Women, Conflict Resolution, and Violence
Trafficking of Women in Zambia, A New Slave Trade for Africa?
(Country Report – Zambia)
By Peter J. Henriot
I must begin by explaining why my presentation today goes a bit outside the assigned programme theme of “Women in Conflict Resolution: Violence against Women.” It has always been the dynamic of AFCAST meetings to contextualise the topic, to situate it in the lived reality of the particular country being examined. We aim to look at a topic through the lens of the church’s social teaching (CST), applying the values of this teaching to a problem that we feel needs clarification so that a response can be motivated.
So when I agreed to offer a brief presentation of the Zambian reality of “women in conflict resolution,” I was, to be honest, very stymied. For all of our many problems – economic, political, social – we have not had, in the 41 years of Independence, an explicitly violent conflict situation. No civil war, not ethnic clashes, no sustained rebellion. Thank God! We are, one could say, the envy of our neighbours, neighbours immediately bordering us and on the wider Continent of Africa, who have suffered severe conflict situations.
How, then, could I speak of “women in conflict” resolution in Zambia? Surely, “violence against women” could be addressed, for Zambia sorely suffers the tragedies of domestic abuse of women, rape, defilement, discriminatory legal practices (even constitutional discrimination), bias against the education of the girl child, property grabbing, employment and wage discrepancies, political marginalisation, etc., etc.
Mentioning this challenge of mine to a woman friend, I was surprised to hear her suggest: “Take a look at the issue of trafficking of women in Zambia.” Surprised, because I honestly had not heard enough about such an issue as to give it serious thought. Zambia certainly didn’t have the problem of trafficking of women that, for example, Nigeria and other West African states have. Or so I thought…. Imagine my shock when a quick “google” search brought up dozens and dozens of articles and reports, long and short, on the topic of Zambia and the trafficking of women. (Also, of children.)
I’ve only read a bit of that material, enough to give me an outline for a brief presentation here today, but also enough to suggest further exploration of the topic by our JCTR staff in the future. For our purposes here, let me follow the methodology of the “pastoral circle” and offer some stories illustrating what is happening, some reasons for why it is happening, some faith reflection on its meaning (guided by the CST), and some lines of response to it.
2. What is happening?
On 03 May 2005, the Zambian media carried a story of a Congolese woman named Wasalusu Basala Carmec, who was stopped at the Chirundu border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. She was trying to cross the border to continue on to South Africa, in a vehicle loaded with 10 girls and six boys. She had entered Zambia through the Kasumbalesa border with Congo, with passengers who could only call her “Auntie” since they didn’t know her name. She was arrested and charged with attempting to take young people for illegal purposes – probably prostitution or forced labour. The case continues.
Earlier, a young Zambian girl, 16 year old Fridah Bwalya (not her real name), resident of Lusaka, had been enticed to go with a fast-talking man to South Africa, where she was promised a richly rewarding modelling job. Air ticket to Johannesburg, lodging in a nice hostel outside the city, companionship with several other girls her age, and “safekeeping” of her passport by the host all seemed quite nice. Until the modelling instruction included submission to rape and introduction into prostitution. Eventually, she did escape and returned, traumatised, to her Zambian home.
These are only two of many stories I found on the web, revealing that Zambia is part of a world-wide problem of trafficking – a lucrative “business” estimated to annually earn over US$ 2 billion, rivalling the arms and drug trade. Indeed, the articles referred to Zambia as both a source and a transit country for women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Many women are moved into South Africa and then on to other places in Europe and Asia.
But what is also happening is that the women caught in Zambia – one would like to say “rescued” -- in the midst of this trafficking are frequently confined to jail if they are from outside the country, waiting to be deported back to their home countries. Without proper documents, they are considered illegal immigrants!
In speaking of trafficking, it is important to note that the women caught up in this racket are victims of either abduction or enticement. That is, they are captured against their will – possibly drugged or frightened by threats, or allured with their consent – attracted by offers of money or travel.
3. WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
A full causal analysis of this world-wide phenomenon of trafficking of women is beyond the scope of my short presentation here. But let me list a series of reasons that can be given in the situation of Zambia today.
The first causal influence on trafficking in Zambia – either as a source of women or a transit point from other countries -- is, obviously, poverty and material suffering. Conditions of hunger, minimal education, unemployment, lack of opportunities, etc., all contribute to an environment where the offer of a “better life” can be very attractive. We know the consequences of being in a country where over 70% of the population are living – “surviving” -- below the poverty line!
Escape from war-torn regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other nearby Great Lakes countries also is a motivating factor. Indeed, displaced persons and refugees are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. (This is a link to the wider theme of “women in conflict resolution.”)
Parents often are willing either to encourage children to escape poor conditions or even to sell their children, with the feeling that the local situation is so bad that somewhere else surely could not be worse.
A second influence is that trafficking frequently occurs within a highly organised criminal syndicate. It is good business! Links with traffickers around the world mean that women caught up in this system are easily transported to other countries outside Africa. It is estimated that 45 of 54 African countries are involved in trafficking, with South Africa being a major receiver and transit point. Zambia is a landlocked country, serving well as a transit country.
A third influence is the weakness of protective legal systems. There is in Zambia, for instance, no clear legislation explicitly criminalising trafficking. Persons suspected of this might be arrested on grounds of promoting prostitution or promoting delinquency of minors. Immigration officials are often caught up in the system and are bribed to look the other way at border points. Documents are not also fully available or utilised.
A fourth influence is simply the lack of public awareness of the problem in Zambia. There are no good statistics, and little or no media attention. The fact that I could be ignorant of this situation is one indication of this fact! And ignorance, of course, leads to the continued presence of an evil, unattended to by public outcry or legal recourse.
4. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
An ethical framework for evaluating this deplorable problem of trafficking of women is not difficult to suggest. The church’s social teaching (CST) offers at least three basic principles that should clarify our understanding of the problem and motivate our response to it.
First, trafficking is a blatant abuse of the dignity of the human person. A woman, made in the image and likeness of God, is treated as a mere commodity in the international market. She can be harvested, transported, sold, used and discarded like an agricultural product! Rights are denied, liberties are restricted, integrity is violated. The CST emphasis upon the inherent and inviolable dignity of each and every person cries out for abolition of this trafficking. Indeed, it has been described as a “new form of slave trade”!
Second, the preferential option of the poor surely has relevance to this situation. It is particularly the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised, who suffer from this trafficking. The simple fact, the tragic fact, is that poor women are more subject to being abducted or enticed into the dynamic of trafficking. Our special concern for the poor, therefore, should push this phenomenon higher up on our agenda of attention and action.
Third, the principle of good governance focuses on the failures within Zambia and wider of effective public order. Governments with their attendant legislation and institutions should work for the common good of all, promoting an environment within which rights are respected and development fostered. But breakdowns of police protection, immigration oversight, and social development programmes point to deeper problems of good governance, problems that go beyond the immediate instance of trafficking.
This simple discussion of three basic CST principles highlights the wider meaning of the problem of trafficking of women. For looking at the problem through the CST lens shows that it is not simply a legal or economic issue, but fundamentally an ethical and moral issue. Examination of the problem in this way clarifies terms of reference and motivates a response.
5. WHAT IS THE RESPONSE?
To bring to closure our “pastoral circle” approach to this problem of trafficking of women in Zambia, let me suggest three obvious responses that all concerned parties should take up. By concerned parties I refer especially to churches, to women’s groups, and to human rights civil society organisations.
The first response is to deal with the underlying causes of this phenomenon, in particular the problems of poverty and poor moral development. As long as social conditions of deprivation of basic needs is the prevalent situation in the nation, there will be temptations to engage in trafficking of women, either as promoters or as victims. Improved moral development may not eliminate the ancient immorality of prostitution, but may heighten demand for better protective and punishment mechanisms.
A second response is an obvious improvement in the legal system. Women (and children, too) caught up in this problem deserve more adequate protection of their basic rights. If discovered and “rescued,” they should be cared for and not but into prison! Better legislation that clearly outlaws trafficking should be put in place in Zambia. Law officers should be trained to be particularly sensitive to this problem.
A third response is simply better public education about the problem of trafficking. Civil society organisations (NGOs) should promote a clear understanding of the causes and the extent of trafficking. The media have an important role to play. Education should be aimed at cautioning women in Zambia (and elsewhere, of course) not to succumb to temptations of “improved living conditions” and should inform the public at large of the tragic effects on women of this criminal activity. I’ve seen posters at Zambian border check points warning people of strong police action for attempting to take ivory products out of the country. Why not similar posters focusing on attempts at trafficking of women!
Before looking at this issue of trafficking of women in Zambia, I was aware of campaigns going on in other parts of Africa and in Europe. Members of religious women’s congregations, for example, have recently become particularly involved in dealing with the victims and fighting against the mechanisms of trafficking.
But with the motivation to look at the problem in the context of this AFCAST meeting, I have been enlightened in unexpected ways. A human rights issue, a special suffering of the poor, and an indication of bad governance – these CST concerns put before me both new insights and new demands.
A new slave trade for Africa? Surely a challenge for all of us!
Paper prepared for seminar sponsored by African Forum for Catholic Social Teachings, (AFCAST), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 15 November 2005.
Data and examples found through “Google” search, under title of “Women Trafficking Zambia,” November 2005