country."
Boys too are forced into the sex trade in Tanzania and are made to labour against their will on farms, in mines and "possibly on small fishing boats," the report adds.
In Rwanda, "older females offer vulnerable younger girls room and board, eventually pushing them into prostitution to pay for their expenses," the State Department reports. "In limited cases, trafficking is facilitated by women who supply other women or girls to clients, or by loosely organised prostitution networks, some operating in secondary schools and universities."
Children from refugee camps inside Rwanda "are brought to Kigali, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan at the hands of other refugees or Rwandan and Ugandan 'sugar daddies' for use in the sex trade," the report says.
Citing the UN Group of Experts and Human Rights Watch as sources, the State Department also charges that Rwandan government officials "recruited children" for the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Many children in Kenya are exploited in prostitution for the sex tourism industry on the coast as well as in eastern miraa cultivation areas and in Nyanza's gold mines, the State Department says.
"Women, 'beach boys' and sometimes a child’s own parents push children into prostitution in coastal areas to receive payments from tourists," the report adds.
East Africans are also trafficked across borders in the region as well as to countries in the Middle East, where they are exploited as domestic labourers and sex slaves, the study finds.
"Licensed Kampala-based security companies and employment agencies continued to recruit Ugandans to work as security guards, labourers and drivers in the Middle East," the report says. "Some workers recruited by these companies reported conditions indicative of forced labour while working overseas, including passport withholding, nonpayment of wages and lack of food. In addition, Ugandan women are exploited into forced prostitution in Malaysia after being recruited for work as hair dressers, nannies, and hotel staff."
"Women and children from Uganda’s remote and underdeveloped Karamoja region are particularly vulnerable to domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced begging," the report adds.
Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi are among 44 countries included on a State Department trafficking "watch list." While these countries are said to be making efforts to come into compliance with international anti-trafficking standards, the number of their citizens victimised by traffickers is judged to be "very significant or is significantly increasing."
Eight black African countries -- Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sudan and Zimbabwe -- are included in a group of 21 countries worldwide that may now be subject to US sanctions for failing to make meaningful efforts to address severe trafficking problems.