Human Trafficking: Eye on South Sudan

The Republic of South Sudan is a nation within the East African Community and is always least reported on matters human trafficking. This is arguably partly due to the prolonged internal strife, longstanding conflict and instability. As a result, conflict-related, sexually violent crimes throughout the country have had an unwavering presence while human trafficking in South Sudan is also prevalent. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented 224 cases of sexual violence , 19 men, 66 girls and six boys in 2019 according to the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Report of the United Nations Secretary-General.

Against a backdrop of conflict, related governance challenges and mixed migration, including forced displacement and transit migration, corroborated reports and anecdotes suggest that the following forms of internal and transnational trafficking in persons (TiP) are perpetrated in South Sudan: forced recruitment by armed forces and armed groups, forced marriage, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, and labour exploitation.

South Sudan has yet to make significant progress in eliminating the human trafficking problem that threatens the country. This has caused the nation to remain in the Tier 3 category according to the United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2021. Countries that fall within the Tier 3 category risk possible restrictions and the loss of U.S. assistance. The following are some facts about human trafficking in South Sudan that can help motivate action, as well as raise awareness of the threats and dangers that so many throughout the country experience:

  1. Women are the key targets: Traffickers most frequently sexually exploit women in South Sudan’s capital–Juba–as well as Nimule, a city in the country that borders Uganda. Besides this reality, women and girls are more vulnerable to domestic servitude throughout the country and outside the borders. It is not uncommon for male occupants of the household to sexually abuse the women of the house or force them to engage in commercial sex acts.
  2. Both internal and foreign victims are at risk of human traffickers exploiting them in South Sudan. Organized networks of traffickers cut across North, Central and East Africa and leave East African migrants and those transiting through South Sudan vulnerable to abduction, sex trafficking and forced labour.
  3. Unaccompanied or orphaned children experience an increased risk of trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation. For example, unaccompanied minors in refugee camps or internally displaced children are particularly in danger of traffickers abducting them.
  4. Some factors prevent victims from reporting traffickers. Internal factors such as social stigma and fear of punishment can often discourage victims of trafficking from reporting the crimes and transgressions that traffickers committed against them to the government’s law enforcement officers.
  5. South Sudan thus far has had limited success in implementing proper strategies to address the dangers of human trafficking. Increasing the rule of law and ensuring that investigations translate into arrests and prosecutions is just one step the government must take to eliminate its trafficking problem. As the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Report of the United Nations Secretary-General noted, “Strengthening the capacity of national rule of law institutions is critical in order to advance credible and inclusive accountability processes for past crimes, as well as for prevention and deterrence of future crimes.”

With support from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, over 700 officers of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, as well as 150 SPLA-IO/RM (the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition) officers, received training focused on legal frameworks prohibiting the use of sexual violence. The SPLA-IO/RM also issued four command orders, with one of these orders instructing its commanders to form committees to investigate cases of sexual violence.

UNMISS continues to work with local commanders to encourage the release and referral of abducted women and children to appropriate support structures. Political advocacy is persistent and ongoing to secure the release of all female and child trafficking victims and reduce human trafficking in South Sudan.

Involvement of senior Government Officials

On March 25, 2022, a senior official at the South Sudan Embassy was being investigated, over suspected links to child trafficking. The official was probed alongside a brother to a South Sudan Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Peter Mayen Majondit. Police identified the brother as Santos Machok Majong. This was after detectives rescued fourteen South Sudanese children from an apartment at Kilimani area, Nairobi.

The alleged trafficked children were being moved from one apartment to the other, to avoid raising eyebrows. At some point, the children were believed to have been held at an apartment near Rusinga School, at Lavington Green, Nairobi. It was even claimed that the children were being moved around using diplomatic vehicles.

It was not until DCI detectives from the Child Protection Unit raided Marcus Garvey Apartment at Kilimani, that the children were rescued.

The rescued children consisted of seven girls and seven boys and they were all under the age of 15. A woman, whose identity was not immediately established, and believed to be the caregiver, was also arrested. Upon rescue, the children were taken to a Children Rescue Centre as police continued with investigations.

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