Human trafficking and gender-based violence in Namibia

At workshop training on human trafficking and child exploitation in Walvis Bay, Namibia. With Andrea Vizsolyi (front left) and myself (front right) along with workshop participants

By Samantha Wynne

Samantha Wynne is currently spending her YLIP placement at the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia, as a member of the Gender Research & Advocacy Project team. She was called to the bar in Ontario in 2014.

A decade ago, people tended to think of human trafficking as primarily involving women trafficked from a poor country into an affluent country for sexual exploitation. In reality however, this serious human rights violation affects thousands of women, men and children around the world, and there are various ways in which victims may be exploited (such as for work, sex or forced marriage). Also, there are increasing reports of domestic trafficking – reminding us that trafficking does not require the crossing of an international border.

Since the first human trafficking case was reported in Namibia in 2010, police here have recorded about 40 cases. However, it is difficult to know for sure how widespread human trafficking is because, like gender-based violence, trafficking is often a concealed crime. To date, there have only been three convictions – all of which have centred on sex trafficking of minor girls.

The Legal Assistance Centre is Namibia’s only public interest law firm, and it has been firmly committed to advancing gender equality ever since Dianne Hubbard established the GR&AP department in 1993.  Since I arrived in Namibia in September and joined the LAC, I have largely focused on creating educational materials and raising community awareness regarding Namibia’s new Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act, which was passed in 2018 and consolidates all of the country’s trafficking-related laws and international legal obligations into a single statute. In particular, I have published a comic book (which was circulated as an insert in the national newspaper) and a corresponding booklet on human trafficking in Namibia. Furthermore, I have led capacity-building trainings for audiences ranging from school teachers to prosecutors, and have represented the LAC as a member of the National Coordinating Body on Trafficking. I have also had the opportunity to work directly with government officials to strengthen the Act’s implementation and enforcement. Recently, more than 30 government officials from several ministries convened a workshop to discuss draft regulations to accompany the Trafficking in Persons Act. Not only was the LAC the only NGO present at the meeting, but our proposed alternative draft provisions were warmly welcomed by the group. Dianne was a rockstar!

Beyond trafficking, child sexual abuse remains a human rights issue of epidemic proportions in Namibia. Between 2003 and 2012, police investigated more than 3,800 cases of child rape, 3,656 of which involved female children. 40 per cent of reported cases involved children under 10 years old. Dianne worries however that “the nation is no longer shocked about child sexual abuse,” despite all of the evidence that the problem is widespread and not abating. In my view, this issue deserves the same vocal outcry and donor support as human trafficking, in order to holistically respond to child abuse and gender-based violence in the country.

It has been immensely rewarding work with the LAC as part of my YLIP placement and to learn from Dianne in particular. By working together with other local activists, government officials and UN agencies, I have also developed a much deeper understanding of how to effect change at a country level.