HOUSTON, Texas — Nearly 25 million people globally are already victims of human trafficking, but the coronavirus pandemic has appeared to provide many traffickers the ability to expand their operations. Cabo Verde has long faced human trafficking problems, despite the practice being deemed a criminal offense in 2015.
A History of Problems
Cabo Verde — also known as Cape Verde — is a country composed of a group of islands nearly 400 miles off the west coast of Africa. Dramatic changes to Cabo Verde’s economic structure since the democratic reforms of 1990 have led the country toward a more market-driven economy, relying on trade, transport and public services.
Due to its geographic position, Cabo Verde historically has been a hub for triangular trade and human trafficking. Trafficking with the purpose of sexual exploitation and prostitution primarily affects women and girls, who are especially vulnerable due to poverty. Trafficking may also increase due to tourism.
Gaps in Cabo Verde’s legislation put children at risk of sexual exploitation, human trafficking for labor exploitation, and the use in all illicit activities. Children are trafficked within Cabo Verde and to Guinea and are also forced to transport drugs to Brazil and Portugal. Children begging and vending goods on the streets of Cabo Verde are the most vulnerable to this trafficking.
The country’s penal code only protects children younger than 16 from commercial sexual exploitation, not forced labor.
Cabo Verde drafted a national action plan in 2017 to combat human trafficking and has since earned a middle-ranking from the U.S. State Department’s human trafficking report, declaring the country may not meet the minimum standards in efforts to eliminate trafficking, but is making significant gains to do so.
In order to combat the issue there, Cabo Verde’s government identified potential child trafficking victims and referred them to care, but still failed to meet standards in several crucial areas, the U.S. government said.
According to the report, Cabo Verde’s Observatory for Monitoring and Rapid Identification of Situations of Trafficking in Persons failed to coordinate successful anti-trafficking activities. Additionally, data sharing and coordination in Cabo Verde remained weak.
Cabo Verde launched the country’s first standard operating procedures in September 2020, in order to combat human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration provided technical support to Cabo Verde’s government in order to launch this program, providing a 420-page manual specifying in-depth guidelines on how to not only help victims of human trafficking but to identify them as well.
Also supporting the efforts to combat human trafficking in Cabo Verde is the U.N.’s Office on Drug and Crime, providing technical assistance when it comes to not only raising awareness of trafficking but also to aid in the implementation of new anti-trafficking legislation. Additionally, UNODC hosted training workshops in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases, with some additional funding by the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The most important outcome of a 2018 workshop was a complete work plan developed by UNODC providing instructions on how to implement Cabo Verde’s new action plan against trafficking.
Beyond Cabo Verde, UNODC fights human trafficking across the globe, training more than 2,600 people on its prevention while helping 11 countries improve legislation against trafficking. Essentially, UNODC works to mentor groups of people on ways they can help prevent trafficking — an important tool aided by UNODC building networks of governmental and non-governmental organizations they can bring together.
Another organization fighting human trafficking across the world is Unitas, founded in 2015 by hotelier Lubo Krstajic. It works to protect at-risk children, rescue trafficking victims, provide support to survivors, and works to change trafficking laws and increase penalties.
A Ways to Go
Although Cabo Verde has made strides in its effort to curb trafficking, the State Department has still provided several recommendations on how the country can improve.
The key to that is having law enforcement complete strict investigations of any human trafficking offense while working to thoroughly prosecute these offenses through the judicial system. Those efforts can be supported by training officials — such as law enforcement and labor inspectors — on the newly standardized procedures in order to successfully identify tracking victims and refer them to proper care.
Cabo Verde also can increase its level of cooperation with the law enforcement efforts of other countries as a way to stop child sex trafficking across borders.
If Cabo Verde continues putting major effort toward human trafficking by improving prosecution, protection and prevention, the State Department believes the country has the potential to show significant improvement to actually putting an end to it.
Although many organizations and governments continue working to prevent human trafficking, the issue is not yet resolved. There were at least 108,000 cases of human trafficking around the world last year, and sexual exploitation continues to rise significantly since 2015. Unfortunately, poor women and children continue to be those most at risk.
– Jacqueline Zembek