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Trafficking of Ugandan Women to Asia on the Rise

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Douglas Mpuga

An international agency has expressed concern about the increased trafficking of Ugandan women to Asia.  The International Organization of Migration (IOM) says victims of trafficking whom IOM has helped to return to Uganda have reported being subjected to sexual slavery, rape and torture.

Ugandan sources suggest there may be as many as 600 trafficked Ugandan women currently in Malaysia, with between 10 and 20 more arriving each week.

Initially IOM had anecdotal information, said Zafarullah Hassim, the Trafficking-in-People communication specialist at the iom in Uganda.

“There were no studies but ad hoc indicators,” he said.  But the raids in Malaysia at the end of 2011 led the IOM to take another look at the issue, and that’s when the Uganda consul in Malaysia came out and said there were 600 Ugandan women there and another 60 in jail – arrested by the Malaysia’s G-7 unit.

Hassim said he wasn’t sure why Malaysia was the preferred destination of the traffickers, but added, “We have brought 14 women back from Malaysia, but some of them had gone through China and Thailand before arriving in Malaysia.”

“I think one of the reasons is job and study opportunities that are abundantly available in Malaysia. The traffickers are utilizing that opportunity because many of the women are taken under the guise of a job or [as] a student.”

The trafficking is done by “respectable people” in Uganda who are targeting good-looking, young girls, said Hassim, citing stories the IOM gets from the clients the organization brings back.

“They target girls between the age of 17 and 22 years. They hunt at universities, and hair salons,” he said, again quoting the girls who have come back.

He said that according to these girls, even in Malaysia there are houses owned by Ugandans where they keep these women before they are taken to Nigerian clients living in Malaysia, China, or Thailand.

In 2009, the government of Uganda enacted the Uganda Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act.

But, Hassim said, nothing much has been done to implement this act. Even the US government’s 2011 report on worldwide human trafficking mentions ten agencies in Uganda suspected of involvement in human trafficking. “None of these [organizations] were investigated; no prosecutions. Even the government has re-issued a license to one of these agencies”

As a result of the IOM raising this issue, he said, the Speaker of Uganda’s parliament, has requested the minister of Youth Affairs to reintroduce in parliament the issue of human trafficking.

Hassim, however, admitted that the [human trafficking] issue is a complicated one. “People are very organized with connections here in [Uganda], China, Thailand and Malaysia. They train traffickers to tell lies in transit and as they enter each country. They also have proper passports and visas.”

He called on the Uganda government to help educate the general public on how to differentiate between a genuine working and study opportunity and the tricks of these traffickers.

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