Silent Echoes: The unheard cries of Human trafficking Victims during the COVID-19 pandemic

Just last year, I was contacted by a friend of mine from the school of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University who sought my opinion on a question I least expected. The gender majors (students) were required to respond to the question: “Human trafficking is a necessary global evil. Discuss.”  As I struggled to share my opinion with her, I realized it was a class assignment when she demanded I should “help” craft my ideas in a proper logical essay.

Well, I embarked on the task given the fact I was no stranger to the global vice of human trafficking having had my first engagement with the concept in a human rights class some years back. Now, I have laughed every time I have read the arguments, I raised in trying to justify human trafficking. However, this is not to say the essay was in support of the evil. Of course, it wasn’t at least on the most part. One thing that still strikes me though is that there is still a deficiency of consensus on the definition of human trafficking.

Although, there is no consensus yet on the definition, I have always found safety and comfort in the definition by The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children also known as the Palermo Protocol adopted in November 2000 which defines trafficking as “…..the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

This definition is quite comprehensive and no doubt sparks one’s imagination of the appalling effects of the human trafficking evil to its victims especially the women, girls and the children. Like Naik, (2018) writes: it is important to note that human trafficking often involves women and children as victims implying it is highly gendered and as such in a perverse commercialization of humanity, they are used like products and then thrown away. Gender discrimination further aggravates human trafficking.

In view of this, the UN (2014) Human Rights and Human Trafficking; Fact sheet No. 36 revealed that women and girls are trafficked into gender-specific situations of exploitation such as exploitative prostitution and sex tourism, and forced labor in domestic and service industries. They also suffer gender-specific forms of harm and consequences of being trafficked (for example, rape, forced marriage, unwanted or forced pregnancy, forced termination of pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS).

ILO (2012) estimates that 20.9 million persons are currently subjected to forced labor, of which 55% are women and girls, and 22%, are forced into sexual exploitation. This speaks to the multiple human rights abuses that victims of human trafficking have to bear. Taking the case of trafficked women and children especially in the UAE and other Middle East countries involved in domestic work experience the following circumstances at their places of employment.

In terms of accommodation, they lack privacy. Most do not have appropriate and separate accommodations. Some have accommodation in sheds in the backyard, with no access to separate access to bathrooms or toilets. In terms of sleeping arrangements, some sleep in garages together with other children and adult employees. There are reports of children who sleep in disused dog kennels, some sleep on the floor either in the kitchen or in the lounge; others sleep under kitchen tables while others sleep in storerooms or garages where merchandise for shop is stored. Most of these human rights violations go unreported since most of these trafficked persons lack the legal documentation of stay in such countries.

 As the world religiously goes down on its knees in the after COVID-19 pandemic era, there is need to stop for a while and pay attention to the rather silent cries of the thousands of victims of human trafficking world over. The fact these are faced with a multitude of legal insecurities  especially for the women who travel across borders, particularly when traffickers or employers confiscate identity documents or give false information about rights, including access to health services, it is only clear that these women and children are now enveloped in a situation of adversity under the COVID-19 pandemic. Since most of these victims lack identity documents, they can hardly access medical services in this pandemic. Of course, the fear is that these trafficked people may not be acknowledged as victims of crime but instead treated as violators of migration, labour or prostitution laws and held in detention centers or imprisoned as illegal immigrants. 

Now I have painfully listened to the calls for help for the vulnerable poor, refugees, the elderly and all other such vulnerable groups to help them go through the hard times created by the unintended consequences of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic especially the lockdowns. Well, all these are great philanthropic calls that are quite commendable.

However, how about the victims of human trafficking that succumbed to COVID-19-related deaths but remain unreported in the old garages where they have been confined by their well-meaning employers? How about the multiple ailments they face but with no access to healthcare?  These are some of the multiple causes of pain that these victims are confronted with but with no answer yet. These cries seem not to be heard by those concerned. These are the silent echoes of the cries of the many victims of human trafficking world over in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you have a story or an opinion to share? Email us on: Or join the Daily Express WhatsApp Group or Telegram Channel for the latest updates.

To Top
Translate »