Child trafficking is one of the biggest challenges facing Malawi's efforts to promote the rights of the child. The country was suffering from a silent crisis, as many children continued to get trafficked but their cases went unreported. Zondwayo Juwa, Child Protection Officer for the Eye of the Child, has said.
He said, in the recent past, the country had been registering an average of 1000 cases of child trafficking victims being intercepted, a development he said pointed to a larger picture of cases that go unreported, hence the need to raise the alarm.
Children are trafficked through the country's porous borders, he said, and are sent through highly-established networks in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, and other neighboring countries- from where they are sent to unknown destinations, he said.
Most of child trafficking cases are going unreported in Malawi, and reasons range from cultural aspects that view this sort of practice as normal, Trafficking starts internally, in the form of tenant workers; You will find that children as young as six years are being ferried from the Southern region to work in estates and plantations in the Northern and Central region, and they pass through road blocks with police officers just watching.
"When they get there, they are exploited and are also defiled and sexually abused since they have nowhere to report and look up to the people who do all sorts of evil things to them for help," said Juwa.
According to him, the country has largely done nothing to combat the problem, and said this was in contravention with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Malawi ratified.
However, this contravenes what the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare has been doing to raise awareness on the problem. Under former minister Joyce Banda, the ministry was holding campaigns aimed at discouraging the practice.
Banda acknowledged, then, that child trafficking was a big issue in Malawi, but campaigns to that effect have since stalled under new minister Anna Kachikho, in what child rights campaigners call one of the highest degrees of disregard for the CRC.
Last month, civil society organisations were carrying out a survey, which included Eye of the Child, aimed at ascertaining the level of knowledge about the CRC amongst the Malawian public.
Juwa said the new initiative, to be implemented in the Southern Malawi districts of Blantyre and Zomba, and the Northern Malawi city of Mzuzu, will help expose cases that have so far gone unreported and noticed.
Monase Nyirongo, a model for Malawi News, a publication of Malawi's oldest newspaper group- Blantyre Newspapers Limited- will be at the head of the project.
She said child trafficking is one of the issues that has been close to her heart, and now wants to use her status to bring about positive change.
"Child trafficking has always worried me. In fact, it shows a weakness in society that must not be accepted. Our children are not goods, they have rights," said Nyirongo.