By Radoslaw Malinowski
As the Republic of South Sudan – a newly born country – celebrates its third independence anniversary, its society tries to recover from decades of civil war. Any visitor will spot that much development is still needed in South Sudan in terms of state and society building. The South Sudanese people, who used to live amongst the war, are trying to save what remains from the war destruction. Obviously the priorities in South Sudan should be peace building, reconciliation and civil education. That is why, during my recent travel to Juba, I reluctantly accepted the offer of SOS Children’s Villages International to conduct a one-day human trafficking awareness meeting for young Internally Displaced Persons. They have recently experienced a high level of recruitment for trafficking, especially for youths to join the rebels. My audience at my workshop was to be young refugees, who were chased from their homes by the recent wave of violence.
Before the workshop I learned that South Sudan is also a country affected by trafficking. Some of the incidents of trafficking are connected to war, but others are typical occurrences of trafficking that could be happening elsewhere. My audience had never heard about human trafficking (how typical!), but as soon as I had managed to describe what we mean by trafficking in persons through my Arabic translator, it appeared to be very familiar to the youth. They could recall many incidents of what we call human trafficking and the longer we continued the workshop the more I was convinced South Sudanese society is also affected by this vice.
There are many types of trafficking, as narrated by the young South Sudanese. Some are an outcome of the decades of war and the recent conflict, whilst others are due to lack of awareness and absence of the rule of law. Among the first are child soldiers – abducted by the warring parties. As the conflict continues many young boys are taken by the militia in order to serve as soldiers. The second are people who become victims of fake job opportunities and end up working for free in the trafficker’s homes, bars, farms etc. Interestingly, in South Sudan people are not only recruited but also exploited. Besides the internal trafficking, there are incidents of people from neighboring countries being trafficked to South Sudan. Lured by the offer of a good job, they are forced into either prostitution or forced labour. Sadly enough, as there is no law against such procedures, it is very difficult to hold those who organize the whole process accountable. The police service, often composed of illiterate officers (according to United Nations close to 90% of policeman cannot read or write), cannot stop rich, smart and well connected traffickers.
To wind up the workshop I asked the youth to conduct a drama on somebody who fell into the trap of traffickers. The youth prepared a 30-minute drama (I guess it could be the first drama about human trafficking in Arabic in this part of the world), which perfectly and in a very detailed way showed the process of trafficking, especially how the traffickers manipulate the psychology of victim and their family. As I watched the youth performance I had a deep feeling that it is time for a thorough counter trafficking program in South Sudan. As the country faces a serious challenge to reduce trafficking, there is a need to organize awareness campaigns, together with victim’s assistance and finally encourage the government to introduce the law that will prosecute the perpetrators. It is indeed an appropriate time to address human trafficking before it takes from this new country what is most precious – human capital. After all, there are few societies in the world who suffered more from traditional slavery than the people of South Sudan. They definitely should be spared from the effects of the slavery of our time – human trafficking.