top of page
  • Writer's pictureMayuri Chaudhuri

Caged for Eternity: Diving Deep into the Issue of African Human Trafficking

“I'm so very lonely. I just want to be happy, I just want to be free. I want it to be over, even for just one day.”

Mary quotes after being rescued by UNICEF. She fled the Boko Haram insurgency that is scarring Nigeria of humans getting kidnapped and traded off to places, further falling trap to human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

African child.

Human trafficking is one of the most systematically organized crimes in the African region, a cloaked form of the prevalent ancient practice of slavery. Posing a threat to global human security, global migration trends have significantly dwindled their numbers to the majority.

While California and Texas have been accorded as cities most affected by the aforementioned, the African Continent has emerged with all 53 nations being radically victim to it. Ancient forms of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) were imbibed in greek cultures of trading human slaves and colonial practices of British and French empires by shipping people off to plantations without consent.

African children in a vehicle.
African children in a vehicle. (Via:

The practice of illegal migration wherein transporting people across borders and violating border restrictions and immigration laws of the respective state has emerged as the overlying cause for the same. Evidence of labor trafficking or families seeking refuge from the system can be constituted under this category. Weak legislative borders have fed into the sub-regional and national patterns. Smuggling forms the subset where the person might be coerced or willingly give in to travel while a third party is the last set.

Root Causes Of Trafficking in Africa

  • Pull Factors

These might include economic differentials from poor to employment opportunity providing regions, need for bonded labor, conflicts over states arise with new demands of sexual workers, organ trade, and adoption practices. Insurgencies leading to persecution and natural disasters are some of the other subset causes.

  • Push Factors

The trafficked humans often get attracted to the promise of a better quality of life enabling better settlement and educational prospects. The constant deprivation coupled with gender discrimination makes them more vulnerable. Lack of legislation for the same adds to the charts.

Impoverished African children looking at something.
(Via: Borgen Project)

  • The role of HIV/AIDS

The underlying consequences of sex trafficking have to lead to global HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) transmission. West Africa has been scourged with the highest stakes from the disease, owing to the commercial sex industry causing full-on epidemic scenarios, especially in Ghana, Togo, and Burkina Faso. The United States accounts for the highest rate of African American girls getting sexually exploited thus leading to the same aforementioned consequences. The cultural belief of getting cured of HIV from having sex with a virgin is another sought reason. Once the women were forcibly subjected to unprotected sex, they get infected and were rarely cared for.

  • Sexual Violence and Bondage

It is a common phenomenon to subdue the newly brought-in females. This increases the direct exposure to the virus as mucosal breaks and enhances infection. The commercial sex industry has well bloomed with a large demand for children for sexual activities. European buyers have also enabled the facilitation of underaged kids to be transported overseas as “sex slaves”. Economic exploitation constitutes trading children as domestic workers (e.g. - Girls traded from Togo). Often parents sell out their offspring due to the inability to provide with sustenance and they expect them to return with wages but this rarely happens. As such practices are deeply tied with culture, it’s never noticeable as unusual.

  • Gender inequality

Women’s status is something that worsens the situation successively. They are denied basic facilities as a result they remain unskilled and deprived of education. Becoming vulnerable to lavish lifestyle promises by the traffickers and in search of employment opportunities, they venture out into the traps. Lack of exposure hides their conscience from the harsh realities of working abroad. Girl brides are highly favorable for “purity” purposes.

African women with blankets over them
African women with blankets over them. (Via:

  • Lack of Birth Registration

Helplessness prevails further as the foster environment and absence of accounting the births is regular. A child who has no identification or nationality is easy prey to the hoarders and gets handled over borders efficiently. It further becomes complicated to situate them in rehabilitation.

  • Albinism

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported the existence of “Mutti killings” characterized as murders for body parts of people thought to have distinct powers of wellness and wealth in 27 Sub-Saharan countries. Body parts may vary from genitals to hair which is subsequently fried up and traded across the borders for traditionally healing properties. Tanzania ranks the highest with global attacks numbered to 170. The cultural customs are so instrumental in the society that a pregnant mother in Northern Africa was made to believe that her child inherited albinism due to an earlier encounter with the one possessing the same.

Region-wise classification

A graphic on trafficking in persons protections: tier placements of African countries.

West and Central Africa

75% of the human trafficking victims in the region are children. The widespread dispatch of children from their homes and then are sent to so-called “caring units” by traffickers. Lack of tangible media attention to the root causes has progressively slowed down the process of world communities aiding the issues. Countries like Mali, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso suffer from acutely low literacy rates and malnutrition. Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon enjoy a considerably stable economy and attract more attention to trade. Malian girls seek employment in the informal sector as domestic workers for their marriage trousseau and boys from Burkina travel to rice plantations falling prey to the same. Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal form the transit and destination countries of these activities of trading slaves for street hawking and forced labor often done so after the death of one of the parents or with the promise of formal education. 43% of Nigerian children are identified as child laborers.

A graphic on the myths about human trafficking in Africa.

East Africa

As noticed in aforementioned, source generally lacks basic enrollment facilities (Uganda) while destination has average higher income (Tanzania). Lack of awareness on another tangent proves to be hazardous. Inhabitants’ knowledge about trafficking is shockingly low :

  1. Kenya: 83%

  2. Tanzania: 53%

  3. Uganda: 34%

  4. Burundi: 12%

Most of the victims have met the traffickers on their own through introduction with family members or acquaintances. Additionally, the majority is voluntarily transported and the sufferer is often denied the earning and freedom of movement. The existence of large families aids in the scenario with continued encouragement for economic participation.

African children engaged in child labor.
African children engaged in child labor. (Via:

South Africa

This region is an extensive hotspot for origin, transit, and destination of trafficking. Females in Mozambique and Maputo are put to the sale for mining laborers, at mine hostels where drinking and intimacy are the only recreations. Taxi drivers often smuggle humans to cross-country locations. Children from Lesotho are used for orgies at parties of influential businessmen and free state farmers. The underage sex tourism in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban accounts for about 28,000 - 30,000 children aged 10-15 years being exploited. In countries like Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, etc young victims are employed in armed combat as they possess impressionable minds which can pursue merciless killings. Many recruitments are voluntary owing to survival reasons in war dreaded regions. What is more enthralling here is that government groups too are openly carrying out these enrollments performing varied tasks of fighting, carrying porters, spies, guards, and other sexual roles. They are often hired to raid villages for food. The potent criminal networks of Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, etc are resourced from illegal documentation of identities, credit card frauds, and kidnapping.

African men surrounded by a group of military personnel and village people.
African men surrounded by a group of military personnel and village people. (Via:

Through Victim’s Eyes

Mary’s Story

“Many girls today, unlike me, know exactly what they are in for when they agree to go to Italy to work. They say: 'Is it not prostitution? No problem — I will go.”

A billboard against prostitution and human trafficking in Africa.
A billboard against prostitution and human trafficking in Africa. (Via:

The statement itself signifies unemployment can push women to any earning opportunity that might be possible. She was trafficked at the age of 16 from a polygamous family of 12 people in Southern Africa when her parents were approached by a woman for work. Persuasion was pertinent by stating examples of the girls like her who had opted for it and built their homes while working abroad. When accepted, she was oathed with Juju (witchcraft) rituals to swear her work loyalty to her hirer.

Shipped off to Turin for working as a prostitute, she got lucky because of menstruating as told by another girl, that she wouldn’t be subjected to forced abortion if pregnant. She was beaten when protested, threatened that her family would be endangered if she didn’t. If she couldn’t reach the specified target her pay was circumcised to zero and she had to start again.

After three years of struggle, police got their hands on the victims and 100 of them were deported back. But she was greeted by disappointed family members who expected “payment” for her work. The woman who contacted them earlier offered her job again multiple times, but this time Mary decided to write her own fate. She got herself counseled at the Girls’ Powers Initiative at Benin, which prevented her from being re-trafficked.

As told to Thomas Reuters Foundation.

Grizelda’s Story

“I just continued to live. It was very hard – some shelters and places would not take me in (because I was 27). I went through moments when I went back to my friends and tried to stay away from the temptation of taking clients and still questioning myself.”

Child sex trade victim turned author Grizelda Grootboom.
Child sex trade victim turned author Grizelda Grootboom. (Via:

Grizelda Grootboom was left homeless after her grandparents’ home was destroyed by the government and they both died. Her father, being an alcoholic, failed to accommodate her with shelter and was killed too. Later she discovers that her mother was alive who was otherwise told was dead, to her since childhood. Married to another man in Khayelitsha, she wasn’t pleased to see Grizelda. She was later raped by some gang and shouted at by her mother to have obscene habits. She left her home as it was never hers’ and went to live under the bridge. Becoming part of a gang that treated her family was a relief until she was tricked by a wealthy friend into prostitution. Subjected to continual drug injections, she was forced to sleep with multiple clients. Miseries mount up and she becomes pregnant with a girl. Naming her Summer, she was affirmative that she would be aborted but her pimp liked the clients’ demand to sleep with pregnant pressure, thus continuing the same for six months. Then as the fetus was finally removed, no mercy was granted and after pushing a sponge in her vagina she was forced to work again. She finally reached rehabilitation which later paved her way back to Cape Town, her home through working in a church.

As told to FiLiA.

African children laughing for the camera.
African children laughing for the camera. (Via: Pinterest)

I saw hope when I saw Mary sharing her story without fear.

I saw hope when I encountered Grizzelda's book “Exit” being published to break all odds and come out as a person who embraces who she is.

There is a beautiful ending to all of this if we work tirelessly for it.


Help us fight against global gender inequality, child abuse/labor, and discrimination, along with the world's other pressing issues by contributing however you can.

We use these funds/help to provide quality education, training, and awareness to youth from underserved communities to help them become tomorrow's leaders.

Share your thoughts on this issue in the comments section below. Reach out to us at for collaborations.

Thank you and take care!


References (click the arrow to expand)


Mayuri Chaudhuri is an Indian-based History Honors Graduate and a Content Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability, who is seeking cognizance to varied issues in the world through the power of a pen. She is currently pursuing her Master of Letters, History, at the University of Dundee.

Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R and Dib Hadra.


bottom of page