Why the si­lence?

Why isn’t any­one talk­ing about Zim­babwe’s miss­ing women and girls?

African Independent - - OPINION -

SOME are women, but many are still girls in the eyes of the cor­rupt­ible laws that gov­ern the world. We can get into the pol­i­tics of call­ing them girls later – but why isn’t any­one talk­ing about Zim­babwe’s 100 miss­ing women and girls who are still be­ing held against their will in a for­eign land?

For months, and pos­si­bly years, young Zim­bab­wean women have been taken to the Mid­dle East with the prom­ise of a mean­ing­ful job – only to be forced to work as maids and ser­vants. The more un­for­tu­nate ones are forced into the sex trade. Worse still, some are never seen or heard from again.

The Zim­bab­wean press has been on top of this story but it hasn’t made a blip on the in­ter­na­tional me­dia land­scape or spawned a hash­tag sim­i­lar to Nige­ria’s #BringBack­OurGirls.

Nokuthula, a young, am­bi­tious woman, left her mother Leah Lunga’s home 18 months ago and never re­turned. She planned to work in the Mid­dle East and send money home to help her fam­ily in Zim­babwe.

The In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates that there are 20.9 mil­lion vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing in the world; 68 per­cent are trapped in forced labour, 26 per­cent are chil­dren, 55 per­cent are women and girls.

Forced labour and hu­man traf­fick­ing is a $150 bil­lion in­dus­try world­wide. This is al­most cer­tainly the rea­son we’ll never be able to stop it. Money is what mat­ters, not lives, and the rot ap­pears to go high up. A for­mer Kuwaiti am­bas­sador to Zim­babwe has been ac­cused of be­ing the ring-leader of the traf­fick­ing ring, and that he used his sta­tus and power to lure the women.

The Zim­bab­wean gov­ern­ment, to its credit, has fa­cil­i­tated the re­turn of some of the miss­ing girls, set up a spe­cial fund to pay for the costs and asked Kuwait not to process do­mes­tic worker visas from Zim­babwe. The heroic ef­forts of Zim­bab­wean Am­bas­sador to Kuwait, Mark Grey Marongwe, and his team who traced the vic­tims, must be ap­plauded.

Sadly, even le­git­i­mate work op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Mid­dle East will be drowned out by the cli­mate fear and dis­trust now pre­vail­ing. But the safety of women like Nokuthula is para­mount. They must be found and re­turned to their fam­i­lies – un­harmed.

The grave eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Zim­babwe has forced many des­per­ate young women to take their chances abroad. Creep­ing poverty and drought has also forced fam­i­lies to sell off their chil­dren through mar­riage. In Chipinge, east of Harare, a 10-year-old girl was ex­changed for food. A cou­ple al­legedly ex­changed their grand­daugh­ter for mielie meal and R500.

Life on the precipice in Zim­babwe is tragic and tor­tur­ous – and it is our sis­ters and moth­ers who bear the brunt of the sac­ri­fices forced upon them.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that these very hu­man tragedies are di­rectly linked to rich coun­tries’ cli­mate-change de­nial­ism and dis­re­gard for hu­man rights. The irony of the cli­mat­e­change con­fer­ence COP22 that was staged in Africa un­der the cloud of a Don­ald Trump as­cen­dency should not be over­looked.

The world is a per­ilous place for the meek and vul­ner­a­ble, and more of­ten than not it is the women and girls around us who are voice­less when their rights are be­ing vi­o­lated.

Mariah, 16, dreams of get­ting a de­gree and find­ing a good job. But the death of her par­ents set her life on a per­ilous tra­jec­tory. She was forced to marry a taxi driver to pro­vide sus­te­nance for her sib­lings.

Un­til the drought ends and the econ­omy im­proves and peo­ple are able to de­ter­mine their own des­tinies, there will be more Nokuthu­las and more Mari­ahs.

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