Human trafficking worries Mozambique

Published Jun 18, 2004


By Manoah Esipisu

Ressano Garcia, Mozambique - Sixteen year-old Tobi wipes a tear from her eye as she recalls the night she was plucked from her home, forced to trek through the bush and then sold to a recruitment agent in South Africa.

She recoils from memories of being handed to a buyer in search of cheap farm labour, a nanny and sex slave, who abused her for months before she escaped to safety.

Tobi is one of the hundreds of young Mozambican girls kidnapped or lured by cash who end up mainly in South Africa every year or are shipped to Europe in an industry that is growing at breakneck speed.

Criminal gangs in Mozambique and South Africa smuggle girls across the border using bush paths near the town of Ressano Garcia, making quick dollars.

Although Ressano Garcia is well policed, poor civil service pay in Mozambique means it is easy to bribe officials, according to the office of Mozambique's Attorney-General.

Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano is trying to tackle trafficking in humans, human organs and drugs in the months before he steps down after leading this southern African country for nearly two decades.

"It is being dealt with. We have to study the phenomenon thoroughly," Chissano told Reuters in the capital Maputo.

"We are still a bit in the dark," he said, adding that in some cases human organs were taken because of what he called "ugly" traditional practices among some tribal groups.

"Cases of trafficking in humans and human organs, drugs and terrorism have become a worldwide phenomenon and we have not been spared," he added from his seaside palace in Maputo.

Maputo traditional healer Maziko Disopi, a native of Tanzania, said that among some tribes human organs - such as the heart or genitalia - were believed to bring good luck or increased fortune.

"Genitalia are used as a luck charm among some people, so trafficking in human organs would have this specific value especially in southern Africa," Disopi told Reuters.

Poverty - half of the country's 18 million people live below the World Bank's poverty threshold of $1 a day - is partly to blame for the problems.

Human and child rights activists, such as former Education Minister Graca Machel, are piling pressure on Chissano's government to act to halt all kinds of trafficking.

"I want our babies to be born to live, not to be born to die. I cannot understand why someone would make a child something to traffic in, something to buy and sell," said Machel, a noted human rights activist and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Marie-Pierre Poirier, Mozambique head of Unicef - the UN body that deals with children's affairs - said the agency was helping Mozambique fight human trafficking by getting it to register births and look at laws to protect its citizens, especially vulnerable children.

"If you do not have a birth identity, how can anyone prove that you were born or that you have disappeared?" Poirier said.

"Children and women are the main victims and are of critical concern to us," she said.

Early this year a Brazilian nun was killed while another was forced to flee the country after they had highlighted and attempted to investigate several cases of trafficking in humans and human organs in the northern Nampula province.

Many of the young women kidnapped find their way into brothels in South Africa and elsewhere. The South African government has shut down a number of so-called adult clubs in the last year.

Social workers say girls are targeted because they are thought to be flexible in the number of roles they can play.

"Girls are more useful to people as they can take care of homes, take care of children or be made into wives. Trafficking is happening and it is mainly for sexual exploitation," said Grace Machaba who runs the charity Amazing Grace Children's Home in Malelane, a South African town near the Mozambique border.

Tobi and Nomtandazo, another 16-year-old repeatedly abused by his father and then by his new minders in South Africa, were rescued by community leaders inside South Africa and brought to Amazing Grace, where they now go to school and care for younger victims.

"It was a painful past but I was rescued and I would like to rescue other children when I am fully grown up, have had an education and return to Mozambique," Nomtandazo said.

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