As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Uganda, and traffickers exploit victims from Uganda abroad. Ugandan children as young as seven are exploited in forced labor in agriculture, fishing, forestry, cattle herding, mining, stone quarrying, brick making, carpentry, steel manufacturing, street vending, bars, restaurants, gold mining, and domestic service. Traffickers exploit children in commercial sex. Women, children, internally displaced persons, and migrants may have been victims of forced labor or sex trafficking, and Cuban medical personnel working in Uganda may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. The pandemic and the government’s lockdown measurers, including closure of international airports and land borders, a curfew, restrictions on travel, restricted movement between districts, and closure of all schools, workplaces, and government offices, shifted trafficking trends. Authorities and NGOs reported the closure of international airports and land borders decreased international trafficking due to migrant workers unable to get to their destination; at the same time, domestic trafficking, including child sex trafficking increased. In 2020, Kenyan authorities identified Ugandan victims en route to Nairobi.
Recruiters target girls and women aged 13-24 years for domestic sex trafficking, especially near sports tournaments and road construction projects. In 2018, an international organization estimated there are between 7,000 and 12,000 children exploited in sex trafficking in Uganda. An international organization and an NGO reported most internal trafficking victims are Ugandans, many of whom are from the northeastern and eastern region, specifically Karamojong children whom traffickers exploit in forced begging and commercial sex in brothels. In 2020, the government and civil society reported traffickers sold children from Karamoja at markets in the eastern region for 20,000-50,000 UGX ($5.48- $13.70); traffickers exploited them in forced labor as beggars, domestic workers, and in commercial sex. Consequently, in 2021, NGOs reported traffickers adjusted their methods to avoid apprehension and had children travel alone to meet traffickers in other towns or at international borders, where they organized the markets. In 2020, researchers reported an increase in child labor in the sugarcane industry. In 2019, an NGO reported local authorities’ efforts to remove domestic child trafficking victims from the streets caused children to move to work as vendors in markets where they are vulnerable to exploitation. In prior years, researchers reported there were approximately 3,800 children living on the streets of Kampala and three other major towns and an additional 11,700 children working on the streets but sleeping elsewhere. Reportedly, traffickers, called “elders,” force some street children to beg and exploit girls in commercial sex. The “elders” are a well-organized network of traffickers; NGOs alleged complicit officials allow the practice to continue. A local organization reported traffickers required parents in the Acholi subregion in northern Uganda to have their children work on farms to repay debts. In 2018, an NGO alleged traffickers recruited children from Napak district, northeastern Uganda, and then sold them as domestic workers for 20,000 UGX ($5.48). Media reported some parents sell their children to traffickers who resell the children for approximately 30,000 UGX ($8.22). In 2018, an international organization reported separating four Ugandan children from armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2018, observers reported 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. In 2017, child trafficking 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.
Traffickers compel some children from Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Sudan into forced agricultural labor and sex trafficking in Uganda. South Sudanese children in refugee settlements in northern Uganda are at risk of trafficking. In 2017, individuals from Rwanda and Somalia, including a Somali refugee from Nakivale Refugee Settlement, were victims of internal trafficking. In 2018, there were several media reports of alleged complicity of police officers in the sex trafficking of child and female refugees.
Young women remained the most at risk for transnational trafficking, usually seeking employment as domestic workers in Kenya and the Middle East; at times traffickers fraudulently recruited Ugandan women for employment and then exploited them in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Ugandans in forced labor and sex trafficking in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. In 2020, victims from Burundi, Kenya, and South Sudan transited Uganda en route to other countries, notably, the Middle East. In 2020, school closures and financial struggles of caregivers increased the vulnerability of children to human trafficking, specifically child sex trafficking, during the pandemic lockdown. The pandemic increased child sacrifice—a human trafficking crime delineated under the Ugandan anti-trafficking law. In 2019, media reported traffickers sold girls from markets in Katakwi district and transported the girls to Nairobi where they were exploited as domestic workers; some of the girls worked for Somali immigrants in Nairobi and were further transported to Somalia where they were exploited by the Al Shabab terrorist group. In 2018, media and government officials alleged Ugandan girls were being sold in a “slave market” in the UAE.
Extremely high labor recruitment fees sometimes led to situations of debt bondage. To circumvent the government ban on migrant work in Oman, some licensed and unlicensed agencies send Ugandans through Kenya and Tanzania. Official complicity may have hindered government oversight of labor recruitment agencies. In 2018, COPTIP reported that traffickers appear to be increasingly organized and some may have formed regional trafficking networks. The government and an NGO reported an increase in victims with university degrees as traffickers target graduates with the promise of skilled jobs abroad. The government and NGOs reported cases involving victims that were recruited by licensed companies in which victims paid high administrative fees based on promised high-paid jobs abroad; however, upon arrival, they found themselves locked into contracts in low-paid domestic work. Traffickers used local radio to announce fraudulent job opportunities in Kampala to target children and young people to lure them into exploitative situations. NGOs reported that traffickers are frequently relatives or friends of victims or may pose as wealthy women or labor recruiters promising vulnerable Ugandans, frequently from rural areas, well-paid jobs abroad or in Uganda’s metropolitan areas. Reportedly, pastors, imams, and local leaders at churches and mosques in Uganda have also assisted in the recruitment of domestic workers abroad, mostly for Middle Eastern countries; these leaders encourage female domestic workers to take these jobs and in turn, receive a fee per worker from recruiters. Some traffickers threatened to harm the victims’ family or confiscated travel documents. In 2020, due to a government ordinance that penalizes giving food and money to child beggars, traffickers moved children from the streets to work in markets instead.