Refuge Network International

How Ugandans are being duped into sex slavery

Having spent three years without a job, the offer was too juicy for her to refuse. She was promised a lucrative part time job in a four-star hotel, an opportunity to study in college to upgrade her qualifications and be paid $1,000, (sh2,500,000) every month. 

When she insisted that she had no money to pay for the passport, visa and air ticket, she was assured everything would be covered for her.

Excited, Mastula Nalubowa alias Mercy Nalubowa ran to her sister she had come to visit in Kibuli and told her the exciting news.

“She was jobless, so the allure of that kind of money was too much. Since we were not going to incur any costs for  her travel, we gave her a go ahead,” her sister told Sunday Vision.

Nalubowa gave the stranger her contacts, plus a passport photo. After three weeks, she was called to pick her passport and travel documents.

She was taken to a shrine, undressed and certain rituals were performed on her. She was then given some papers to sign where she was required to repay the syndicate the travel expenses and all the money they had incurred on her. In total the figure was $8000 (sh20,000,000).

The nightmares in China

Unknown to her, her dreams would soon turn into a nightmare once she had boarded the plane. She was first taken to China to an apartment where she met 15 other girls from Uganda.

The syndicate immediately took her passport, ushered into a small room with a bed and told to start working. On learning that she had been duped into sex slavery, she hesitated. 

Three men came in, beat her up, raped and threatened to kill her. A big bulky African man was then ushered into her room and he forcefully had sex with her. Then came another and another. By the end of the first day she had slept with 15 men.

“Everybody wanted the new girl that had come from Uganda,” her sister told Sunday Vision in a phone interview.

Among those who raped her was a chief drug trafficker, who upon arrest later, was found to be HIV positive.

After a month in China, she and four others were flown to Malaysia, where they entered using social visit visas. They were taken to Petaling Jaya, where the syndicate had rented four apartments.

The women could not go anywhere as their movements were monitored by the syndicate.

“She could not rest. The pimp kept on bringing her man after man. He would collect the money at the door way. They gave her nothing and she had no say on which man to sleep with.”

And when she went into her periods they kept bringing more and more men.

Lucky escape

As luck would have it, one of the girls escaped and boarded a taxi to the Ugandan consulate, who alerted the police in Bukit Aman. When they moved in, they arrested two women who were acting as pimps and also recovered notebooks containing the names of all the customers each girl had serviced.

Mastula was lucky that when the operation was carried out she escaped. She is among hundreds of Ugandan women stranded in Malaysia and China without any help or documentation.

A study by the Refugee Documentation Centre of Ireland in 2010 revealed that Uganda is a source and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation. 

The report showed that young girls and women were lured into sex trafficking within East Africa, Europe and Asian countries.

According to the study, Uganda still falls short of its international obligation to protect her citizens against sexual offences and human trafficking, despite the states efforts to combat this on the legislative front.

And the Police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do not have exact figures of Ugandans that have been trafficked out of the country and are being held in servitude in foreign countries.

Syndicates in Uganda too

Sunday Vision established that despite the existence of the rings in Kampala and other parts of Uganda, the Police said they were unable to trace and track them. 

One of the biggest syndicates is based in Kibuli, a stone’s throw away from the Criminal Investigation Department offices, being run by a woman.

The syndicate has its branches and coordinating centers across the country and in several big cities around the world.

Police sources intimated to Sunday Vision that they are investigating a racket at the immigrations department that helps the traffickers to get passports within hours.

Last week, a report by the Sessional Committee on Foreign Affairs on its visit to the embassy of Uganda in Beijing and the consulate in Guangzhou, reported in Parliament that hundreds of Ugandan girls are being trafficked to China and the other parts of the world for sexual exploitation.

“There are reports of Ugandans who are helped to travel to China for greener pastures. When they arrive in China, those who helped them to travel confiscate their passports and force them to pay up to $8,000 for the help they received.”

The report says most of the Ugandans have demonstrated the desire to return home but the embassy and consulate do not have the capacity to help those who want to return home.

Two men arrested

Last year two men, Dalvin Mwesigye and Frank Kato alias Ashraf Kisseka, were arrested on accusations that they duped young Ugandan girls into sex trade in Malaysia using the guise of job opportunities.

MPs investigate

In February this year, the Woman Youth MP Monica Amoding raised the issue and the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, referred it to the Equal Opportunities Standing Committee. 

The committee sent three of its members on a fact finding mission to Malaysia. The three are Anifa Kawoya Bangirana, Florence Ibi Ekwau and Kenneth Lukwago.

The committee found that there is a large number of Ugandan girls in Malaysian prison. And when the delegation visited Kajang prison,  the main government prison, they found 13 detainees, of which two were elderly women above the age of 40. They were arrested on grounds of prostitution.

When the MPs visited a detention camp, they found 21 girls who had served their sentence and were awaiting their deportation. 

The committee says they met a lot of hostilities from some of the girls who never wanted to be interviewed for fear that their identities would be released to the papers.

On analysing the information given, the delegation realised that the girls had hidden their actual identities. Ten of the girls claimed they were students and had been coached on what to say. 

On further interaction, the committee found that the girls were not actually students but had been trafficked by a racket of men deeply involved in human and drug trafficking.

The committee found out that most of the girls had been recruited to work in saloons, homes and other petty jobs. The committee also found that the traffickers are well connected and have many branches in Bangkok, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Abu Dhabi, China and Indonesia, where prostitution business is on high demand.

Foreign affairs speaks out

The foreign affairs ministry says it does not have enough information on Ugandans who are trapped in sex slavery abroad.

They do not even have a complete record of Ugandans abroad, which makes it difficult to control human trafficking.

“You cannot force people to register. What we have in our records are those who have officially registered with our consulate and embassies,” said Ambassador Mugume, the ministries’ Permanent Secretary.

Mugume advises Ugandans to always register with the Ugandan missions in the countries where they are so that they can be helped when the need arises.

The ministry, he says, is planing to contact the governments in the sex slave destination countries such as Malaysia and China to control the entry of Ugandan women.

The ministry is planning to set date registration for all its citizens at the embassy’s mission abroad.

The ministry is also planning a massive sensitisation campaign in Kampala to create awareness about the dangers of being lured to work in foreign countries. 

To curb the vice, Mugume said the ministry is trying to push for the review of the Trafficking in Persons Act 2009 to ensure stringent punishment for the traffickers and their accomplices.


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