Some Somalis Fight Slavery Despite Failed State

Posted June 21st, 2012 at 7:17 pm (UTC+0)
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Mogadishu: The capital of war-torn Somalia. Photo: AP

Prosecution of Traffickers in Puntland Draws Praise

Failure is no stranger in Somalia. From warlords Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Mohamed Farrah Aidid to the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, a generation of chaos followed the 1991 ouster of Major General Mohamed Siad Barre.

Despite the sacrifices of African Union peacekeepers backing a Transitional Federal Government, Somalia today leads the Fund for Peace’s Failed State Index for a fifth straight year based on the organization’s analyses of political, economic, and social pressures on 178 nations.

Somalia’s unrivaled failure results from what this year’s report calls “widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, and well-publicized pirate attacks against foreign vessels.” An unenviable ranking to be sure, but at least it is a ranking. Somalia is too often the blank line across human development tables because sufficient information is perennially “not available.”

Al-Shabaab militants. Photo Reuters

Children Forcibly Recruited by al-Shababb


This year’s U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report looks at slavery in 186 countries and ranks 185 of them, with Somalia again the lone exception — a “special case” for the tenth consecutive year “due to the lack of a viable central government.” The report says al-Shabaab continues to forcibly recruit young girls who are then “married” to militia leaders and used for sexual servitude, logistical support, and intelligence gathering. It says al-Shabaab uses “systematic force and deception to target vulnerable children, sometimes as young as eight years old,” threatening teachers and parents who refuse to send children for training in roadside bombs and assassination.

But human trafficking is not entirely invisible within this failed state. In April, courts in the self-declared republic of Puntland sentenced a Somali man to 12 years in prison for trying to traffic nine children between the ages of seven and 14 from southern Somalia to Yemen through Puntland. The court transferred custody of the children to a local, UNICEF-funded NGO until their parents could be identified.

Praise for Puntland

“Even in Somalia, there are heroes of the anti-trafficking fight,” says the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca. He says the Puntland prosecution shows that “even in countries where there is not a functioning government, the legal system and others can work together to bring traffickers to justice.”

Officials in the semi-autonomous region continue to boost Puntland’s Marine Police Force patrols to combat piracy and the trafficking of Somali and Ethiopians across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen through Qaw, Mareero, and Elayo.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds up a copy of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. Photo: AP

The State Department report says Puntland and the semi-autonomous Somaliland established a referral process for the transfer of trafficking victims to NGOs while immigration officials began using a screening checklist developed by the International Organization for Migration to help identify trafficking cases. Also, clan elders have started referring suspected trafficking victims to IOM workers. Over the past year, IOM and local partners have provided housing, medical and psychological assistance, food, clothes, vocational training, and seed money for starting small businesses to 27 victims of trafficking in Puntland and Somaliland.

Clinton Issues a Challenge

Unveiling the Human Trafficking report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a useful and specific guide for governments looking to scale up their own efforts at prevention, prosecution, and protection.

“What kind of psychological support might a victim need? How should immigration laws work to protect migrant victims? How can labor inspectors learn to recognize the warning signs of traffickers? And what can you and all of us do to try to help?” Clinton says. “One person’s commitment and passion, one person’s experience and the courage to share that experience with the world can have a huge impact.”




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Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns is VOA’s State Department correspondent. He has worked as VOA’s Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.



June 2012
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