Uganda is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Ugandan children as young as seven are exploited in forced labor within the country. Forced child labor occurs in agriculture, cattle herding, mining, stone quarrying, brick making, car washing, scrap metal collection, bars, restaurants, and the domestic service sector; girls and boys are also exploited in prostitution. Ugandan children are taken to other East African countries for similar purposes and are forced to engage in criminal activities. Women and children from Uganda’s remote and underdeveloped Karamoja region are particularly vulnerable to domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced begging. Children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan are subjected to forced agricultural labor and prostitution in Uganda. Children in Rwanda-based refugee camps are trafficked to Uganda at the hands of other refugees or Rwandan and Ugandan “sugar daddies” for use in the sex trade. During the year, potential trafficking victims from India and Pakistan were also identified in Uganda. Prisoners in pre-trial detention engage in forced labor alongside convicts. Until August 2006, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted children and adults in northern Uganda to serve as soldiers, sex slaves, and porters. While there have been no LRA attacks in Uganda since that time, Ugandan children previously abducted remain unaccounted for, and some may remain captive with LRA elements currently located in the DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
Licensed Kampala-based security companies and employment agencies continued to recruit Ugandans to work as security guards, laborers, and drivers in the Middle East. Some workers recruited by these companies reported conditions indicative of forced labor while working overseas, including passport withholding, nonpayment of wages, and lack of food. In addition, Ugandan women are exploited into forced prostitution in Malaysia after being recruited for work as hair dressers, nannies, and hotel staff. Some of these women transit through India, China, and Thailand—where they may also be subjected to forced prostitution—en route to Malaysia; Ugandan traffickers use voodoo rituals to coerce women into these trafficking schemes. Uganda’s INTERPOL office reported that Ugandan women are trafficked to India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. During the reporting period, Ugandan trafficking victims were identified in the United Kingdom, Greece, Poland, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, South Sudan, Kenya, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United States; in one case, four Ugandan men were taken to China, where they were forced into prostitution. A Ugandan was arrested in Spain in 2012 for allegedly trafficking Nigerian women into forced prostitution.
The Ugandan government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Following creation of its counter-trafficking in persons office (CTIP) and anti-trafficking taskforce in early 2012, the government began drafting a national action plan and launched a nationwide awareness campaign. In addition, the government prosecuted an increased number of trafficking offenders during the year; however, for the third consecutive year, the government failed to convict a forced labor or sex trafficking offender under Uganda’s 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (PTIP) Act. The government also significantly increased the number of trafficking victims identified; however, it did not devote sufficient resources or attention to victims of internal trafficking crimes, which constitute a significant portion of Ugandan victims. In addition, although the government provided modest assistance to a small number of internal trafficking victims and partnered with international organizations in the repatriation of Ugandan victims exploited in foreign countries, overall protection services offered to victims of trafficking remained modest. The government increased its screening of Ugandans traveling abroad for employment, began a quarterly review of all licensed labor recruitment agencies, and closed four unlicensed agencies. Although the Ugandan government increased efforts to improve its oversight of officially licensed agencies, this work continued to be hampered by a lack of financial and human resources.
Recommendations for Uganda: Continue to implement comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation and build the capacity of the CTIP office and other governmental and non-governmental stakeholders; increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; institute a unified system of documenting and collecting data on human trafficking cases for use by law enforcement, labor, and social welfare officials; investigate and punish labor recruiters and criminal entities responsible for knowingly sending Ugandans into forced labor or prostitution abroad; ensure use of a definition of trafficking in persons consistent with the 2009 PTIP Act and 2000 UN TIP Protocol when implementing the act, identifying victims, and combating trafficking generally; finalize regulations to fully implement the protection and prevention provisions of the 2009 PTIP Act; expand the anti-trafficking public awareness campaign with a particular focus on forced labor; establish policies and procedures for government officials to identify and interview potential trafficking victims proactively and transfer them to the care of local organizations when appropriate; train Ugandan officials serving in overseas postings in victim identification techniques; increase the number of staff and funding dedicated to the anti-trafficking efforts within the External Employment Unit (EEU), the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD), and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA); and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Uganda increased its overall anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts from four prosecutions in 2011 to 28 prosecutions in 2012; however, Ugandan courts failed to move pending cases through the judicial process, and the government’s last reported conviction of a forced labor or sex trafficking offender was in 2009. An additional 58 offenders remained under investigation. Four cases against trafficking defendants were either dismissed or withdrawn; however, the government did not provide extensive details about these cases. The 2009 PTIP Act prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing punishments of 15 years to life imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The EEU proposed amendments to the existing regulations governing the recruitment of Ugandan workers for overseas employment and proposed changes to increase oversight of employment contracts and extend criminal liability for trafficking offenses to labor recruiters; the amendments awaited review by the minister at the close of the reporting period.
The government investigated several cases involving the trafficking of Ugandan women to China and Malaysia and cooperated with Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Malaysian, and South Sudanese authorities to investigate trafficking offenses in 2012. Although the government investigated internal trafficking cases and provided assistance to internal trafficking victims, its overall efforts were insufficient to address internal trafficking crimes and identify Ugandan victims exploited within the country. The government trained 655 police and immigration officials in 2011 but only trained 64 immigration and law enforcement officials in 2012. Furthermore, it did not develop or institutionalize trainings for its law enforcement officials on the 2009 PTIP Act. The frequent transfer of officials previously trained to combat trafficking continued to inhibit progress in addressing the crime through law enforcement efforts. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) did not provide training on victim identification to its consular staff; however, the MIA continued to train immigration officials in victim identification. In addition, the national taskforce conducted training for its members. Also, in May and August 2012, the government partnered with NGOs to organize trainings for 40 magistrates and 22 law enforcement officials, respectively, to familiarize them with their roles and responsibilities under the 2009 PTIP Act. There were no allegations of complicity of government officials during the reporting period.
The government made increased efforts to protect trafficking victims in 2012, including by identifying 417 trafficking victims. Although the government provided modest assistance to 57 internal trafficking victims and cooperated with other organizations that provided victim assistance within Uganda during the year, it failed to provide protection services or support to victims repatriated following their trafficking abroad. In addition, the government did not complete the implementing regulations for the 2009 PTIP Act, allocate funding for the implementation of its victim protection provisions, or develop procedures for the systematic identification of victims among high-risk groups.
The Ugandan military continued its efforts to rescue and encourage the defection of Ugandan, Central African, Congolese, and South Sudanese non-combatants kidnapped by the LRA and forced to work as porters or sex slaves. In 2012, the Ugandan military assisted in the rescue of at least 42 individuals, including 10 children associated with the LRA, and coordinated with NGO and UN personnel to facilitate the transfer of individuals abducted by the LRA back to their countries of origin. During a May 2012 operation in the Central African Republic, the Ugandan military captured senior LRA commander Caeser Acellam, accused of recruiting and using children as soldiers and sex slaves, and it identified a 12-year-old trafficking victim and referred her to an international organization for protection. During the year, the Ugandan military hired two civilian female social workers to support women and children rescued from the LRA before their transfer to NGO and UN partners. Following the lapse of the Amnesty Act in May 2012, the Ugandan government’s amnesty commission continued efforts to provide rehabilitation support to Ugandan returnees.
During the year, the government cooperated with Swazi authorities in the repatriation of five potential trafficking victims intercepted en route to South Africa, and Ugandan embassy officials in South Sudan worked with IOM to support the return of five Ugandan children. The Ugandan government identified 14 Ugandans trafficked abroad. In addition, during the year IOM coordinated the return of nine Ugandans from Malaysia, six from China, three from Iraq, and two from Thailand. Although the government provided travel documents to these victims, it did not fund return travel or provide medical care, shelter, counseling, or other assistance to these or other repatriated trafficking victims. The Ugandan Honorary Consul in Malaysia, in particular, investigated tips and identified nine victims, offering them shelter and assistance at the consulate and partnered with the IOM in their repatriation. In November and December 2012, a delegation of members of the parliament’s equal opportunities committee visited China, Hong Kong, India, and the UAE as part of a fact-finding mission to establish mechanisms to improve the process of identifying and repatriating trafficking victims.
In Kampala, during a joint operation, the Ugandan police and the Kampala city council identified and transferred 57 street children to an under-resourced MGLSD juvenile detention center that provided food, medical treatment, counseling, basic education, and family-tracing services. Although children are permitted to spend up to three months at the center, the government transferred these children to the care of IOM, which subsequently provided them with shelter, food, and medical treatment. Though such children are routinely reunited with their families, the Ugandan government has not established appropriate systems to ensure that the children do not reappear on the streets. A Ugandan NGO provided counseling and vocational training to 140 children removed by the Ugandan police from domestic servitude and prostitution.
Although Ugandan law permits foreign trafficking victims to remain in Uganda during the investigation of their cases and to apply for residency and work permits, no foreign victims received such permits during the year. Nonetheless, the government encouraged trafficking victims to supply victim statements in order to facilitate the prosecution of their exploiters.
The Ugandan government made continued efforts to prevent human trafficking during the year. In February 2013, following the death of the previous anti-trafficking coordinator, the MIA appointed an assistant police commissioner to coordinate government anti-trafficking efforts and oversee the work of the CTIP office. During the year, the government tripled the staffing of the CTIP office, although its budget remained flat. Although the office and its national taskforce, both established in early 2012, began to draft a national action plan, initial efforts to prevent trafficking were slowed by the death of the coordinator. During the reporting period, the Ugandan police’s special investigation unit introduced additional screening for those attempting to emigrate for work abroad. Immigration officials are now required to scrutinize travel documents, passports, and reasons for travel before clearing travelers to depart Uganda for work in foreign countries, with suspect cases subject to additional interview. As a result, the MIA and its immigration department intercepted several hundred potential trafficking cases at border crossings and the international airport in Entebbe. Law enforcement officials also seized 900 passports from unlicensed labor recruitment firms and foreign embassies.
The government made efforts to raise awareness on the dangers of trafficking and how to report cases by arranging five radio and television shows during the year. For example, in April 2012, the former anti-trafficking coordinator and a female member of parliament conducted a television show in Luganda, the most widely spoken language in Uganda and the language used in central Uganda, including Kampala, which specifically targeted Uganda’s business community. In July 2012, the anti-trafficking coordinator hosted a panel discussion on Urban TV, which broadcasts in English and targets youth in urban areas, to discuss the consequences of trafficking. As a result of these programs, media coverage of trafficking issues increased, and the Ugandan police noted an increase in reports of potential trafficking cases, leading to the initiation of several investigations.
In 2012, the MGLSD’s EEU increased its monitoring and oversight of recruitment agencies from semiannual to quarterly visits. During the visits, the EEU interviewed staff and reviewed financial documents to ensure compliance with Ugandan law. The EEU also drafted specific guidelines recruitment agencies must follow and developed an orientation session for Ugandans departing for work abroad. The Ugandan police closed four unlicensed recruiting firms during the reporting period. Although the government investigated trafficking cases in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait and closed down four unlicensed recruitment agencies suspected of facilitating human trafficking, it did not pursue criminal prosecution of these or other agencies for their role in fraudulent recruitment of Ugandans for overseas employment. In November, the MGLSD and a local Ugandan NGO organized a workshop for 24 licensed recruitment agencies to raise awareness of the 2009 PTIP act and to increase cooperation between employment firms, the MGLSD, the MIA, and NGOs.
The number of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the attorney general, the inspector general of police (IGP), the director of public prosecution (DPP), and a labor recruitment agency for allegedly trafficking 155 Ugandan women to Iraq, originally filed in March 2011, has increased to 19, and a hearing of the case is expected in early May 2013. The complaint alleges that the IGP knew the women would be exploited and failed to carry out his constitutional duty to protect them, and that the DPP subsequently failed to prosecute the recruitment agency. In February 2011, a member of parliament filed a petition on behalf of 16 women repatriated from Iraq attempting to task parliament’s gender and social development committee with investigating the work of recruitment agencies; during the year, parliament heard testimony from the firm’s manager, and the inquiry remains ongoing.
In 2012, the MGLSD’s orphans and vulnerable children unit worked with civil society organizations to identify more than 8,500 children engaged in illegal child labor, such as petty trade, agriculture, and stone quarrying. The rescued children received Ugandan government-supported vocational training, health care, and psycho-social support. However, in 2012, the government failed to conduct child labor inspections or prosecute those in violation of child labor laws. During the year, the government arrested two foreign nationals for the alleged sexual abuse of Ugandan children, and both cases remained pending prosecution at the end of the reporting period. The government failed to significantly reduce the demand for commercial sex acts within the country and transnationally. Uganda is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.