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Uganda Faces Uphill Battle Reining in Traffickers

FILE - A Ugandan street child begs as traffic passes by, in Kampala, July 17, 2014.

A recent report by the U.S. State Department highlighted the problems Uganda continues to have with human trafficking. While efforts are being made to stop the practice, realities such as social media and rampant underemployment are getting in the way.

Human trafficking in Uganda usually starts with a message from a distant friend, offering easy work, plenty of money and free transit to exotic locations. Many Ugandans have found these promises hard to turn down.

Shakirah, who asked that her last name not be used, was told by a friend who had moved to the United Arab Emirates that a job was waiting for her in Dubai. When she arrived, she found something entirely different.

“So after some time my friend disappeared, after something like three days. And then came in a lady. The lady was like “I'm the one who invested my money in you to come here. And the only way to pay me back [is] you have to sell of yourself." I was like, 'No, I can't do that.' So they tortured me so much, they denied me food, I slept outside the house for three weeks," said Shakirah.

Shakirah was kept in a house with 14 other girls, all from Uganda. Eventually she was able to formulate an escape plan with two other girls and made her way back home.

It is a story that is familiar to Moses Binoga, the head of Uganda's Counter Trafficking in Persons Office and his deputy coordinator, Agnes Igoye.

The State Department praised the task force for raising awareness about human trafficking and providing training for police and immigration officials. In addition, the prosecution of traffickers has gone up.

Binoga says to continue this trend, they must expand the capacities of the task force.

“Now we are looking at creating an operational national agency which will encompass the operational work in a coordinated way under one umbrella... Other than simply being able to do the monitoring we can do the real operational work. The investigation, the rescue, we do the support of the victims and also carry out the awareness. That is the vision we are driving to," said Binoga.

Igoye urges Ugandans to heed the warning signs.

“The red flags are if someone says, 'I'm going to give you the money which will purchase your passport. I'm going to give you the money which will purchase your air ticket. Which will buy you food, you pay me when you get your first salary.' That's a red, red, red flag. Never leave the country when you have a debt," said Igoye.

The task force is hoping those warnings, along with cooperation among Ugandan law enforcement agencies, will reduce human trafficking in Uganda.