High Commission envoy in Washington DC accused of exploitation, abuse
Traffics housemaid to US, refuses to pay wages
Offer for lucrative jobs most common trick
Human trafficking, a sophisticated phenomenon that is barely understood the world over, is fast degenerating into a national security threat in Botswana, with criminals or cartels targeting unsuspecting gullible locals.
As some light is shed on the strategies and trickery used by traffickers, more survivors of this inhumane act are coming out to tell their stories. It is happening on our shores! Parliament is currently discussing amendments to the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, brought by Minister of Defense, Justice and Security -Shaw Kgathi says the Amendment Bill seeks to close gaps in the current statute.
One such heartbreaking story is that of 50 year old Mosadinyana Montsho of Serowe, who was tricked into travelling to the United States of America (USA) where she was promised lucrative employment by a high ranking government official (names withheld). But upon arrival in The Land of the Free, Montsho's dream was quickly extinguished when she was turned into House Help, working under deplorable slave conditions that included withholding part of what was her remuneration. She had been duped! Even more painful for Montsho is that she never expected such treatment and abuse from a fellow countryman and a high ranking official at the Botswana High Commission in Washington DC.
The unemployed mother has been struggling to find formal employment for quite some time, so when her sister got wind of the fact that the diplomat was looking for house helper she told her and naturally she jumped at the opportunity more so that it promised better pay.
She was then called in for Visa application interviews at the US Embassy in Gaborone, where she says her intended purpose of going to the US was interrogated and confirmed and her proposed monthly salary was too brought to table and confirmed by herself in the interview.
After this process, it was now all systems go for her and her employer and they flew to the US, where she started working as a housekeeper. Her responsibilities included; cooking, cleaning the house and child-minding.
Although at first all was in order, Montsho says things took an interesting twist when it was time for her employer to pay her as instead of paying her as initially agreed, her employer gave her half of what was agreed on and thereafter gave her even less amounts after a hustle even.
“Our agreement was that she pay me $11.50 per an hour which added up to $805 fortnightly but two weeks after I started working she only gave me $400 there after she gave me $280 told me that she didn’t really have money and that instead of the agreed and the payments got irregular with time,” she said. “ When I persisted, she told me that kana what our contract states as my salary doesn’t necessarily pass in reality because all those figures were just to get US Embassy to give me a visa” she said.
Staying in the US requires one to have a security number, which gives one access to basics such as medical insurance, and all this Montsho didn’t have. Her employer on the other hand didn’t bother facilitating the acquirement of such despite her (Montsho) insistence.
Three months down the line, Montsho fell sick and getting medical attention became a hustle, as she didn’t have medical insurance. Her self-confessed broke employer also couldn’t assist. Sick and stranded in a foreign land she now had to find ways to get assistance and that is how she met another Motswana, Tebogo Kaisara (introduced to her by her sister’s friend) who also happened to be a survivor of human trafficking. Her employer she says didn’t seem bothered by this and instead suggested that she get back to Botswana to get medical assistance, all this time her salary woes still continued.
The survivor now activist took up the case and started making enquiries including at the Botswana High Commission. That coupled with Montsho's pleas to at least be brought back to Botswana to seek medical attention might have propelled the employer to act fast and book her on the next plane back to Botswana. By then Kaisara and Montsho had now agreed to involve authorities but it was a little too late. “The airport police stopped us and enquired about the alleged human trafficking after Kaisara alerted them but she showed them paperwork and assured them that there was a misunderstanding somehow. I was so scared, confused and sick and I couldn’t challenge whatever she was saying,” said Montsho.
That is how she got to arrive back in Botswana. Since her arrival, her employer has only called once to confirm her arrival. She has since not said anything about the owed salaries and other pending issues. And has allegedly blocked her from making any kind of contact with her.
This is despite the fact that Montsho’s 4-year employment contract still stands and as it is she still considers herself employed. Her inquiries about this state of affairs to her employer have been ignored. “I now do not know whether I am on sick leave, unpaid leave or whether I am still under her employ at all,” she said.
A human trafficking expert, who this publication talked to off record, confirmed that indeed Montsho’s case qualifies as human trafficking. He said the fact that she was recruited to a foreign land and her contractual agreement later disregarded culminated to labour exploitation and servitude.
Botswana enacted the Anti-Human Trafficking Act No. 32 in 2014, with the law coming into effect in 2015.Section 10 of the Act imposes a fine of up to Botswana Pula (BWP) 500 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 25 years, or both to anyone convicted of the crime. The fine rises to not more than P1 000 000 and/ or a prison term of up to 30 years for the crime under aggravating circumstances that might include, but not limited to organ removal, slavery or forced labour, forcing someone to participate in obscene publication or display, or sexual exploitation. The act further provides for measures to be taken to promote prevention and provides for victim protection.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. It further states exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.