by Rumbidzai Chakamba
When 23 year old Zimbabwean domestic worker, Fungai Dema first came to Botswana, it was not by choice. In 2010, Dema was brought to Botswana at the tender age of 15. She says her mother simply told her that there was a woman looking for a domestic worker in Botswana and that she had arranged for her to go to in a bid to “help the family.”
Soon after this announcement her new employer sent money for her to travel and be smuggled across the Botswana border from her rural home in Zvishavane. She says though she was scared of travelling alone at such a young age she was also hopeful that she would find a better life in Botswana.
However, upon arrival her employer informed her that as she had crossed the border illegally she could not leave the house as she risked being arrested and deported. In addition to this she did not pay her a salary but instead informed her that she would save the money for her and send it back to her mother in Zimbabwe as a lump sum at the end of the year.
Dema further adds that her living conditions were terrible as her employer monitored the amount of food she ate and hardly gave her money for toiletries and personal items.
“It was not a nice place, she (her employer) would not give me anything and she would get angry if she saw me eating a lot or resting. She always wanted to see me working.” Dema eventually left after working for two years.
“I met another Zimbabwean lady who worked next door when I told her I was not getting paid she said she would help me find another job. When she had something, I told them I had to leave to attend a relative’s funeral in Zimbabwe. I did not go back there,” she said.
According to the 2017 United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report stories such as Dema’s are becoming more common in Botswana.
The report identified Botswana as “a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.”
It also highlighted that “undocumented migrant Zimbabwean children might be particularly vulnerable to trafficking in Botswana,” but sadly noted that “there has been no comprehensive international or domestic study of trafficking trends within the country.”
The good news however, is that the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has also taken note of the need for more information on such trafficking trends.
SADC, with the support of the European Union through the Regional Political Cooperation (RPC) Programme has supported several member states, including Botswana, in developing principal and subordinate legislation on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), and in implementing awareness raising, research, and data management activities on the crime.
They have also established a regional database on TIP in collaboration with The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The database seeks to be the central point for statistics, legislation and related information on TIP in the SADC region.
In line with this intiative, the SADC Secretariat has launched a booklet on regional lessons learnt on TIP. The booklet, titled Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Persons: lessons from the SADC Region, aims to share lessons from SADC Member States in an effort to improve the regional response to the crime.
In her remarks, at the launch of the booklet the Permanent Secretary in Botswana’s Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Ms Segakweng Tsiane, highlighted that the booklet “will serve as a good tool for SADC Member States to further build and improve capacity in response to the crime of human trafficking.”
“In so far as devising strategies and policies to address human trafficking, we have recognised the importance of data capturing and data sharing within the region. The continued deployment of the SADC Regional Trafficking in Persons Data Collection system across member states is an encouraging step,” she added.
Also speaking during the launch, the Director of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs at SADC Secretariat, Jorge Cardoso, also stressed the importance of proper systems and mechanisms to effectively detect and document the victims of trafficking in persons to enable the region to understand the full scale of the problem and devise appropriate responses to the phenomenon.
Among the numerous lessons learned the book stressed that “the old adage that says ‘prevention is better than cure’ remains true to the regional and national efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in persons in the SADC region. One of the most effective ways of controlling the occurrence of a crime is through preventing an individual from becoming a victim in the first place.”
For her part Dema, believes that educating young girls on the dangers of trafficking and providing them with opportunities to further their education is the best way to achieve this.
“At the time I did not know that there was anything wrong with my situation but now looking back I wish I had remained in school. Maybe if I had finished school I would be in a better position today,” she said