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ZIMBABWE: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Zimbabwe does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included convicting one trafficker and sentencing him to imprisonment and formally approving its 2019-2020 antitrafficking national action plan. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government significantly decreased investigations and prosecutions and did not identify a single trafficking victim, while NGOs identified and cared for more than 400 trafficking victims. Official complicity in human trafficking remained prevalent and widely reported, particularly near artisanal mines, but the government did not report any investigations into the allegations. For the second year, draft amendments to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Act, to bring the law in line with international standards, remained pending. The government did not provide any support to its NGO partners that provided all protective services to victims. Authorities imprisoned for several months three alleged trafficking victims identified in a previous reporting period and deported them instead of referring them to services. While it had a new national action plan, the government’s antitrafficking taskforce did not meet during the reporting period and the government did not allocate sufficient funding for the plan’s implementation. Therefore Zimbabwe was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Amend the anti-trafficking law to criminalize all forms of trafficking in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. • Increase law enforcement’s funding and capacity to conduct more thorough investigations of alleged trafficking, particularly enhanced evidence collection. • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including complicit government officials and individuals who purchase commercial sex from children. • Train officials to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, Cuban medical workers, and foreign nationals from China, and refer them to appropriate services. • Expedite trafficking cases in courts to address the significant backlog of cases. • Implement and allocate sufficient resources to the antitrafficking national action plan. • Increase collaboration with, and provide financial or inkind support to, NGOs that assist trafficking victims. • Train law enforcement, prosecutors, and judiciary officials on human trafficking investigations and prosecutions, particularly as distinct from labor law violations, and a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions. • Establish safe houses for trafficking victims in each province and refer identified victims to care. • Develop mutual legal assistance treaties and other agreements to facilitate information gathering and sharing with foreign governments. • Collect data on human trafficking trends within Zimbabwe to better inform government anti-trafficking efforts.

The government maintained mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Zimbabwean law criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Act defined trafficking in persons as a movement-based crime and did not adequately define “exploitation.” The 2014 act criminalized the involuntary transport of a person and the voluntary transport for an unlawful purpose, into, outside, or within Zimbabwe. The focus on transport and the inadequate definition of “exploitation” left Zimbabwe without comprehensive prohibitions of trafficking crimes. The law prescribed penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking crimes, were commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Zimbabwe’s Labor Relations Amendment Act criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, which were not sufficiently stringent. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act criminalized procuring a person for unlawful sexual conduct, inside or outside of Zimbabwe, and prescribed penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent when applied to cases of sex trafficking. The act also criminalized coercing or inducing anyone to engage in unlawful sexual conduct with another person by threat or intimidation, prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties of one to five years’ imprisonment. For the second consecutive year, the government made no progress passing its 2019 draft Trafficking in Persons Act Amendment Bill. The government did not consult civil society during drafting, which several organizations viewed as an intentional move to avoid addressing deficiencies in farming and mining laws that facilitate forced labor.

The government did not initiate any new trafficking investigations or prosecutions. It continued one prosecution from the previous reporting period and convicted one trafficker. This was an overall decrease from initiating seven potential trafficking investigations, six prosecutions, and no convictions in the previous reporting period and a continued decrease from prior years. A Harare court convicted one individual on six counts of trafficking for luring victims to Kuwait and exploiting them in forced labor and sex trafficking; he received a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The government initially arrested the suspect in this case in 2017; although he later absconded, officials brought the suspect back into custody in January 2020. The government did not report whether the five prosecutions reported in the previous reporting period remained pending. Despite the continued urging from victims to take action in the 17 alleged trafficking cases of Zimbabwean women exploited in trafficking in Kuwait in 2016, and their stated willingness to participate in the trials, the government did not do so for the fourth consecutive year. Moreover, in May 2020, the president granted amnesty, reportedly due to the pandemic, to a trafficker who had exploited numerous Zimbabweans in Kuwait; she served approximately two years of her 50-year sentence.

While official corruption and complicity in human trafficking remained prevalent, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for trafficking or related crimes. Observers reported the government did not have a system to investigate and prosecute complicit officials. Four potential labor trafficking victims on a member of Parliament’s farm sought assistance when they did not receive the agreed upon pay and were threatened for requesting it; an NGO removed the potential victims from the farm, but the government did not investigate the allegations. During the reporting period, some police solicited bribes from NGOs to provide information on trafficking and denied them access to locations necessary to conduct the NGOs’ anti-trafficking research. Media reported violent gangs controlled some artisanal gold mines, including by kidnapping workers and forcing them into labor, and enjoyed impunity due to their connections to police and local politicians. Police that manned checkpoints at defunct gold mines allegedly accepted bribes to allow individuals to enter and work without oversight, including with forced laborers. For the third consecutive year, the government did not investigate serious, credible claims that complicit magistrates, judges, and senior government officials undermined judicial independence including by bribing judges with farms and homes. In past years, civil society reported officials at the Beitbridge border crossing into South Africa accepted bribes to allow organized criminal groups to cross the border, at times likely with trafficking victims. There was no report this practice had changed. Officials accepted bribes to not inspect farms and businesses that used exploitative labor practices. Trafficking victims reported law enforcement threatened and intimidated them when they tried to report their cases.

Because law enforcement and prosecutors lacked training in the trafficking law and trafficking cases required long and challenging investigations, officials routinely prosecuted trafficking cases for subsidiary violations, such as wage infractions. Due to the pandemic, the government did not conduct anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement or judiciary officers. The Zimbabwe Republic Police had a module on the anti-trafficking law in its police recruit training. Observers continued to report the government lacked a systematic procedure to investigate cases, and immigration officials lacked capacity to detect and investigate trafficking. In addition, many investigations lacked sufficient evidence to build strong cases. Courts typically expedited sexual offense cases but did not treat trafficking cases with the same urgency, so the cases often languished on the docket for years.

The government decreased victim identification and protection efforts. The government did not identify any trafficking victims, compared with identifying 32 trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. The government stated no organization identified any trafficking victims, but two NGOs and one international organization identified 91 suspected trafficking victims and reported them to the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare’s (MPSLSW) Department of Social Welfare. The 91 victims included 17 Zimbabwean adult females subjected to a mix of labor and sex trafficking, including in Uganda, Iraq, Kenya, and domestically; and 67 children, including 57 exploited in sex trafficking. In addition, media and NGOs reported identifying 350 child sex trafficking victims near the Mazowe mines. Furthermore, an environmental group that gathered data and observations of child labor and exploitation at diamond and gold mines in Manicaland identified more than 38 children as young as 14 forced to sell drugs. NGOs provided all trafficking victim care, including shelter, food, medical treatment, family reunification and reintegration, counseling, and income-generating assistance. The shelters and services for trafficking, domestic violence, and gender-based violence (GBV) victims were available to both males and females, nationals and foreigners, and irrespective of the victim’s participation in legal proceedings. For at least the third consecutive year, the government relied on NGOs and foreign donors to fund trafficking victim services; the organizations struggled to operate without adequate and consistent financial support, and some could only provide short-term care. While the government had one operational shelter that could accommodate 30 GBV and trafficking victims and 24 vulnerable children’s homes, these shelters did not care for any trafficking victims during the reporting period. The 2014 anti-trafficking act required the government to establish service centers in each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces and provide counseling, rehabilitation, and reintegration; the government had not established these centers by the end of the reporting period.

In partnership with an international organization, the government conducted training on its National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for 128 government and civil society representatives from seven districts. Adopted in the previous reporting period, the NRM outlined standard operating procedures in the identification, referral, and assistance of trafficking victims. For the second consecutive year, the technical steering committee for trafficking victim protection, led by the MPSLSW, did not meet. The MPSLSW had a system whereby an NGO and a Department of Social Welfare caseworker jointly handled each reported potential trafficking case, but it did not use the system in practice. The government had policies to encourage victims to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, but lack of understanding of trafficking by police often caused re-victimization of trafficking victims during the legal process. Some law enforcement and judicial officials, however, had training to treat victims sensitively, handle cases quickly, and refer victims to post-trial support services. Some health service providers had training to collect evidence for criminal investigations, prepare medical affidavits, and offer immediate and long-term psycho-social support and health care. Courts had a separate room for victims to testify separately from their alleged perpetrators, and victims could choose to testify via video; however, observers reported not every court had access to the necessary equipment, especially in rural areas, and the government did not report whether any victims utilized these services during the reporting period. While the trafficking act required judges to order compensation from convicted traffickers to their victims, no judge did so. The government did not have legal alternatives to repatriation for foreign trafficking victims, even if they would face retribution or hardship in their countries of origin. Zimbabwean authorities identified three Pakistani individuals as human trafficking victims in a previous reporting period and imprisoned them for several months and deported them during this reporting period.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The Anti-Trafficking Inter-Ministerial Committee (ATIMC) served as the national coordinating body for all anti-trafficking activities, and its secretariat led the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, including overseeing awareness-raising events and implementation of the national action plan. The government launched its 2019-2021 anti-trafficking national action plan during the reporting period. It did not, however, allocate sufficient funding for its implementation. Despite a mandate to meet quarterly, neither the ATIMC nor its provincial taskforces met during the reporting period, a continued decrease from prior reporting periods. While the pandemic imposed restrictions on gatherings, international organizations reported the continued lack of political will, resources, and staff were also reasons for the ATIMC’s lack of action. In part due to the pandemic, the government did not conduct any public awareness events on human trafficking, compared with several educational campaigns conducted by police and other ministries in the previous reporting period.

The government continued to lack the political will to address child and forced labor, particularly in agriculture. While a tripartite committee of government, labor unions, and business representatives determined the MPSLSW would lead efforts to raise awareness of child and forced labor among the tobacco industry and conduct regular inspections, the ministry took no steps to do so during the reporting period. Due to a lack of capacity and resources, inspectors rarely conducted inspections of tobacco farms, despite repeated claims of child and forced labor in that sector. When inspectors did, observers alleged they underreported negative findings, including the presence of child labor. The government reported it conducted 1,860 labor inspections but did not identify any cases of forced or child labor; it did not report the sectors or regions of inspection, and most observers were unaware the reported inspections had occurred. Inspectors had the authority to monitor private farms and homes for underage or forced child domestic labor but did not report doing so. With support from an international organization, the government contributed information to a centralized anti-trafficking database that collected national data on criminal cases and victims identified and shared it with countries in the region. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Zimbabwe, and traffickers exploit victims from Zimbabwe abroad. Internal trafficking is prevalent and underreported. Traffickers exploit Zimbabwean adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labor, including in cattle herding, domestic service, and mining (gold and diamonds). More than 71 percent of child labor occurs in the agriculture (tobacco, sugarcane, and cotton), forestry, and fishing sectors, where children weed, spray, harvest, and pack goods. Some of these children are victims of forced labor, including some who work on small, unregulated farms. Due to pandemic-induced school closures and worsening economic conditions, observers reported child sex trafficking and child labor likely increased, particularly in agriculture, domestic service, informal trading, begging, and artisanal mining. Children ages 9 to 14 work as nannies, housemaids, and gardeners in urban areas and mining communities; some employers force the children to work by withholding wages, denying them access to school, and subjecting them to gender-based violence. Several traditional practices rendered young girls vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking, including the practice of trading daughters for food or money; as “replacement” brides for a deceased family member; and to avenge the spirits of a murdered relative. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Zimbabwean towns bordering South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia in forced labor, including domestic servitude, and sex trafficking in brothels catering to long-distance truck drivers on both sides of the border.

Traffickers exploit child laborers working as gold-panners and ore couriers by providing inadequate compensation, stealing their income, exacerbating food insecurity, and forcing them to take drugs to perform strenuous tasks; these practices are indicative of forced labor. Near gold and diamond mines, traffickers increasingly force children to sell illicit drugs. Illegal mining syndicates exploit Zimbabweans in trafficking. Experts estimate thousands of children have joined illegal diamond mining syndicates in the Marange fields in Chiadzwa since March 2020; some syndicates target illiterate people and transport them to the mines at night so they do not know their location. Armed gangs known as “Mashurugwi” lure young men to abandoned gold mines on the promise of self-employment but force them to work the artisanal gold mines with threats of violence and death. Child vendors, some of whom walk more than 25 kilometers per day to sell goods, are exploited by sex traffickers in illegal mining areas. Adult women increasingly exploit girls as young as 12 in sex trafficking in gold mining communities in Mashonaland East, Mazowe, and Shurugwi. During the pandemic, organizations and media identified hundreds of children in sex trafficking near the Mazowe mines. Miners force girls to enter into coercive “relationships” where they have sex in exchange for money and food and sometimes assist with mining operations. In Chiredzi, sex traffickers recruit girls as young as 11 from surrounding areas.

Traffickers use false promises of legitimate employment opportunities, including through social media and messaging applications, to lure Zimbabwean adults and children into sex trafficking and forced labor in neighboring countries, particularly South Africa. In South Africa, traffickers exploit Zimbabweans for months of labor without pay in agriculture, construction, factories, mines, information technology, and hospitality businesses. South African gangs fraudulently recruit undocumented Zimbabwean migrants with promises of legitimate employment in mining and force them into labor in the illegal mining industry. Due to the pandemic, Zimbabwean women and children increasingly travel illegally to South Africa for employment, where their lack of legal status increases their vulnerability to traffickers. International criminal organizations have intercepted some Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa and subjected them to sex trafficking, including in Musina, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Durban. Traffickers have exploited Zimbabwean women in domestic servitude, forced labor, and sex trafficking in Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda. In previous years, traffickers lured Zimbabwean women to China and the Middle East for forced labor. Traffickers have used fraudulent scholarship schemes to lure Zimbabwean students to Cyprus ostensibly for educational purposes and exploited them in forced labor and sex trafficking. Media has reported Zimbabweans living abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland, trick Zimbabweans to travel abroad under the pretenses of tourism or legitimate employment and force them into domestic work. Traffickers have recruited Zimbabwean girls into neighboring countries with promises of marriage and, during marriage, forced them into domestic work.

Zimbabwe is a transit country for Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians, and Zambians en route to trafficking in South Africa. Zimbabwe is a destination for forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers subject Mozambican children to forced labor in street vending, including in Mbare. Mozambican children who work on relatives’ farms in Zimbabwe are often undocumented and cannot enroll in school, which increases their vulnerability to traffickers. In prior years, there were reports refugees from Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo traveled from Zimbabwe’s Tongogara Refugee Camp to Harare, where traffickers exploited them and, in some cases, coerced them into commercial sex. Traffickers force some Chinese nationals to work in restaurants in Zimbabwe. Chinese construction and mining companies in Zimbabwe reportedly employ practices indicative of forced labor, including verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as coercion to induce work in unsafe or otherwise undesirable conditions. Cuban nationals working as doctors in Zimbabwe may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

U.S. Department of State

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