Every year, thousands of people, majority women and girls, fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad.
Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
And Rwanda is no exception.
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) labels human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, as a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.
It is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, 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, position of vulnerability, the giving or receiving of payments, benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purposes of exploitation.
Exploitation include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The UNODC 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons indicates that more than half of the 2,580 victims detected in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose form of exploitation was reported, were trafficked for forced labour.
According to Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Peter Karake, the Commissioner for Interpol in Rwanda National Police (RNP), owing to the fact that human smuggling is a global concern that requires immediate attention, the force has put in place preventive measures.
“The measures are both internal and external in nature. We have laws in place to implement, awareness campaigns to enlighten Rwandans on the nature of the problem and their role in preventing these inhuman acts, but also the external frameworks with other police institutions and organizations to locate and rescue victims wherever they may be,” said ACP Karake.
RNP currently enjoys close to 25 bilateral and about ten multilateral ties with police institutions and organizations, respectively.
This is in addition to at least 30 local memorandums of understanding signed with all the districts, partly to raise awareness against human trafficking and people smuggling.
Human trafficking is the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of forced labour, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others whereas people smuggling implies the procurement, for personal financial or material gain, of the illegal entry into a state of which that person is neither a citizen nor a permanent, fraudulently.
“Through these partnership structures, we were able to rescue at least 88 human trafficking and people smuggling victims since 2014 – majority girls – and arrested a number of traffickers. Some of the victims were intercepted even before crossing our borders,” says ACP Karake.
In March 2017, Police in Burera District intercepted and arrested a 20-year old woman, who was trafficking four young girls aged between 11 and 15 years, to Uganda.
Available statistics also indicate that between 2009 and 2013 alone, RNP handled over 36 cases involving 153 victims including either Rwandans or foreigners in transit route intercepted in Rwanda, including 51 Bangladeshis.
Overall, 90% of the victims are females and 82% of them aged between 18 and 35.
Majority victims are rescued from Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa, Oman, China, Dubai, Malaysia and other Asian countries,” explains ACP Karake.
By then, other two girls were set to return home soon from Malaysia after facilitating the Malaysian justice in the prosecution of two people suspected to have trafficked them, he disclosed.
The said court case of the two suspected traffickers resumed later mid March 2017 in Malaysia where the girls were set to give their testimonies before they started their journey back home.
ACP Karake told Taarifa that due to the good cross-border partnership with other police forces, majority of suspects are tried in countries where they are arrested.
Currently, RNP also has an anti-human trafficking directorate, partly charged with locating and rescuing victims as well as ensuring that suspects are put on the Interpol log – I-24/7 communication tool – of wanted criminals, which ACP Karake says, have facilitated the process.
Over the years, the government of Rwanda strengthened programmes to combat and prevent trafficking, including through awareness-raising campaigns, social service programmes to identify and assist women and children at risk of trafficking, and increased law enforcement training.
Supt. Belline Mukamana, the director of the anti-GBV and child abuse, says that educating women and girls on the ills of human trafficking forms part of their community outreach programmes, as a preventive measure.
Human trafficking, under articles 250 to 272 of the Rwanda penal code, is punishable with a sentence between seven and ten years and fine of Rwf5 million to Rwf10 million.
If it is committed at the international level, the sentence ranges between ten and 15 years and a fine of Rwf10 million to Rwf20 million.
On the regional level, under the framework of cross-border cooperation, operation Usalama is conducted every year – for the past for years – in all Eastern and Southern countries under their umbrella organizations EAPCCO and SARPCCO, respectively, partly to fight human trafficking.
For example, in 2017, a two-day operation was conducted concurrently in about 30 EAPCCO and SARPCCO member countries including Rwanda.
All the mentioned efforts may not yield immediate results, but the blueprint of the strategy indicates the room for human trafficking is narrowing exponentially, and if the momentum is maintained, the country could see a tremendous decline in the crime.