Lisa Kachuta (not real name), a 15-year-old orphan, travelled all the way from her home in Gokwe to Harare to work as a maid after her current employers had requested her from her grandmother-cum-guardian.
This was the teenager’s first ever long-distance trip, travelling to Harare through the night, to settle in her new workplace in Greendale.
Although her employers had agreed with her grandmother that she would be paid $60 it turned out to be a falsity.
“After the first month, they said they would only give me $25 and safe keep the remainder for me,” she recalls. “They said they would give me the rest when I would be visiting my grandmother.”
Her duties started around 4am when she had to wake up and boil bathing water for the family before electricity was switched off, prepare breakfast, clean up the house and do the dishes and laundry. She only retired to bed around 10pm.
There was also a strict regime of rules, and among the cardinal sins was watching television and being too familiar with neighbours.
Lisa, in her rustic innocence, accepted the terms and conditions. Soon, her employer started accusing her of being sloppy in her work and of stealing.
“She accused me of stealing her son’s pair of trousers,” she says. “Then she said she would use part of my pay, which she had been keeping, to restore the trousers.”
The troubles that Lisa endured are typical of many domestic workers and in some extreme cases, unknown to them and their employers, can constitute human trafficking for purposes of exploitation.
Although there is no single agreed definition of human trafficking, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) national counter-trafficking officer Tapfumanei Kusemwa said trafficking can be “local” although many have tended to regard it only as a cross-border activity.
Kwenda said in many ways, internal human trafficking for purposes of exploitation was tantamount to “modern-day slavery” and the practice could go on undetected mainly because Zimbabwe does not have a law specifically meant to deal with trafficking.
In the last four years, the IOM in Zimbabwe has dealt with only 38 proven cases of trafficking, whose hot spots are Beitbridge, Chipinge, Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Plumtree and Nyamapanda.
Kusemwa said border towns were a hive of activity and “tourism draw cards” like Victoria Falls were often targeted because of sex tourism.
The tragedy in Zimbabwe, however, was that information on the scourge was scant and no proper investigations were conducted to secure convictions.
“Information is scant and these cases are poorly investigated,” said Kusemwa, “so most of them are just considered cases of suspected smuggling. We (in Zimbabwe) lack the necessary expertise and conceptual clarity.”
Harare, as a metropolitan, is mainly used by transit groups as it is regarded a safe haven to transfer people.
Unlike Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique have anti-trafficking laws while South Africa has an anti-trafficking bill.
Cases of trafficking in Zimbabwe are dealt with basically as incidentals to other crimes under laws such as the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Law Codification (Reform) Act.
The crimes attendant to trafficking include forgery of identity documents, violation of immigration laws, money laundering, extortion, torture, tax evasion and sexual crimes.
Opening the third session of the seventh Parliament last year, President Robert Mugabe made reference to the Trafficking in Persons Bill, which will criminalise human trafficking in accordance with the Palermo Protocol to the Anti-Organised Crime Convention.
Zimbabwe is now regarded as the weakest point in the Southern African region regardless of its central location.
“What we need is a comprehensive law that covers all aspects of the crime (of human trafficking),” he said. “There’s need to treat crimes at the levels they deserve because these are no longer ordinary crimes anymore.”
IOM senior counter-trafficking assistant officer Nyararai Kwenda said some traffickers often used fake identities, a ploy to confuse the victim.
Kwenda said they were working with government to ensure the crafting of a law that specifically deals with trafficking of persons.
“As an organisation, we are working with the government, advocating for a specific law that deals with the problem. We are having workshops with Parliamentarians and we have taskforces in different ministries to lobby for comprehensive legislation in line with the Polena and the AU (African Union) Plan of Action for 2006,” he said.
Kusemwa said they appreciated the interest shown by the police in dealing with the problem, and they would be training police officers to sharpen their skills in dealing with cases of human trafficking.
“We have bi-lateral cooperation with the Home Affairs ministry and our relationship is good. We’ll do a training session with the police,” he said.
Topping the list of trafficking victims are mainly women and children recruited to work in brothels in foreign countries, domestic servitude, ritual purposes and forced marriages.