Trafficking Body Parts in Zimbabwe (The Call for Action)

Information on trafficking body parts has previously been based almost entirely on hearsay and this has made it easy for both government and civil society to claim it either does not occur or is so infrequent it does not merit any response or attention. However the report in the Zimbabwean Sunday Mail Newspaper on the 31st of October 2010 on the ritual murders occurring in Chipinge seems to show a different picture.  The findings of this report in the view of the Southern African Anti Human Trafficking Trust (SAAHTT) show just the tip of the whole situation in a system of regular mutilations occurring in Zimbabwe and indeed the rest of the Southern African region.

When it comes to trafficking human body parts there are two main types; the first is trafficking organs for organ transplant and secondly trafficking organs and body parts in connection to harmful traditional practices and more specifically witchcraft. It is clear from numerous reports provided over the years that body parts in this part of the world are not trafficked for transplant purposes. Many of the cases reported in the media, body parts are transported in bags, wrapped in leaves, hidden in boxes of meat e.t.c. None of these transportation methods are conducive to transplant.

The objective of using body parts in the so called “medicine murder” or muti murder is to create powerful traditional medicine based partly on human body parts. Traditional medicine has a wide range of purposes, for instance to heal illness and economic advancement or just to hurt enemies.

This practice has been occurring in Zimbabwe for generations and it also occurs in the whole Southern African region. In Mozambique the Human Rights League which is a local based NGO recorded a case in 2008 where a 10 year old boy’s body was found at the night in Tsatsimbe River in Magude, Mozambique. According to the clinic post mortem, the child was found “without the head, heart, liver, penis and testicles, and had an oblique incision from the left to right made with a sharpened cutting object”. It states that the child was murdered violently and the injuries were fatal. The community members believed the body parts were taken to South Africa as they where never recovered.

Zimbabwe as with most countries in Southern Africa region is ranked over 100 out of the 177 countries ranked in the human development index. Zimbabwe has specifically been suffering from political and financial instability for the better part of the last ten years and therefore poverty and poor life opportunities is a reality for the vast majority of the population and poverty is a well known strong driver when it comes to people consulting witchdoctors as people desperately try to evade poverty and the frustrations and poor life conditions associated with it and therefore become susceptible to unreasonable demands by the witchdoctors to achieve it.

There is a need for immediate and sustained action by government and civil society in Zimbabwe in order to combat such gross violations of the rights of the victims of these practices and SAAHTT believes the following actions can assist in combating this problem:

  1. For programmes to be developed, there firstly needs to be an acknowledgement from government that regular mutilations occur and that body parts are removed from victims and trafficked on an ongoing basis.
  2. Local communities affected by this phenomenon are often reluctant to speak out due to fear, it is therefore critical that civil society and government  starts working to remove the mystery surrounding trafficking in body parts. This can be achieved through public awareness on the nature of trafficking in body parts and human trafficking in general and it is our view that it will go a long way in protecting potential victims from the clutches of traffickers
  3. Generally in the SADC region, comprehensive legislation on human trafficking is still lacking, and traffickers have taken advantage of this weakness. In fact, it is the victims who if found alive become criminals as they are prosecuted for a variety of offences, such as violating immigration laws. It is therefore imperative that Zimbabwe and other countries in the region adopt comprehensive anti- trafficking legislation; in line with international standards and that the legislation should cover issues of trafficking human body parts.

In conclusion trafficking in body parts is closely and inextricably linked to some of the worst forms of human rights violations. Many pay the ultimate price and lose their lives. It is time to hold our government accountable and push for the protection of all the men, women, boys and girls who are increasingly falling victim to this in humane practice. This is a call for ACTION!!!

Shonhiwa. Bakare


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