The government maintained protection efforts, but did not adequately address internal child trafficking or provide adequate funding and training for victim assistance. The government reported identifying at least 214 victims in 2018, as compared with 276 in 2017. Of the 214 trafficking victims, 27 children and 149 adults were victims of forced labor, and 18 children and 15 adults were victims of sex trafficking. The government also identified five adults who were victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor. Of the identified victims, 182 were transnational and 32 were internal; most of the internal victims were children. The government reported removing nearly all internal child trafficking victims from situations of exploitation, but did not report providing the children with assistance afterward. The government reported facilitating the repatriation of 90 victims while approximately 58 Ugandan victims remained in trafficking situations abroad; the government reported that the lack of a centralized national database made it difficult to continue to track victims that remained abroad. In comparison, in 2017, the government reported repatriating 148 trafficking victims; but this figure included intercepted victims as well. According to the government, authorities intercepted a total of 599 Ugandan travelers, 477 females and 122 males, attempting to depart to countries which officials assessed as high risk for trafficking or for which travelers were unable to adequately explain the purpose of their travel; this represented a significant increase from the 353 travelers at risk for trafficking intercepted in 2017. Of these, 141 were foreign victims, including 111 Burundian nationals. Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kenya were the major destination countries for both victims and the travelers intercepted in Uganda.
The Minister of Justice approved and published the implementing regulations for the 2009 anti-trafficking act during the reporting period; however, the government did not report allocating funds for the implementation of the victim protection provisions in the regulations. The Immigration Department continued to provide trafficking guidelines to immigration officers and training on their implementation. The government remained however without a national formal mechanism used by all front-line officials to systematically identify and refer trafficking victims to appropriate care.
The government did not track or report how many victims it referred to care or directly assisted. It continued to rely on NGOs and international organizations to provide the vast majority of victim services via referrals to NGO-operated shelters, which provided psychological counseling, medical treatment, family tracing, resettlement support, and vocational education without contributing in-kind or financial support. Several NGOs reported assisting a total of 214 trafficking victims during the reporting period. In 2018, an international organization reported separating four Ugandan children from armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Victim care remained inadequate and available services were primarily for children and women, with few NGOs offering shelter for adult males. In previous years, child victims in need of immediate shelter often stayed at police stations, sometimes sleeping in impounded vehicles, or at a juvenile detention center while awaiting placement in more formal shelters.
The government did not adequately assist Ugandan victims identified abroad. It generally provided replacement travel documents to facilitate the repatriation of its citizens, while NGOs provided funding for return travel; however, the lack of embassies in many destination countries hindered repatriation efforts. Additionally, some trafficking victims continued to allege the denial of travel documents at Ugandan embassies. Where embassies existed, they lacked the capacity to provide adequate assistance for Ugandan nationals abroad. However, the government reported securing a temporary shelter in the UAE and an emergency fund in Saudi Arabia for distressed Ugandan nationals, which was used by trafficking victims prior to their repatriation. In response to the continued abuse of migrant worker’s rights abroad, the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), a private sector entity, continued to employ a Labor Liaison Office in Saudi Arabia during the reporting period; however, because the duties of a labor attaché are traditionally addressed by governments where victim identification and assistance is a priority, some civil society members expressed concern about possible conflicts of interest, since this organization represented private businesses. Many Ugandan trafficking victims travel to and depart from Kenya, where they face exploitation in trafficking. To address this issue, the government entered into an agreement with the Government of Kenya to share information on traffickers and facilitate repatriations of potential trafficking victims intercepted in Kenya instead of prosecuting them for migration violations. This agreement resulted in the repatriation of at least 63 potential trafficking victims during the reporting period.
Judicial officers often encouraged trafficking victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers to prevent the victimization of others, but some reports indicated that law enforcement’s limited capacity and inadequate sensitivity in engaging trafficking victims discouraged many from cooperating in investigations. The absence of victim-witness protection legislation and a protection program hindered some investigations and prosecutions because perpetrators would threaten and blackmail victims and witnesses to discourage their participation in trials. There was no formal policy to provide cooperating victims and witnesses with assistance, support, or safety in a systematic way. Generally, in High Court cases, victims and witnesses would be provided with transportation, physical protection, shelter, translation services, and legal counsel, but it was ad hoc and inconsistent, and some reports indicated that police would temporarily shelter cooperating victims in their homes. Ugandan law permitted foreign trafficking victims to remain in Uganda during the investigation of their cases and to apply for residence and work permits, but the government did not report any victims applying for such benefits during the reporting period. The law permitted victims to keep their identities anonymous by using voice distortion and video link facilities; but the practice had not yet been implemented. The law allowed victims to file civil suits against the government or their alleged traffickers for restitution, which two victims utilized during the reporting period. While the 2009 anti-trafficking act prohibits the penalization of trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, reports from prior years indicated that the government detained and placed on bond some trafficking victims, including children, in an attempt to compel them to cooperate with and periodically report to law enforcement in support of criminal investigations. Previous reports claimed that police sometimes treated street children as criminals and arbitrarily arrested and detained them in detention facilities without screening for trafficking indicators; however, the government reported that officials now take the children to NGO-run shelters, but because these shelters were frequently full, this may still have occurred. During the reporting period, police in Kampala continued this practice by intermittently rounding up 283 street children, 184 girls and 99 boys, mostly from the Karamoja region, sent them to a children’s shelter and then returned them to their families in the Napak, Masaka, Mpigi, and Kampala districts. Many NGOs reported that the government did not adequately address or prioritize internal trafficking of children from the Karamoja region, including the forced begging and child sex trafficking in brothels.