Uganda is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Ugandan children as young as 7-years-old are exploited in forced labor within the country in agriculture, fishing, forestry, cattle herding, mining, stone quarrying, brick making, car washing, scrap metal collection, street vending, bars, restaurants, and the domestic service sector. Prisoners in pre-trial detention engage in forced labor alongside convicts. Girls and boys are exploited in prostitution. 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. Ugandan children are taken to other East African countries for similar purposes and forced to engage in criminal activities. South Sudanese children in refugee settlements in northern Uganda are vulnerable to trafficking, and UNHCR suspects instances of trafficking involving this population.
Licensed and unlicensed Kampala-based security companies and employment agencies continued to recruit Ugandans to work as security guards, laborers, and drivers in the Middle East. Some Ugandan migrant workers endured forced labor while in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, even when recruited by licensed agencies. Despite a continued ban on recruiting domestic workers for employment overseas, licensed and unlicensed agencies developed means to circumvent this ban, recruiting for “cleaners” or other trades with the intent of employing women in domestic work. Some Ugandan women fraudulently recruited for employment in the Middle East were later exploited in forced prostitution in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Kampala-based labor recruiters and brokers also operated in Rwanda and Nairobi-based recruiters were active in Uganda, recruiting Ugandans and resident Rwandans and Kenyans through fraudulent offers of employment in the Middle East and Asia. Domestic workers en route to the Middle East attempted transit through Juba, Kigali, and Nairobi, as they could not legally depart from Kampala due to the ban.
A network of Ugandan women reportedly coordinated sending Ugandan women for exploitation in forced prostitution across East Asia, including in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Initially, the women are fraudulently recruited for work as hair dressers, nannies, and hotel staff and later forced into prostitution to repay the costs of their travel. Some of these women transit through the UAE, India, and China—where they may also be subjected to forced prostitution—en route to Malaysia, Thailand, or other destinations. Nigerian syndicates engaged in transnational organized crime in Malaysia, exploit Ugandan women in prostitution, and use voodoo rituals and violence to coerce women into trafficking schemes. During the reporting period, the government reported identification of Ugandan trafficking victims in 22 countries throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In 2013, the largest number of Ugandan victims was identified in Kuwait.
During the reporting period, several armed groups recruited men and children—at times fraudulently or by force—from within Uganda for rebel activities in eastern DRC. In 2013, the UN Group of Experts reported that the M23—a Rwandan-government supported rebel group operating in the eastern DRC—had a network in Kampala that recruited men to serve as combatants through false offers of employment and threats at gunpoint to prevent their escape; 14 former M23 combatants reported having been recruited in this manner during 2013. The Group of Experts also reported fraudulent recruitment by the Allied Defense Forces (ADF)—a largely Ugandan rebel group operating in eastern DRC—with promises of employment and schooling for men and children, respectively; this recruitment reportedly occurred among Muslim communities in Uganda and other countries. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) also actively recruited combatants, including children, in Uganda. 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 and adults previously abducted remain unaccounted for, and some remain captive with LRA elements in the DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
The Government of Uganda does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the counter-trafficking in persons office (CTIP)—under the strong leadership of its National Coordinator—made efforts to raise public awareness; however, senior Ugandan officials lacked political will to combat trafficking. Although the government reported that it prosecuted 56 defendants in 2013—double the number reported in 2012—at times, law enforcement officials were overly zealous in investigations, leading to their disregard for victim protection considerations. The government convicted two sex trafficking offenders in 2013. However, government efforts to prosecute internal trafficking crimes remained inadequate. It maintained strong efforts to identify trafficking victims, but failed to provide them with adequate services, instead relying on international organizations and NGOs to provide necessary care. Official corruption hindered efforts to oversee the work of labor recruitment agencies; Ugandan civil servants and members of parliament owned recruitment agencies and interfered in their certification. The government’s limited allocation of resources to the CTIP Office, the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD), and its External Employment Unit (EEU) endangered the welfare of victims and inhibited progress overall.
Recommendations for Uganda:
Significantly increase the availability of victim services by allocating resources to the MGLSD for direct care provision or provide support to NGOs that do so; designate an official focal point to oversee provision of trafficking victim protection services; increase the number of staff and funding dedicated to the CTIP office specifically and for anti-trafficking efforts within the EEU and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA); establish policies and procedures for all front-line officials to identify and interview potential trafficking victims and transfer them to entities providing formal victim assistance; increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; finalize regulations to fully implement the protection and prevention provisions of the 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (PTIP) Act; complete amendments to labor export regulations and use existing law to investigate and punish licensed and unlicensed labor recruiters and criminal entities responsible for knowingly sending Ugandans into forced labor or prostitution abroad; use a definition of trafficking in persons consistent with the 2009 PTIP Act and 2000 UN TIP Protocol when identifying victims and combating trafficking; institutionalize anti-trafficking training, including victim identification techniques, for all front-line officials, including diplomatic personnel; address official complicity in trafficking crimes; institute a unified system of documenting and collecting data on human trafficking cases for use by law enforcement, labor, and social welfare officials; expand the anti-trafficking public awareness campaign with a particular focus on forced labor; train journalists on the sensitivities of reporting on trafficking cases, especially in ensuring victim confidentiality; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Uganda increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by increasing the number of initiated prosecutions from 28 in 2012 to 43 in 2013 and convicting its first trafficking offenders since 2009. The 2009 PTIP Act prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing punishments of 15 years’ to life imprisonment, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In the previous reporting period, the EEU proposed amendments to the existing regulations governing the recruitment of Ugandan workers for overseas employment to increase oversight of employment contracts and extend criminal liability for trafficking offenses to labor recruiters; these amendments were under review by the Minister of Labor at the close of the reporting period.
The government reported its investigation of 159 cases and prosecution of 43 trafficking defendants in 2013. At the end of the reporting period, 77 of the 159 cases remained under investigation or awaiting guidance from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions on how to proceed. As the anti-trafficking act prohibits illegal adoption and child selling, these government-reported statistics may include such cases. In August 2013, a judge sentenced two convicted traffickers to eight years’ imprisonment for trafficking and document forgery charges for the sex trafficking of two Ugandan women in China and Malaysia in 2011 and 2012; the convicted offenders were required to pay fines totaling the equivalent of approximately $5,500 in compensation to the victims. The government investigated several cases involving the trafficking of Ugandan women to China and Malaysia and cooperated frequently with officials in Malaysia, India, Bahrain, South Sudan, and Rwanda to investigate trafficking offenses and facilitate the repatriation of victims in 2013. Officials from the Ugandan police, INTERPOL, revenue authority, Internal Security Organization, and CTIP took part in a regional transnational organized crime operation involving East and Southern African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organizations; as part of this operation, officers rescued 28 Ugandan victims and apprehended 15 suspected traffickers.
In December 2013, the government provided training for 100 immigration officers on how to identify potential trafficking victims; all 300 immigration officials have received this training. The government did not develop or institutionalize trainings for police, labor, social services, or diplomatic officials on the 2009 PTIP Act; however, it provided trainers to support donor-funded trainings, which reached approximately 75 officials during the year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking or trafficking-related offenses, including civil service officials and Members of Parliament who own labor recruitment firms, interfere in the certification of some firms, and, at times, use promises of good jobs abroad as a means to seek votes. NGOs reported that trafficking victims are often paid monetary settlements by suspects to withdraw their requests and support for trafficking prosecutions; victims dropped charges in five cases in 2013 after receiving such payments.
The government maintained strong efforts to identify victims in 2013, but failed to provide victims with care or to support organizations that did so. It did not complete implementing regulations for the 2009 PTIP Act or allocate funding for the implementation of its victim protection provisions. It continued to rely on NGOs and international organizations to provide the majority of victim services. The government reported its identification of at least 288 victims. Nonetheless, it remained without procedures for use by all front-line officials in the systematic identification of victims among high-risk groups. Likewise, Uganda remained without a formal process to refer victims to protective services, but the national taskforce consulted with international organizations and NGOs to coordinate victim support on an ad-hoc basis.
In 2013, IOM funded and coordinated the return of eight Ugandans from Thailand, six from Malaysia, five from South Sudan, three from Denmark, three from Iraq, and one each from the Netherlands, the UAE, and Zambia. Although the government provided travel documents to victims stranded overseas, it did not fund return travel or provide medical care or shelter to these or other repatriated trafficking victims. Government officials provided counseling to victims and helped reunite them with their families following their return from exploitation overseas.
During the year, police removed a number of street children from Kampala and other Ugandan cities; IOM screened, assisted, and identified as trafficking victims 128 Karamojong children from among this population. In June 2013, police at a checkpoint in Iriiri intercepted 48 unaccompanied Karamojong children en route to Teso for employment; police referred the children to IOM for counseling and resettlement. A Ugandan NGO provided counseling and vocational training to 80 children, 69 of whom were exploited in Uganda; government officials had referred some of these children to the NGO. Street children, including potential trafficking victims, are often temporarily held for up to three months at an under-resourced MGLSD juvenile detention center that provided food, medical treatment, counseling, basic education, and family-tracing services. Although 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.
The Ugandan military continued 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. The Uganda People’s Defence Force provided food and medical care as part of immediate assistance to these trafficking victims—two children and two adults in 2013—and coordinated with NGO and UN personnel to provide longer-term assistance and facilitate their return home. In 2013, the government published its 2013-2015 plan for the implementation of the Amnesty Act of 2000 by the Uganda Amnesty Commission; the plan seeks to mobilize resources for the continued demobilization, reinsertion, and resettlement of former LRA combatants and community awareness raising on the amnesty act. In 2013, the Ugandan military assisted in the rescue of at least 26 children aged 3 to 13 undergoing training to join the ADF and United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) returned three former ADF combatants to Uganda.
Although officials informally encouraged victims to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of suspected offenders on a case-by-case basis, victims often did not assist due to inadequate provision of protective services and a lack of understanding of victims’ needs by law enforcement. While 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.
The government increased its efforts to prevent human trafficking through engagement with the media and university students, but oversight of labor recruitment agencies remained inadequate. The MIA continued to oversee the government’s CTIP office, led by the National Coordinator, an assistant police commissioner, to coordinate government anti-trafficking efforts. The staffing and budget of the CTIP office remained inadequate during the year. The office and its national taskforce, both established in early 2012, met monthly and published quarterly reports on their efforts. In May 2013, the government held a workshop to begin drafting its national action plan and, in September 2013, the Ugandan Coalition Against Trafficking in Persons—an umbrella group of 57 NGOs—reviewed the initial draft.
In 2013, the government launched a national awareness campaign—composed of talks, media campaigns, and distribution of written materials. In November 2013, the government established a website—www.crtuganda.com—to raise awareness about trafficking in Uganda; the site lists official government-licensed recruitment agencies and, for potential victims or their families, includes contact information for Ugandan consular officials and the CTIP office. The national taskforce and the head of CTIP engaged the media throughout the reporting period, highlighting the testimonials of young repatriated Ugandan victims. The national coordinator also held events for at-risk populations; for example, in December 2013, he spoke to 100 students at Makerere University. In July 2013, the national coordinator launched a screening of a privately produced film on trafficking, which has been included in subsequent university awareness campaigns to facilitate dialogues on trafficking. The government also began development of trafficking awareness brochures for placement in all newly issued Ugandan passports and developed anti-trafficking videos and messages to be aired in MIA passport offices.
Ugandan police’s special investigation unit continued additional screening for trafficking indicators for those attempting to emigrate for work. Immigration officials scrutinized travel documents, passports, and reasons for travel before clearing travelers to depart Uganda for work in foreign countries, with suspect cases subject to an additional interview; as a result, between October and December 2013, immigration officials advised 213 intending travelers to cancel their trips given suspicions that they were heading into exploitative situations. At times, this involved passport confiscation and denying Ugandan citizens their freedom of movement; sources indicate this has led migrants to take more precarious routes through neighboring countries, such as Kenya.
In 2013, the MGLSD’s EEU continued its oversight of recruitment agencies, conducting monitoring visits to an average of two agencies a month. During the visits, the EEU interviewed staff and reviewed financial documents to ensure compliance with Ugandan law. Beyond corruption interfering in the oversight of labor recruitment firms, the EEU remained understaffed, preventing adequate implementation of its mandate. The MGLSD began development of a plan to implement the Foreign Labor Recruitment Guidelines and Regulations, developed in the previous reporting period. Although the government investigated several transnational trafficking cases, it did not report on its efforts to close down unlicensed recruitment agencies or suspend the licenses of those suspected of facilitating human trafficking. It did not pursue criminal prosecution—under the 2009 anti-trafficking act—of these or other agencies for their role in fraudulent recruitment of Ugandans for overseas employment. In January 2014, officials undertook a fact-finding mission to Malaysia to assess the situation of Ugandans trafficked there. The government began development of labor MOUs with the Governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; however, it did not finalize such formal agreements with destination countries—limiting the government’s ability to facilitate investigations and victim rescues abroad. The government continued to hold orientation sessions for Ugandans departing for work abroad, including how to seek assistance if abuse occurs.
Although initially dismissed on procedural grounds, the March 2011 civil case 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 was refiled, with a hearing expected in early April 2014. 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. The number of plaintiffs in this lawsuit increased from 19 to 20 during the year. 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.
Labor officers and community development officers urged employers to stop using child labor and sometimes referred child labor cases to the police; however, the Industrial Court intended to hear child labor cases is not operational, resulting in no child labor prosecutions or convictions in 2013. The government arrested one Chinese tourist for the alleged sexual abuse of Ugandan children; however, the accused posted bail and fled. The case of a German national, also arrested on charges of child defilement and released on bail in 2013, remained pending trial. The government failed to make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor in 2013. Uganda is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.