By: Roohi Sahajpal
Dar es Salaam – I’m greeted at the gate of The Daughters of Mary Immaculate (DMI) centre by two nuns. Located off a quiet road in the Kibamba area of Dar es Salaam in a grassy field surrounded by palm trees, dirt roads and roosters. It’s far from the congested traffic and honking of horns of the highway below.
The nuns are dressed in all pink; light pink dresses, thick pink tights and their hair pulled back with a long veil draping their back.
I decide to say hello in Hindi instead of my usual “Mambo” in Swahili when I notice that they’re Indian.
“Namaste,” I say with my hands clasped and lower my head and nod.
They smile and reply and I’m welcomed inside along with myself along a reporter from The Citizen. We’re here to talk to one of the many girls that the DMI centre has rescued; girls who were victims of child trafficking.
We meet 15-year-old Magreth. She’s one of the seven girls at the centre that were rescued from child trafficking by the DMI nuns. She’s shy at first and doesn’t want to talk. She keeps her head down and avoids eye contact with us, looking at us back and forth but averting her gaze. She plays with her fingers and slowly, she starts talking. She whispers at first but as she feels more comfortable, she starts telling us her story.
Like many of the unassuming victims of child trafficking, Magreth was an orphan. Raised by her grandmother, her trafficker was a neighbor and friend of her grandmother. Her trafficker, Anna, told her grandmother that she’d take her to find work after she completed her seventh grade in 2011. Instead, she took Magreth to Sinza Mori Street in Dar es Salaam where she was sold and became a domestic worker.
“When I protested, my traffickers beat me and threatened to kill and bury me in the desert if I would not comply. They threatened me with more thrashings if I could not reimburse them for my travel expenses,” she told us.
In October, the Global Slavery Index 2013 revealed that between 310,000 and 350,000 people in Tanzania are living in conditions of modern slavery. The survey,conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, ranked Tanzania 29 out of 162 countries.
More startling than this is the fact that for a fourth year, the Tanzanian government has failed to allocate funding to the victims’s assistance fund established by the 2008 anti-trafficking act, according to the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons 2013 report.
The report also states that Tanzania is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. The incidence of internal trafficking is higher than that of trans-national trafficking, and is usually facilitated by family members, friends, or intermediaries who offer assistance with education or finding lucrative employment in urban areas. The Tanzanian government has not increased efforts to combat trafficking since the last reporting period.
During her year of forced labour, Magreth wasn’t paid and didn’t go to school. Her grandmother had no idea that she was sold and forced to work long hours under hazardous conditions. Some days, she wasn’t allowed to eat and was forced to sleep on the kitchen floor, which left her with severe back problems.
She escaped with the help of one of her employer’s friends who noticed that something was wrong and learned that she wanted to leave. After escaping, she lived on the street for several weeks and says she was tempted to engage in prostitution to survive. She was sleeping on the floors of city shops before a food vendor turned good samaritan took her to the DMI centre, an NGO headquartered in Tamil Nadu, India that has been operating in Tanzania for the past 10 years.
It’s not clear what the government plans to do with its anti-trafficking committee. Our calls to the government have gone unanswered so far. The nuns at the DMI centre tell us that government officials do occasionally check in at the centre to see how their work is going, but even they are struggling for funds to keep their program going.
As our interview with Magreth ends, she tells us she considers herself lucky. She’s undergoing counselling and learning skills and attending classes at the centre. In December, Magreth and the other girls will graduate from their rehabilitation program and start the process of reunification with their families. Then, another batch of girls with a similar set of stories will begin the same process.