Zimbabwe is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Large scale migration of Zimbabweans to surrounding countries has increased – as they flee a progressively more desperate situation at home – and NGOs, international organizations, and governments in neighboring countries report that some of these Zimbabweans face human trafficking. Rural Zimbabwean men, women, and children are trafficked within the country to farms for agricultural labor and to cities for forced domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation. NGOs believe internal trafficking increased during the year, largely due to the closure of schools, worsening political violence, and a faltering economy. In 2008, Zimbabwean security forces consolidated their control of mining in the Marange region, forcing members of the local population to mine for diamonds. Between the March 2008 presidential election and the June 2008 run-off, youth militias controlled by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF political party abducted and held an unknown number of women and girls, particularly opposition supporters, in sexual and domestic servitude at command bases.
Zimbabwean women and children are trafficked for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, including in brothels, along both sides of the country’s borders with Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. Young men and boys are trafficked to South Africa for farm work, often being forced to labor for months in South Africa without pay before “employers” have them arrested and deported as illegal immigrants. Small numbers of Zimbabwean men are trafficked for work in Mozambique’s construction industry. Young women and girls are lured to South Africa and potentially other countries with false employment offers that result in involuntary domestic servitude or forced prostitution. Men, women, and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia are trafficked through Zimbabwe en route to South Africa.
The Government of Zimbabwe does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government made minimal progress in combating trafficking in 2008, and members of its military and the former ruling party’s youth militias perpetrated acts of trafficking on local populations. The government’s anti-trafficking efforts were further weakened as it failed to address Zimbabwe’s economic and social problems during the reporting period, thus increasing the population’s vulnerability to trafficking within and outside of the country.
Recommendations for Zimbabwe: Cease the use by members of security forces of local populations for forced diamond mining; prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; advance comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation; formalize procedures for interviewing victims and transferring them to the care of NGOs; and launch a broad awareness-raising campaign that educates all levels of government officials, as well as the general public, on the nature of trafficking and the availability of assistance for victims.
The government did not provide any data on its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year, including any data on prosecutions and convictions of traffickers. Zimbabwe does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, though existing statutes outlaw forced labor and numerous forms of sexual exploitation. Forced labor offenses are punishable by a fine or two years’ imprisonment, or both; these penalties are not sufficiently stringent or commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes. The government reported in 2007 that it was drafting comprehensive trafficking legislation; however, the draft was neither publicly available nor introduced in Parliament during the last year. Parliament was not sworn in until August 2008 following March elections; the newly elected parliamentarians have not yet formed the committees that review and propose legislation. The government failed to provide information on anti-trafficking law enforcement activities conducted during the reporting period. The Ministry of Justice reported that none of the cases investigated in 2007 was brought to trial during 2008. The government did not provide specialized anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials.
The growing number of illegal migrants deported from South Africa and Botswana, combined with a crippling lack of resources, severely impeded the government’s ability to effectively identify victims of trafficking among returnees. The Department of Immigration required all deportees returning from South Africa via the Beitbridge border crossing to attend an IOM-led briefing on safe migration, which includes a discussion on human trafficking and IOM and NGO assistance services. The reception center’s social workers – who are employed by the Department of Social Welfare, but funded and trained by IOM – screened the deportees and referred them to NGO shelters; one trafficking victim was identified through this process in 2008. The District Council of Beitbridge employed one child protection officer and convened a child protection committee to coordinate programs and resources on issues relating to children. In May 2008, IOM opened a second reception center at the Plumtree border crossing for Zimbabweans deported from Botswana. Although the government has an established process for referring victims to international organizations and NGOs that provide shelter and other services, in 2008 the government primarily depended on these organizations to identify trafficking victims and alert the authorities. However, the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Victim Friendly Unit referred three victims to IOM during the reporting period. The government generally encourages victims to assist in the prosecution of traffickers, but is not believed to have prosecuted trafficking offenses during the year. Likewise, the government did not inappropriately incarcerate or otherwise penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. It could have offered foreign victims relief from deportation while they receive victim services and their cases are investigated, though there were no cases of victims receiving such relief in 2008. With the exception of deportees from South Africa and Botswana, the government’s law enforcement, immigration, and social services do not have a formal system for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations.
The government did not conduct anti-trafficking information or education campaigns during the reporting period, and there remained a general lack of understanding of human trafficking across government agencies, especially at the local level. Senior government officials occasionally spoke, however, about the dangers of trafficking and illegal migration, and the state-run media printed and aired warnings about false employment scams and exploitative labor conditions. During the year, all four government-controlled radio stations aired an IOM public service announcement eight times each day in five languages during peak migration periods. The inter-ministerial anti-trafficking task force took no concrete action during the year. Anecdotal reports indicated that the worsening economy reduced the demand for commercial sex acts, though there were no known government efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or the demand for commercial sex acts. Information was unavailable regarding measures adopted by the government to ensure its nationals deployed to peacekeeping missions do not facilitate or engage in human trafficking. Zimbabwe has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.