In 2020 the research team that I was working with undertook a literature review that examined the role of transport in human trafficking. We identified very few resources, particularly on Africa, and it quickly became evident that the transport sector’s role in helping to combat human trafficking was very under-explored.
Global estimates of the number of human trafficking victims paint an alarming picture. An estimated 16 million people were participating in some form of forced labour in 2016. Of these, a quarter were in forced domestic work and 4.8 million people, mainly women and girls, were in a situation of forced sexual exploitation1. Systematic gender discrimination leaves women and girls especially vulnerable to human trafficking.
At a time when human trafficking is increasing in Africa, substantial investments are being made in the transport sector. Between 2007 and 2019, 13,000 kilometres of regional highways on 17 road corridors were built in Africa with US$8 billion in funding from the African Development Bank. Over the same period, 26 one stop border posts were established to facilitate the movement of goods and people. Yet in our review of the transport literature, we were surprised to learn that human trafficking is seldom mentioned as a potential unplanned outcome of transport infrastructure projects.
To increase understanding of these issues, we designed and implemented a primary research study in four research sites in Tanzania and Uganda over a nine month time frame in 2021. Our objectives were to:
- Investigate the role played by high volume transport corridors in human trafficking
- Explore some of the factors contributing to human trafficking along these routes
- Assess the level of awareness of human trafficking and its impacts among vehicle operators (e.g. drivers, conductors and ‘turnboys’) and those who live and work along these routes, including communities, border control officers and traffic police
A research reference group comprising representatives from government, private sector, civil society and academia was formed to input to the research methodology design, review emerging findings and ensure policy relevance. The study involved quantitative and qualitative data collection and was implemented with the approval of research ethics bodies in both countries.
The primary research confirmed the importance of the transport sector and HVT corridors in facilitating human trafficking in Tanzania and Uganda and highlighted the following:
- Gaps in awareness of and exposure to human trafficking among the communities that border major transport routes, especially in Tanzania;
- The significance of transport vehicles and transport hubs as locations where TIP victims are seen;
- The fact that a significant proportion of community members (9% in Tanzania and 27% in Uganda) and vehicle operators (9% in Tanzania and 37% in Uganda) had been approached by suspected traffickers;
- An impression among community members that vehicle operators involved in human trafficking were well organised and thought to be primarily motivated by financial gain;
- A very low level of information or training provision on human trafficking for vehicle operators;
- The low level of confidence in the role of regulatory officials such as border control officers and traffic police in combatting human trafficking;
- The existence of a cadre of possible ‘human trafficking repeat offenders’ among vehicle operators;
- Specific vehicle types (e.g. different types of taxi) that were more likely to fall below the radar at border check points;
- The absence of a focus on human trafficking in the activities of transport associations and in driver training school curricula, but a willingness to do something about this;
- Varied perspectives on the effect of COVID-19 on the number of human trafficking victims and drivers’ willingness to be involved in trafficking, with respondents in Uganda more likely to link the pandemic to an increase in trafficking activities.
Interviews with survivors of human trafficking in both countries provided insights into the face of human trafficking and hinted at the trauma experienced by those caught up in the illicit trade.
Together with our research reference group, we identified policy implications. These included:
- training for vehicle operators on the risks and repercussions of human trafficking and their role in identifying and supporting victims;
- integrating human trafficking modules into driver training, including the East African Community standardised curriculum for drivers of large commercial vehicles;
- making the need to address human trafficking mandatory for transport associations;
- finding ways to reach and raise the awareness of vehicle operators in the informal sector, for example through ride hailing app companies;
- the need for targeted public information campaigns on human trafficking for communities located along high volume transport corridors, and especially in border areas;
- and investing in public information campaigns on buses, especially if this encourages other passengers to enquire about children and young girls who are travelling long distances.
The next step in our research project is to design a practical intervention that will enable stakeholders in the transport sector to participate in the fight against human trafficking. The primary research findings suggest many potential entry points. We will work closely with our research reference group of government, private and civil society stakeholders to identify and design an intervention that has the potential to be institutionalised and sustained in the research countries.
The research described in this blog was undertaken by a consortium led by Cardno Emerging Markets and included Transaid, North Star Alliance and Scriptoria. The research is funded by UKAid through the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) under the High-Volume Transport Applied Research Programme, managed by IMC Worldwide Ltd. Learn more about the project here.
1 ILO (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. International Labour Office (ILO), Geneva. Available from: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf