Article: The Overlap Between Human Trafficking and HIV AIDS in Africa

[Cross-linked at Future Challenges Organization]

There has not been very much discussion on the overlap of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa.  Both human trafficking and HIV/AIDS are recognized as impediments to economic development on the continent of Africa.  HIV/AIDS is acknowledged as one of the push factors for human trafficking in southern Africa, in addition to poverty and undereducation. The  HIV/AIDS epidemic has disproportionately affected marginalized groups- particularly women and children.  Subsequently, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among victims of human trafficking is higher than that of the general population, and because of their status, these victims often do not have access to the medical care that they require.

The fact is that Africa is a very young continent.  Some 60% of its population is under the age of 24. Additionally, the continent of Africa has over 14 million AIDS orphans. These children live with particular vulnerabilities. As children, they are already susceptible to exploitation (human trafficking, in particular), as one or more of their parents is deceased. Children who have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS are more susceptible to traffickers’ manipulations. For example, older children trying to feed their siblings are most likely to be lured by a trafficker’s fraudulent job offer.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), the prevalence of HIV infection is disproportionately high among people trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, ranging from 40% to 90%. Women and girls are most at risk, but for young boys the risk of infection is substantial as well..

In southern Africa, both Botswana’s and Lesotho‘s governments have acknowledged that AIDS orphans are more susceptible to exploitation in the human trade. Botswana is a source and destination country for victims of human trafficking. Victims trafficked into Botswana typically originate from Zimbabwe.  Lesotho, a small country surrounded by South Africa, is a source and transit country for victims of human trafficking.  Basotho (people from Lesotho) victims are trafficked into South Africa.

Women and girls who are trafficked from Lesotho are typically exploited within the commercial sex trade, forced marriages, domestic servitude and forced labor. Boys are generally trafficked into forced labor in street vending, forced begging and domestic servitude. Women and girls are most vulnerable to HIV infections, as their work in the commercial sex trade exposes them to unprotected sexual contact and drug injections.

In Botswana, HIV/AIDS infection rates are the second highest in the world, following South Africa. Women and girls who are trafficked into Botswana can be found in domestic servitude, forced labor and the commercial sex trade. Women and girls are generally more vulnerable to HIV-infections by way of coerced unprotected sex because they are devalued on the basis of their gender. Domestic laborers, forced to work with little or no pay, often depend on their traffickers for housing. This dependence also makes them more vulnerable to abuse – physical and sexual.

In addition to stronger anti-trafficking legislation and enforcement, there needs to be greater investment into providing essential healthcare services for victims of trafficking.  Lesotho‘s Child and Gender Protection Unit, an agency that could combat human trafficking, is under-funded, understaffed and undertrained, thus unable to effectively address the problem of trafficking. Botswana currently does not have any legislation that ‚acknowledges and criminalizes‘ human trafficking; therefore, traffickers cannot be tried and convicted in a court of law.

Disease, mortality and limited access to healthcare are part of a cyclical process whereby economic growth is stunted. The loss of human capital and fear of the spread of diseases has been a factor in the economic under-development of much of the African continent. However, this does not prevent the exploitation of marginalized groups in sub-Saharan Africa – in fact, it makes women and children more vulnerable to traffickers. What is needed is a multilateral approach addressing:

  • The elimination of push/pull factors that drive human trafficking.
  • The establishment and enforcement of stronger anti-trafficking laws.
  • Improvement of victims‘ access to life-saving healthcare services and medicines.

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