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East Africa: over 50 children trafficked despite COVID-19 movement restrictions

July 30th, 2020

Child rights organisation Terre des Hommes Netherlands has seen child trafficking continuing in East Africa, despite Covid-19 related international travel bans and domestic movement restrictions. Partners in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia all report child trafficking cases during the lockdown. The expectation is that child trafficking will only grow further, with the phased lifting of most movement restrictions in the countries. This effect of the Covid-19 pandemic hits children disproportionately hard, warns Terre des Hommes Netherlands on the occasion of the World Day Against Trafficking In Persons.

Over 50 children trafficked despite lockdown

Together with its local civil society partners, child rights organisation Terre des Hommes Netherlands fights child trafficking and unsafe migration in known hotspots across East Africa. In all these areas, they have established that movement restrictions issued to curb the spread of Covid-19, have not restricted child trafficking within and beyond borders. On the contrary, unscrupulous traffickers have found ways to bypass government’s directives and carried on with their lucrative business of trafficking minors for exploitation in labour or prostitution. Over 50 cases are being addressed by the organisations, mostly in Uganda and Tanzania, with a few cases in Kenya and Ethiopia as well.

The pandemic children face

The Covid-19 crisis has caused and aggravated economic and social inequalities that are among the root causes of child trafficking. The economic impact of the pandemic is severe, resulting in loss of livelihood specifically at the low income end of society, where people mostly survive on casual labour. Increased economic stress coupled with children being out of school, has already led to a rise in child exploitation, witnessed by the growing numbers of forced Female Genital Mutilation, child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Desperation brings families to push their children to go out and make some money, thus increasing their risk of being trafficked.

Indefinite school drop-out

As movement restrictions are lifted domestically and international air travel is about to resume, a surge in child trafficking can be expected. With schools not yet re-opened in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, children in particular miss the protection of being in school. Re-opening of schools however will not prevent this expected peak in trafficking. Experience from that other recent pandemic, the Ebola crisis in West Africa, shows that between 13%  and 25% of the pupils will not resume their education once schools re-open. These drop-outs are specifically at risk of trafficking. School drop-out as a result of the Covid-19 crisis needs specific attention from governments, to ensure all children go back to school and play their part in their countries’ future, urges Terre des Hommes Netherlands.

For more information, please contact Ms. Monique Janssens at the Regional Office East Africa via m.janssens@tdh.nl.

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