Summary of research findings

Combating Human Trafficking: The Role of NGOs in the fight against Human Trafficking in Zimbabwe 


The global prevalence of human trafficking has resulted in the critical need for concerted efforts to eradicate the scourge by 2030 as highlighted by the UN Sustainable Development Agenda SDG 8.7 thereby making it a significant development issue requiring governments’ attention. At the international level, the legal framework for addressing human trafficking is primarily constructed by the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime through one of its protocols: The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (hereafter referred to as the Palermo Protocol). Individual government legislation draws from this legal document, with each government making its own specific provisions in accordance with the local situation and needs. There is therefore need for research studies that focus on individual country cases, to understand the approaches being undertaken and their effectiveness in combating human trafficking. The study focused on Zimbabwe, a Southern African nation which is described as a source, transit and destination country for people subjected to various forms of exploitation that are associated with human trafficking (NAPLAC 2019-2021).

In an effort to combat human trafficking, Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) in 2007 and acceded to the Palermo Protocol in 2013. The government of Zimbabwe proceeded to domesticate the Palermo Protocol through the enactment of the Trafficking in Persons Act (TIP Act, Chapter 9:25) in 2014. The TIP Act provided for the establishment of an Anti-Trafficking Inter-Ministerial Committee (ATIMC) which is the national coordination body responsible for developing and operationalising a National Plan of Action (NAPLAC) to guide the national response to human trafficking. The NAPLAC serves as the implementation tool for the TIP ACT and further provides the frame of reference in the national response to human trafficking.

It is against this background that this research sought to understand the prevalence of human trafficking in Zimbabwe as captured in NGO data.

Research Methodology

Working in partnership with one local NGO (Childline Zimbabwe) and one International NGO (Love Justice) with the support of a UN agency (IOM Zimbabwe), this project undertook secondary analysis of the data that the partner organisations hold on human trafficking. This was complemented by academic literature, official documents, close interaction with stakeholders involved in anti-trafficking work, and participant observation and informal conversations in hot-spot areas, as revealed by the data. The chosen approaches enabled the researchers to closely identify some of the complex drivers and dynamics of human trafficking in Zimbabwe. The findings subsequently informed the partner NGOs’ public awareness campaign on human trafficking.

Key Findings

  1. The research revealed evidence of gross human rights violation especially among children and women. These cases met the criteria of the Palermo Protocol hence in our analysis we characterised them as human trafficking incidences. The NGOs that generated the data had classified such cases as human trafficking cases.

  2. Poverty and lack of opportunities (e.g. employment and education), are featured as accounting for most human trafficking cases in Zimbabwe. Economic deprivation in source areas (mostly rural in cases of local trafficking) juxtaposed with envisaged economic vibrancy in destination areas (urban spaces) has made people more gullible and risk-tolerant in anticipation of improved fortunes. The same matrix applies for those leaving Zimbabwe for foreign metropolis like Johannesburg in South Africa.

  3. There is a general normalization of cultural norms that constitute abuses that satisfy the human trafficking category. This dovetails with limited public knowledge of what human trafficking. This is an area of opportunity for civic organizations to engage in advocacy and bring

    public awareness of the problem of human trafficking so that people will acquire the basic knowledge needed.

  4. People familiar to the victims emerged in the data as the main perpetrators which raises fundamental questions about the supposed protective role of the extended family as a trusted safety net for vulnerable groups, especially women and children. We therefore aver that the social fabric of societies has evolved with time and in some cases protective social structures have become risk factors driving human trafficking.

  5. With regards to children, family environment plays a critical role in determining levels of vulnerability to trafficking. The weaker the social and family structure, the higher the levels of vulnerability to human trafficking. This has implications for the chosen approaches and targeting methods to fighting human trafficking.

  6. There is limited evidence of men as victims of human trafficking. This may confirm the dominant discourse of men as the ideal traffickers and raises questions on the role of culture in constructing gendered perceptions of men who cannot be seen as victims to protect the traditional masculine egos.

  7. Gaps exist in the definition of human trafficking as captured in the U.S. Department of States’ TIP yearly reports. More work needs to be done to ensure that the TIP is more focused on trafficking occurring in-country than outside the country whilst aligning to international standards.

  8. There are no clear structures and coordination systems to ensure the reintegration and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking of all ages and genders. While establishment of centres for victims of trafficking in persons is mentioned in the TIP, this is not yet in existence.

  9. There is need to strengthen the multi-stakeholder coordinating structure as currently it is difficult for civil organisations to have a clear knowledge of what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. This is an opportunity for the government of Zimbabwe to create a database that captures the activities of the stakeholders working in the area.

  10. Obtaining economic conditions play a critical role in driving people into human trafficking. Without addressing the obtaining circumstances of the survivors means that they are likely to slip back into human trafficking rings.

Policy Recommendations

  1. The current economic challenges need to be addressed to enable citizens to gain access to economic means and livelihoods options that are sustainable.

  2. Strengthening of the social and family structures to enable the protection of vulnerable groups in the society.

  3. Engagement and collaboration of both men and women in the fight against cultural norms that promote both hegemonic masculinities and gender disparities in the family and home environment.

  4. Revision of the TIP to make it more focused on what happens in-country whilst meeting international standards.

  5. Adoption of an ecological model to enable various stakeholders (e.g. activists, educationists, policymakers, researchers, media, victims, survivors, civil society organisations, police, judiciary, traditional and religious leaders, to combine efforts towards combating human trafficking. Collective efforts have a higher likelihood to generate change at both macro and micro levels – or policy and practice.

  6. Strengthening of multi-stakeholder coordinating structures and creation of a database of stakeholders in anti-trafficking work to avoid duplication.

  7. Establishment of reintegration and rehabilitation centres for victims of trafficking of all ages and genders and provision of livelihood options that realistically address the needs of survivors is critical to avoid recidivism.

  8. Education in its various forms (e.g. awareness raising [including use of edutainment] about human trafficking and safe migration, human rights, skills training & entrepreneurship training) is critical in bringing knowledge and understanding about the scourge of human trafficking.

  9. Investment in extensive research to more fully understand the dynamics of human trafficking in Zimbabwe and contribute more effectively to evidence-informed policymaking.


Our partnership with the NGOs working to combat human trafficking has helped us to understand the complexity of human trafficking in Zimbabwe as well as the opportunities and challenges that confront NGOs anti-trafficking work. This has further helped the co-creation of public campaign activities to help our NGO partner organizations bring awareness of both the human trafficking problem and the work that they do to support communities fight human trafficking. The campaigns are also meant to help activate and strengthen community structures that are sustainable for an effective response to trafficking in persons in Zimbabwe