The government increased protection efforts; however, insufficient funding and training for victim assistance continued to limit effectiveness during the reporting period. The government reported identifying at least 276 victims in 2017, as compared with 270 in 2016. Of the 276 trafficking victims, 82 children and 134 adults were victims of forced labor, and two children and 38 adults were victims of sex trafficking. The government also identified four adults who were victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor and 16 children who were transnational victims of forced armed conflict. Of the identified victims, 197 were transnational, the majority of all victims were women, and all of the internal victims were children, the majority of which were Karamojong. The government reported removing nearly all internal child trafficking victims from situations of exploitation, but did not report providing the children with assistance afterward. The government reported repatriating 148 victims; while approximately 100 Ugandan victims remained in trafficking situations abroad; however, these numbers included 52 victims that may not have been trafficking victims. In comparison, in 2016, the government reported repatriating 129 trafficking victims. According to the government, authorities intercepted a total of 353 Ugandan travelers, the vast majority of them female, attempting to depart to countries which officials assessed as high risk for them to become a victim of trafficking, or being unable adequately explain the purpose for their travel; this represented a significant increase from the 250 potential victims intercepted in 2016. Oman, Kenya, or Thailand were the major destination countries for both victims and intercepted potential victims of trafficking.
The government did not enact the implementing regulations for the 2009 anti-trafficking act or allocate funding for the implementation of its victim protection provisions; however, the MIA completed the first draft of the implementing regulations and submitted them to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for legal review. The government continued to employ victim identification and assistance guidelines for adult and child trafficking victims, and the Immigration Department distributed these guidelines to immigration officers and provided training on their implementation. However, the government remained without a formal mechanism to systematically refer trafficking victims to appropriate care. The government did not track or report how many victims it referred to care or directly assisted. It continued to rely on NGOs and international organizations to provide the vast majority of victim services via referrals to NGO-operated shelters, which provided psychological counseling, medical treatment, family tracing, resettlement support, and vocational education without contributing in-kind or financial support. Several NGOs reported assisting 132 trafficking victims during the reporting period, 45 of those victims were children; at least 88 were victims of sex trafficking, at least three were victims of forced labor, and information was not available for 43 victims. NGOs reported that the government referred at least 13 trafficking victims to care at NGOs. Victim care remained inadequate and available services were primarily for children and women, with few NGOs offering shelter for adult males. In previous years, child victims in need of immediate shelter often stayed at police stations, sometimes sleeping in impounded vehicles, or at a juvenile detention center while awaiting placement in more formal shelters.
The government did not adequately assist Ugandan citizen victims identified abroad. It generally provided replacement travel documents to facilitate the repatriation of its citizens, while NGOs provided funding for return travel. However, where embassies existed, the government did not provide shelter for Ugandan nationals abroad or upon their repatriation. In response to the continued abuse of migrant worker’s rights abroad, the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies, a private sector entity, established a Labor Liaison Office (LLO) in Saudi Arabia during the reporting period. The LLO reported assisting more than 200 potential trafficking victims in Saudi Arabia by working with immigration officials to obtain permission for their departure, funding return travel, and resolving disputes over unpaid wages. An NGO reported repatriating 15 Ugandan trafficking victims, the majority for sex trafficking, from Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt, and providing them with medical assistance and referral to a local NGO upon their return. In the previous reporting period, the government reported that eight Ugandan children were separated from the Allied Democratic Front armed group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); six of the children were repatriated by an international organization during this reporting period and two remain with host families in DRC.
While the 2009 anti-trafficking act prohibits the penalization of trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, reports indicated that the government detained and placed on bond some trafficking victims, including children, in an attempt to compel them to cooperate with and periodically report to law enforcement in support of criminal investigations. In addition, police in Kampala intermittently rounded up street children, including potential trafficking victims, and held them for a number of days at a juvenile rehabilitation center before returning them to their families. Authorities sent some of the children returned to the Karamoja region to a youth training center that provided food, counseling, and three months of vocational training, before returning them to their families. Previous reports claimed that police sometimes treated street children as criminals and arbitrarily arrested and detained them in detention facilities; however, the government reported that practice officially ended and officials now took the children to NGO-run shelters, but because these shelters were frequently full, this may still have occurred. Judicial officers often encouraged trafficking victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers to prevent the victimization of others, but some reports indicated that law enforcement’s limited capacity and inadequate sensitivity in engaging trafficking victims discouraged many from cooperating in investigations. Ugandan law permitted foreign trafficking victims to remain in Uganda during the investigation of their cases and to apply for residence and work permits, but the government did not record any victims applying for such benefits during the reporting period. The law permitted victims to keep their identities anonymous by using voice distortion and video link facilities. The law allowed victims to file civil suits against the government or their alleged traffickers for restitution; however, there were no such cases during the reporting period. There was no formal policy to provide cooperating victims and witnesses with assistance, support, or safety; the government sometimes provided food, transportation, physical protection, or in-kind support, but it was ad hoc and inconsistent, and some reports indicated that police temporarily sheltered cooperating victims in their homes. The government reported cooperating with foreign countries from the East African Community to develop a regional anti-trafficking initiative that focused on victim identification, to ensure that trafficking victims were not arrested or prosecuted for crimes they committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; the initiative was ongoing.