A scheme of trafficking Ugandan women to Asia has attracted the attention of activists who say Uganda's government is not doing enough to protect vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation.
A report released last week said that more than 600 Ugandan girls are currently trapped in Malaysian prostitution rings.
The human traffickers take advantage of lax immigration laws between Uganda and Malaysia, where Ugandans do not need a tourist visa. Another contributing factor is poor enforcement of a law against human trafficking passed in 2009.
“It is very serious,” said Hajah Noraihan, the Uganda’s honorary consul to Malaysia. “I am told every day ten girls are brought into Malaysia by unscrupulous pimps.”
She said there are reports of pimps even taking children to Malaysia.
Noraihan explained there are about six hundred Ugandan women in Malaysia, including 57 who are either in detention or jail.
The Ugandan diplomat said a bilateral arrangement between Uganda and Malaysia where Ugandans do not need visas has made it very easy for the traffickers to take women to Malaysia without raising suspicion.
“But of course, after the latest scenario, the Malaysian authorities are tightening the process. They are even doing raids [to arrest the suspected culprits],” she said.
In October 2011, Malaysian police busted a sex slave ring and rescued 21 Ugandan women forced into prostitution. Initial investigations showed the women were promised jobs as maids in homes and hotels with a salary of $1,000 a month. Instead, they were forced to become "sex slaves" to pay off travel fees and other costs totaling $7,000.
Authorities say nearly all of the prostituted girls have college degrees but have failed to find jobs in Uganda, where unemployment is high.
Noraihan said the solution should start in Uganda.
“A concerted effort should be made to sensitize the public,” she stressed. “Tell your brother, or sister, or anybody from your family who is going to travel for work. Check first whether it is authentic or not.”
She added, “It should be stopped here, in Uganda, at the source. Because if we stop the supply, the demand will also dwindle.”