Issa Togola | February 6, 2023
It’s noon in the heart of Faladiè, a village in southwestern Mali. Hamidou Sacko, a case manager with a group called Environment and Development Mali, is holding the daily meeting. The organization works to end human trafficking, specifically of young boys and girls. One of the most prominent types is trafficking through forced prostitution. Aminata Koumbia is a 19-year-old girl from Kayes, a city in western Mali. A few years ago, she travelled to a gold mining site to look for work. But things did not go as planned and she decided to leave for Bamako instead. Lacking transportation costs, a driver agreed to take her on condition that she pay on arrival. But Ms. Koumbia had no money to pay the driver, who brought her to his apprentices and forced Ms. Koumbia to have sex with them for money. After receiving support from Environment and Development Mali, her condition improved considerably. But many survivors do not feel safe to report their experience of being trafficked. Though difficult, work against human trafficking in Mali is yielding results.
It’s noon in the heart of Faladiè, a village in southwestern Mali. Hamidou Sacko, a case manager with a group called Environment and Development Mali, is holding the daily meeting. The organization works to end human trafficking, specifically of young boys and girls, by identifying and supporting survivors as they reintegrate into their communities.
In July 2012, Mali adopted a law that defines human trafficking as “the transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons within or outside a country, by means of threat, use of force, violence, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of authority, or of a position of vulnerability … for the purpose of exploitation.” Anyone found responsible for human trafficking can face a penalty of five to 20 years in prison.
But cases of human trafficking in Mali remain high. Some groups estimate that tens of thousands of people are trafficked each year, and point to causes such as poverty, illiteracy, the long national borders, and dependence on the informal economy.
Human trafficking affects all regions of Mali, taking many forms and involving many sectors. One of the most prominent is trafficking for sexual exploitation through forced prostitution, which often affects women. Recruiters often promise lucrative work and relocate the women. But, once they arrive at their destination, they are trapped and in debt, and their captors force them to repay the cost of travel and accommodation through prostitution.
Mrs. Sacko says that in 2021 alone, Environment and Development Mali supported 71 survivors of sex trafficking, including 38 women and girls from Mali. The women and girls benefit from psychological support to process and understand their experience and gain the confidence to reintegrate into their communities. They also receive accommodation, food, medical care, clothing, and other emotional and social support.
Aminata Koumbia is a 19-year-old girl from Kayes, a city in western Mali. A few years ago, she travelled to a gold mining site to look for work. But things did not go as planned and she decided to leave for Bamako instead. Lacking transportation costs, she explained the situation to a driver who agreed to take her on condition that she pay on arrival. But Ms. Koumbia had no friends or contacts in Bamako, and no money to pay the driver. The driver brought her to his apprentices and forced Ms. Koumbia to have sex with them for money. She became ill soon after and was admitted to an emergency clinic. Her case was reported to the Kanuya Centre, which provides support to survivors of trafficking, much like Environment and Development Mali.
Kassim Sanogo works at the centre. He remembers Ms. Koumbia, and recalls: “She suffered a lot of abuse. She was physically and mentally exhausted. She was traumatized and … became aggressive towards others. In terms of hygiene, she no longer cared about her body. For a few months, we took care of her psychologically and physically and her condition improved considerably.”
To fight human trafficking in Mali, the International Organization for Migration says that frontline workers such as police officers, child protection staff, labour inspectors, hospital staff, social workers, border police, and government workers need more training. Specifically, they point to the need to help these individuals improve their listening techniques and their ability to provide psychological first aid.
Unfortunately, despite the supports available, many survivors do not feel safe to report their experience of being trafficked. Many fear their traffickers, or feel shame about their experience. Others are unaware that they have been trafficked, or initially agreed to be trafficked as a way to migrate.
According to Hamidou Sacko, returning home is difficult for many survivors, especially women. He says: “Some parents do not understand the situation and reject their trafficked children. Some girls also refuse to return out of shame, especially those with babies. And others even end up running away.”
For Environment and Development Mali, the main challenge is prevention. To help prevent human trafficking, the International Organization for Migration has developed a list of more than a dozen questions to help identify a person who is being trafficked. They ask whether a person appears nervous, frightened, suspicious, or whether they won’t talk; whether they show signs of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; and whether they refuse to give information about themselves. They also ask if people know where they are, whether they have identity or travel documents, and whether they live at work or with their employer.
Though difficult, work against human trafficking in Mali is yielding results. Mr. Sacko explains: “There is synergy between the state services, the NGOs, and other partners. Thanks to this good collaboration, we are managing to dismantle more and more networks that practice trafficking for sexual exploitation. At the current rate of progress, we can say that the fight will be long. But the objective will eventually be reached.”
Mr. Sanogo from the Kanuya Centre agrees. He says, “There are more and more people who understand this phenomenon, and the actors who fight it are multiplying. We can say that sooner or later, our efforts will bear fruit.”
This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (FRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.
Photo: Sexual violence haunts displaced people in South Sudan. Credit: Anouk Delafortrie for the European Union, 2018.