This information is taken from an article by Sr. Annah Theresa Nyadombo, HLOMC, PhD published in January 2021 in CARMEngo, the Carmelite NGO Bulletin. We are grateful for their permission to use this here.

As of 1 November 2020, COVID-19 had infected more than 46.2 million people with more than 1.2 million recorded deaths and 30.9 million people recovered.  In Zimbabwe, the first case was recorded on March 20th 2020 and by 1 November, 8,362 confirmed cases were recorded with 242 deaths.

A report to the United Nations in June 20201 highlighted the far-reaching and long term impact on trafficked persons.  An additional report2 emphasized the heightened impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations risking being trafficked.  All countries, faced with the pandemic, put in place measures such as social distancing, curfews and mandatory lockdowns.  Zimbabwe did the same with a national lockdown shutting down all except essential services, law enforcement and health care.   All of these measures have increased the vulnerabilities of individuals around the world in a variety of areas including human trafficking because of their economic and living conditions.

The International Labour Organisation3 has calculated the pandemic will result in between 20 - 30 million more people in working poverty than before the pandemic.  Similarly the World Bank produced a report4 suggesting the pandemic would render 40-60 million people into extreme poverty thereby increasing the chances of exposure to human trafficking. This report is sub-titled: “Why Sub-Saharan Africa might be the hardest hit.”   In many countries, informal workers, representing the highest percentage of the employed population have been particularly affected.  Additionally, the closure of schools has heightened the risk of online sexual exploitation which can also lead to an escalation in child trafficking.5

The lockdown measures and closures of borders in a way reduced Zimbabwe’s chances of being used by other countries as transit for human trafficking but the geographical location of the country does make it vulnerable to use as a major route to South Africa.6   However, human traffickers are also taking this as an opportunity to enhance their trade.  With borders officially closed, illegal entry points and routes are in greater use and human traffickers are taking advantage of this and exploiting unsuspecting victims.

Besides increasing the numbers of those vulnerable to trafficking, the pandemic has also worsened conditions for those already trafficked.  Protection against exposure to the virus in human trafficking is limited hence putting victims at risk.2   Human trafficking court cases have also been pushed back in many countries delaying justice for survivors.  Their lives and support networks have been disrupted by the pandemic whilst subjecting them to additional financial stress and food insecurity.

 

Although the Zimbabwean Government has instituted a number of policies and measures to combat and contain the pandemic and reduce its negative impact, especially on the poor and vulnerable members of society, this does not extend to human trafficking.  They also unveiled a monetary package to fight the pandemic, but this also needs to address the human trafficking issues.

The first step is to increase awareness and it is important to continue the dialogue around COVID 19’s impact on human trafficking.7

 

NOTES

  1. Giammarinaro, MG (8 June 2020) COVID 19 Position Paper “The Impact and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on trafficked and exploited persons”; UN Human Rights
  2. Todres, J and Diaz, A (September 21 2020) ”COVID-19 and Human Trafficking – the Amplified Impact on Vulnerable Populations”; JAMA Pediatrics. Published online doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.3610
  3. ILO Monitor: “COVID-19 and the world of work”. Third edition Updated estimates and analysis (29 April 2020).
  4. World Bank: “The impact of COVID 19 (coronavirus) on global poverty: Why Sub-Saharan Africa might be the region hardest hit”, 20 April 2020 https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/impact-covid-19-coronavirus-globalpoverty-why-sub-saharan-africa-might-be-region-hardest
  5. UN General Secretary report on the Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19
  6. The Independent (November 9, 2010) Zimbabwe a major route for human trafficking.
  7. Stein, H. Artworks for Freedom https://www.artworksfor-freedom.org/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-human-trafficking/