The East African Legislative Assembly has enacted the EAC Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill in a bid to combat human trafficking in the region.
The bill which was moved by by Hon. Dora Byamukama received affirmation from the entire House as it resumed for its 2nd Meeting of the 5th Session on Tuesday and now awaits the assent of the EAC Heads of State in line with Article 63 of the Treaty of the Establishment of the EAC.
In the event that all Heads of State assent to the Bill, approved http://cerlalc.org/wp-content/plugins/types/library/toolset/toolset-common/wplogger.php it shall become an Act of the Community, taking precedence over the laws of the Partner States on the same matter.
The object of the Bill is to provide for a legal framework for the prevention of trafficking in persons, prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking in persons, provision of protection mechanisms and services for victims of trafficking in persons and development of partnerships for co-operation to counter trafficking in persons in the EAC.
Prior to enactment, the Assembly constituted itself into a Committee of the whole House and digested the Bill clause by clause, incorporating the amendments.
The debate on the Bill was preceded by the tabling and presentation of the Report of the Committee on Legal Rules and Privileges on the EAC Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill, 2016.
The Report presented by Hon Maryam Ussi, follows public hearings on the subject matter held in the Partner States in September 2016.
The Report among other things, ascertains that the crime of trafficking in persons is prevalent in all EAC Partner States.
In comparing the magnitude of the problem in EAC Partner States with other countries, the Committee referred to the Trafficking in Persons Report published yearly by the Department of State of the United States of America.
The report further ranks all countries in the world in to three TIERS: TIER 1, TIER 2, TIER 2 Watch List, and TIER 3 basing on the respective Government’s efforts against trafficking as measured by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) standards.
The key parameters considered in ranking countries are actions taken in the prosecution, protection and prevention sections of trafficking in persons of that country.
According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, published in 2016, the Republics of Kenya and Uganda, are grouped under TIER 2.
The Republic of Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania are ranked under TIER 2 Watch List, while the Republic of Burundi is ranked under TIER 3.
During the public hearings and interactions in the Partner States, a number of comments were picked from stakeholders to boost the Bill. In Burundi, the legislators were told that parents should be encouraged to take measures towards keeping their children within the family set-ups, while respective Embassies and Missions abroad, should be tasked with liberating and repatriating victims found within their respective stations of duty.
In Kenya, the stakeholders told EALA legislators to ensure the Bill tightens laws against employment agents who sometimes engage in recruiting people for trafficking.
They further suggested the proposed minimum penalty of ten years of imprisonment for offenders engaged in trafficking in persons was too lenient and that it should be stepped up.
In the United Republic of Tanzania, EALA Members were tasked to ensure the Bill provides for the protection of People With Disabilities (PWDs) and for the protection of witnesses. They further called on the law to criminalize perpetuators, promoters and facilitators of the offence.
While in Rwanda, legislators were urged to ensure the Bill provides a provision for return of trafficked persons from the hosting Partner State. This, they suggest should be preceded by a risk assessment and with due regard for his/her safety to the home country.
Legislators were tasked to safeguard the role of Foreign Missions in stemming human trafficking is emphasised in Bill, while on the tour in Uganda.
“The EAC Partner States should form specialised units or focal point offices to handle various aspects of human trafficking like child labour, and prostitution”, the Members were informed.
The Committee also noted that the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, have specific laws on counter-trafficking in persons and which are in tandem with the UN Protocol.
However, the penalties for offences under the laws of Partner States differ from one jurisdiction to another.
The Republic of Rwanda is yet to enact a specific law on counter-trafficking in persons even though, offences and penalties for trafficking in persons are provided for under the Penal Code.
The Report was supported during debate by Hon Martin Ngoga who said human trafficking was a major problem in the region and called for more concerted efforts in stemming the same.
Hon Nancy Abisai said it was important for the modes of adoption to be streamlined and adhered to. Hon Isabelle Ndahayo said corruption was a key factor in the fight against human trafficking.
Hon Chris Opoka said the enactment of the Bill was timely. He remarked that women and children who are vulnerable continue to be trafficked largely for sale of their body-parts. “This ritual must be condemned and discontinued”, he said.
Hon Adam Kimbisa said the region had for several years been a hunting ground for trafficking in persons where able-bodied people have in the past also been. He cited the need to stop wars, eradicate poverty, create wealth and check corruption as a means to stemming the scourge.
Hon AbuBakr Zein, Hon Mike Sebalu, Hon Valerie Nyirahabineza and Hon Dr Odette Nyiramilimo also supported the Bill. Others who rose in support of the report were Hon Susan Nakawuki, Hon Mumbi Ngaru, Hon Patricia Hajabakiga, Hon Nusura Tiperu and Hon Taslima Twaha