Human Trafficking in Africa: Still an Elusive Nightmare

Fredrick Ngugi May 06, 2016
A Kenyan Police lorry intercepted ferrying illegal immigrants from Ethiopia. Photo (

Despite all the tough laws put in place, human trafficking in Africa has remained one of the most lucrative businesses on the continent, with statistics showing that millions of children are trafficked within and outside Africa every year.

But even with all the statistics, the actual scope of this illegal business remains a mystery, partly due to the lack of a clear definition of what human trafficking encompasses. This has led to flawed estimates and inconclusive legislation.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse, of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

UNODC interprets exploitation to mean, at a minimum, the exploitation of prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Modern Slavery in Africa

The notorious transatlantic and Saharan slave trades may have been ended over a century ago, but a modern form of slavery still thrives in the shadows and beyond the reach of the law. At a national level, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa and Ethiopia lead in human trafficking.

A recent report by the US State Department also ranks Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya as some of the major sources and destinations of humans trafficked for forced labor and sex in Africa.

According to UNODC, human trafficking in Africa has been facilitated by unending conflicts, humanitarian disasters and vulnerability of people in crisis situations. The organizations also cite corruption among law enforcers and at seaports and airports as another major reason for increased human trafficking in Africa.

Poverty, lack of education and unemployment in Africa are the other main factors causing human trafficking to flourish in the continent. Desperation has left many Africans vulnerable to human trafficking as they look for opportunities abroad.

Lack of awareness about the whole subject of human trafficking has also contributed largely to its progression. Many victims of sex and forced labor trafficking don’t know they are victims of the crime.

Efforts to End Human Trafficking in Africa

Although many African governments are reluctant to admit that the business of human trafficking is rife in their respective countries, several efforts have been made to avert the situation.

In 2006, the African Union adopted the Ouagadougou Action Plan, which reaffirms the international instruments to combat human trafficking and encourages African countries to formulate legislative, administrative and institutional measures to help end human trafficking.

The action plan requires African states to come up with both national and regional action plans that will allow for comprehensive and coordinated interventions.

Currently, Nigeria is said to be the leading African nation in the fight against human trafficking. It was also the first country in Africa to enact an anti-trafficking law in 2003, in addition to forming an agency that’s wholly dedicated to dealing with human trafficking.

South Africa is also making significant strides in combating human trafficking as it has already introduced a number of measures to this end. In 2013, the country passed the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act No.7. The Sexual Offenses and Related Matters Act 32 of 2007 also deals with crimes related to human trafficking in South Africa.

Despite all these measures, it is clear that still a lot of concerted effort is needed to successfully deal with human trafficking in Africa. The problem requires collective response, not just in Africa, but across the world.

Last Edited by:Deidre Gantt Updated: June 19, 2018


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