Slavery conjures up pictures of black people shipped in bunks and tied to chains; and sounds of whips on their backs at the hands of white owners. Rarely does it invoke images of women and girls, chained to beds, held in bondage as sex slaves.

The kind of dark thoughts that creep into people’s minds at midnight - are they ever about imagining life as a sex slave? Does anyone ever wonder what life would be like awake all night, abused, exhausted, bruised, dejected, knowing that tomorrow promises no change? Does anyone not subjected to this horror lose sleep imagining a life of perpetual pain, humiliation, degradation, men forcing themselves upon you, thousands of dollars made off your body, with none for you, but all for your pimp?

Yet this slavery is not history but a cruel part of current global events.

The inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade stirred the abolitionist movement more than a century ago, and with the exception of Mauritania where Arab Muslim ‘bidanes’ still own black slaves ‘haratines’ blacks are no longer used as slaves because they are blacks.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes on the other hand knows no race. It discriminates against women because they are women; be they black, Indian, Arabic, Caucasian, Asian, white or another race. Sexual slavery plagues women from all continents especially Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Women exposed to extreme poverty are the most vulnerable although other women may be deceived, sold or abducted into sexual slavery. Stop Sexual Slavery, a global entity fighting sexual slavery contends that sex traffickers make $3.2 billion annually. For such a profitable industry, moral outrage without committed societal transformation and government commitment will never be sufficient to end it.

Many governments close their eyes to the destruction of thousands of girls' and women’s lives. Is it because the victims are women? Has slavery suddenly become less appalling because men are predominantly the physical and financial beneficiaries of the sale of women’s bodies?

It is crystal clear that sexual slavery occurs in larger proportions than the Atlantic slave trade ever did. 100,000 children are forced to become sex workers each year, injected with drugs until they become addicts, wasted and debilitated. The Not for Sale Campaign estimates that more than 30 million people are held in sexual slavery today.

There are no William Wilberforces standing up defying houses of Assembly and forcing crackdowns on this practice. Instead many legislators believe this is prostitution-the oldest trade in the world-not worth making a fuss over. But how does an 8-year-old choose to be a prostitute?

No Kings and Sheikhs are passing decrees to end sexual slavery; instead during my stay in Cairo, I heard stories of sheikhs from Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Emiratis who solely visited to buy sex.

Sexual slavery is rampant in places where there is no rule of law such as Northern Uganda, the DRC, Mauritania and particularly Zimbabwe.

The feminisation of poverty is evident in the capture and use of young Zimbabwean women as sex slaves in South Africa, attempting to escape the dire economic straits in Zimbabwe. In February 2012, the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, through BBC News, reported that Northern Ireland was becoming the fastest growing sex industry in England with most victims coming from Zimbabwe, Ghana, China and Slovakia.

Zimbabwe’s geographical positioning lends itself to be used as a source, transit and destination point for victims of trafficking from and to Asia, Europe and other African countries, according to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from June 2009.

Still, the Zimbabwean government refuses to ratify anti-trafficking conventions. An anti-trafficking bill has been pending approval in parliament for years. To prosecute apprehended offenders, an ad-hoc approach utilising the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act has to be used. In the same vein the Criminal Code criminalises prostitution and harasses victims--masking trafficking as prostitution and subjecting victims to inhumane living conditions.

The Zimbabwean government and many others do not make significant efforts to fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. Why isn’t there an outcry as huge as that against black slavery? Would the issue be taken more seriously if men were sex slaves?

Zimbabwe needs to sign and ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, develop clear policies encompassing public education and awareness, name and shame those involved, prosecute offenders and offer psycho-social support for victims.

Only then will we make progress toward abolishing another form of slavery, one that puts us all to shame.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignments: Op-Eds.

Comment on this Post


The bad news is, the picture is still too dark. The good news is, its penetrable and even removable. The beginning can be that ratification of the protocol. You are speaking for it, we have heard and we will echo. The morning can't be a mirage!

With much love, Rumbi, my friend and a special hug on the eve of Valentine's day. The Module 3 is already over, can you believe it?

Stella Paul Twitter: @stellasglobe

Again my apologies for my late responses. This week has been hectic for me as I was preparing oral statements, lunch briefings and other documents for my advocacy strategy as part of the Zimbabwean civil society delegation to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. I presented today so the greater part has been done. Now what's left is to increase lobbying with other bodies at the UN.

Indeed the picture is still bleak and in my country the problem is that there is no certainty on the exact figures of trafficked women because of the whole criminalisation of sex work which shadows trafficking as well as a general denial by government that the problem exists in worrying proportions. I hope for better documentation , in fact I intend to begin a project of properly documenting the levels of sexual slavery in my country.

Lots of love and hugs back (though belated).


You just posed it. Who are those in charged of ensuring that this act is abolished for good. The ruling patriarch. They are the benefactors and the promoters. until, this structural dynamic is alter share we begin to see progress. and some effective ways to influence is by transforming some of their mindsets. Thank you dear sister. this is lovely.

Stay Blessed



Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

You said something profound, which is that as long as we (as civil society) are fighting against a practice that is promoted by and benefiting the political elite, we have a hard task before us because they lack the political will to move it and bring about any meaningful change. Trafficking is like that because some politicians own these brothels where the women are used, others indulge in such depraved and sadistic pleasures, while others in immigration are paid huge bribes to close an eye to the trafficking of young girls and women. Until and unless they understand the gravity of their actions then we will continue o have these challenges.




It's shocking how sex trafficking and slavery can be hidden under many fake names, such as "marriage" for example. In Egypt, for instance, those young girls are sold to sheikhs as brides, thus no one makes a big fuss about it, since it's hidden under the name of marriage!

I wanted to ask you if the there are any progress in the number of people sold to slavery yearly?

Thanks for highlighting this important topic!


Yes you said it as it is. Indeed in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, trafficking is hidden as 'arranged marriages". Have you ever watched the movie "Taken." The girl in that movie was stolen and sold to some Sheikh who also had many women in his Harem whom he had "married".

From my research around the topic of trafficking I gather that there is an increase in the number of trafficked women each year. No significant changes have been seen to date.

Thanks for your comments love.



I just like the caption- Women are not goods - they are not for sale. I think it is high time the world stopped 'sale' of women for different reasons, across the world.

Thank you for bringing up this important issue which is a great concern all over.


Indeed women are not for sale sisi. Thank you for your warm comments and support as always. I just wish everyone would be on the alert to assist young girls not to fall trap to deception that draws them into trafficking with false promises of waitressing or modelling jobs.

Thank you for reading and for your invaluable feedback.



How have you been? Hope you had a lovely day yesterday. As always, i enjoyed reading your article. I had no idea our own women were being trafficked to as far as Northern Ireland. It's a very painful trend because that's someone's daughter, someone's sister being treated like a piece of meat.

My dear sister

I hope you had a wonderful day too. Thanks for the love. I was travelling when you sent me your warm wishes. Congratulations on winning the African Cup of Nations. I call that fate and destiny!

It is indeed painful when our women are trafficked from Southern Africa to Ireland. To think that someone will move a human being across continents inorder to use them for sex. I find that is terrible depravity which I can not understand.

Thanks dear.


Thank you for this MaDube! Agreed on all points.

The bad news is that while sex TRAFFICKING in the Americas may not be AS rampant as it is on the other side of the world, sexual tourism IS for all of the same reasons. [Note: Trafficking is still an issue, though, and any women are "married off" to men who later pimp them in Europe (usually)].

"Marriage" is a common way out of poverty for many young women (though young men are also part of this)- whether it's to a wealthy, older local -- or a visiting foreigner. When I lived in Brasil, my "neighbors" were 2 middle-aged Austrian men who had "rented" TEN young women between the ages of 15-20 to be their companions (read: HAREM) for the week! When I spoke to the young women, indeed they "chose" to stay because of their pimps AND families in waiting who depended on their meager "earnings" to support themselves. I have seen it in Cuba, and heard many stories from my friends and the families that I work with in the Dominican Republic and across the anglophone Caribbean, as well. I have also known men and women who have been"married" off to much older visiting foreigners, only to find themselves trapped into conditions of prostitution or other circumstances upon arrival in their newly adopted nation.

But back to Zimbabwe (the reason we are here!!), I do indeed hope that the Protocol is ratified!

Warm Regards from COLD NY, Mari

Hey Malba

Sex tourism is just as bad because within it are traces of trafficking. Women brought in from rural areas to the urban areas, deceived with promises of jobs sometimes end up in prostitution.

My colleagues and I raised the issue the issue of Zimbabwe failing to ratify the Protocol on trafficking to the CEDAW Committee to urge the government of Zimbabwe to ratify the Protocol and we will wait to see what they say in their Concluding Observations in relation to this issue.



I don't know if I can fully express to you how truly awesome this OpEd is! Your writing is so clear and precise, and you easily spread awareness on the horrid practice of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. There is so little awareness on this form of modern-day slavery and you did an excellent job at describing how truly dynamic the situation is, how it knows no border, and how are patriarchal societies sweep this issue under the rug.

I always say that human trafficking is just as devastating as arms and drug trafficking... it truly is! And while campaigning against it, I'm sure that many activists have had their lives threatened. After reading this OpEd, I definitely feel enticed to read more about human trafficking and how to advocate for its abolition.

This OpEd is DEFINITELY worthy of being published among anti-human trafficking blogs and campaign materials. CONGRATULATIONS ON WRITING SUCH AN EXCELLENT PIECE!!

Thanks Rahel

I wrote about something that I am passionate about and I guess when we all speak to the issues of the heart, we speak to them with conviction and manage to convince others why we stand for what we stand for. Trafficking is just so inhumane it is hard to believe that it is the work of human beings against other human beings. You would think the traffickers have no homes, children or families that they would also be pained to see uses in such a dehumanising manner.

But, it happens. It is sad. It is painful and what we can do is speak until our voices turn hoarse against this animalistic behavior.

Thanks a lot love.




I found this Op-Ed to be truly moving, and it inspires me to want to take action. You ask some very powerful questions about the gender issues related to the permissiveness of the sex slave business and do a great job of challenging the Zimbabwane government (and all of us) to take concrete steps to end this practice. I would be interested to know more about what someone like me can do to raise awareness and commit to action in light of this devastating problem.

Thank you for sharing so passionately your concerns, knowledge and opinion about this terrible situation! You are going to help change lives with your work!


Leslie Stoupas

Dear Leslie

You ask a very relevant question; what can you do? You can do a lot. You can raise awareness about this problem especially to young women who are usually the targets. You can be a whistle blower whenever you suspect that there may be a case of trafficking? You can volunteer with organisations that assist victims. But my largest request, share the problem, pass on this piece and many others talking about this problem, let all those around you know that something this unacceptable is happening.

Thank you for reading my piece and for your kind comments.



And what about Ireland - a 'developed' country becoming a destination for the sex traffickers of the world? What kind of developed mind is that? How embarrassing United Kingdom! You are leading in the wrong direction. And not only will we not follow, but we will band with our sisters there and stand against you in this. Be warned!

Well done sister MaDube; well done!

Hi BlueSky

I guess in this case the 'developed' countries define themselves as developed in terms of the advancement of methods in which they exploit other human beings to make easy money, with as little capital as possible, for as little expense as possible. The women used in trafficking are stolen or abducted or tricked so they are pretty easy to gather, Afterwards they do not get paid, they do not receive medical attention, are not well fed or well taken care of, If they fall seriously ill they are killed and discarded hence they are cheap o maintain as money making instruments. The profit is high and the good thing for the sellers is that the same piece of good can be sold a thousand times over.

It is all so simply disgusting and I do not know what it will take to end this. I do commit to try all the ideas I can get in my head to end it.

Thank you.


Many people do not know the extent of female trafficking that you present in this piece. I will be sharing it with everyone I know. Raising awareness is the first step towards ending this horror.

Thank you for writing in a way that will open eyes and hearts and thanks you for all your work.


Judy Kugelmass

Lovely Judy,

Thank you so much for your support. My eyes get opened each time I am in a room full of women with real issues, who are failing to be heard or have their issues addressed. When I think I can make a difference, albeit small, I will do what I can and hope it brings change.

Thank you for your unwavering support!!



Thank you Noreens.

I have not done nearly enough. Today I just realised that we have a huge information gap on the problem of trafficking. The Zimbabwean government has no statistics. There is no one in civil society doing comprehensive work on it and the IOM does not have much empirical data on the prevalence either.

I hope to fill this gap and help these women because indeed the practice is dehumanising.



Your bring to light a trade that dehumanizes women. Women need to be empowered. Even dowry and bride price are forms of trade that should be abolished in our cultures

Grace Ikirimat (Community Champion-Leadership Group)

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

You ask one of the questions that one of the Committee members of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women asked this afternoon, that when a man in terms of Sharia law refuses to give a woman divorce, batters her and ill-treats her until he is given back his dowry, is the practice of dowry not as bad as selling that woman? These are hard questions to answer because they also entail challenging deeply entrenched customary and cultural practices so there is a lot to discuss and debate on the issues.

Thanks for the support sister!!!


Once more I am so inspired by what you have to say and the passion with which you portray these injustices in human trafficking. Sadly, the value of women should never be measured in terms of the buying or selling of a commodity. We are precious human beings who deserve to be respected, loved and cherished for who we are and not to be used as sex objects for the amusement and obscene agendas of vile men. As always, Rumbie, you reach the deepest part of my emotions when I read your words. Congratulations for your presentation in Switzerland while serving as an integral component of the Zimbabwean delegation to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It is my ardent wish that your contribution at this forum will help pressurize Zimbabwe to ratify the Protocol on trafficking. Human beings are not cattle and should never be traded like animals. Keep up the great work as always!!


Thank you Barbara. You are far too kind. Thank you also for your support and guidance.

Yes, I had raised the element of trafficking in the shadow report although I did not have space to speak to it directly in the 3 minutes I was given for my oral statement. However I was happy to hear the Committee raising the relevant questions about the prevalence of trafficking, the number of shelters available for victims, the sensitivity of the police to the plight of victims, the impact of the criminalisation of sex work on detecting victims of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation as well as commitments to ratify the Protocol.

I am hopeful for strong concluding observations which we can use for targeted lobbying and advocacy in the interim period before the next reporting period.



Hi MaDube,

I had the oportunity to review your Module 3. Really nice job on a well-written and well-researched opinion piece! Thank you for taking on such a tough topic - one in dire need of world attention and tranformative solutions! Your use of thought-provoking questions and connections to global events left me disgusted by the magnitude of the problem yet also inspired about the need to do something about it.

Looking forward to your next piece!

Best, Paulette

Thank you so much for your lovely comment. The opinion piece was an interesting piece of work for me as I was writing on something I am very passionate about. Given that it was an expression of my opinion backed by evidence on the ground, it was quite easy to bring the piece together. The feature story has not been that easy, as the sources if information have been very reluctant to talk to me. I hope to make some progress in the little time I have left.



Your approach to this piece, going from general to specifics, weaving it all together, is commendable. Going by the title,your opening made me read on, especially because it made me want to know more.

As I read on, I couldn't but relate your account of the situation Zimbabwe to Nigeria, which of course made me appreciate even more, the efforts of Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF). Though the organization has an international scope, it has its roots in Nigeria. It was founded by Her Excellency, Chief (Mrs.) Amina Titi Atiku Abubakar, wife of a former Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999. WOTCLEF, was to a very large extent, instrumental to the passage and ratification of the Nigerian Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement, and Administration Act 2003.You may want to look up the site ( I am sure you will find the resources on the site very useful to your cause.

All forms of human trafficking is very dehumanizing and condemnable; and should be seen for what it is. By bringing the situation to a wider level of awareness, you have already taken a bold and outright step towards effecting a desired change in your country. Hopefully too, policy makers in your country will get to hear you.

I cannot wish you anything less than the BEST!

I had written this comment but somehow I realised it did not post successfully. Thank you so much for your support, your unwavering faith in me. You push me to always do my best and not disappoint.

I did take look at the WOTCLEF website. It is such a great initiative and they explain very well the concept of trafficking including giving the statistics as well. I wish we had something similar in Zimbabwe too, and maybe I should be thinking of starting something similar for Zimbabwean women to receive maximum protection from this form of slavery.

Thank you again and take care,