The case of three Nepalese girls, who were allegedly trafficked to Malawi, has exposed lapses in the country’s security system as they went missing under State protection after being rescued from forced prostitution.
The development has not only shocked the United Nations, but has also forced the High Court to reprimand police for failing in their duty.
The girls’ escape from State custody last month came in the wake of their expected court appearance as State witnesses on how they were trafficked into the country for suspected prostitution.
But in a dramatic twist, the girls who escaped from a safe home showed up at the Lilongwe High Court last Thursday, for hearing, to the surprise of State lawyer, Steve Kayuni.
Kayuni asked the court to caution the girls from escaping State protection.
But judge Fiona Mwale reprimanded the police for failing to provide security to the girls.
“You are to use this opportunity to interview the witnesses…and find out where they are living. If the premises, which I am ordering you to inspect, are suitable, you will need to provide them with security. This time, you are ordered to ensure that there are no lapses in security,” ordered Mwale.
The Nepalese girls, according to court records, were allegedly trafficked into the country under the guise of working as dancers at Blue Bergers Bar in Lilongwe’s City Centre, but ended up being used for prostitution, targeting the Indian community.
Court records further show that Aslam Sacranie and Sita Khanal are the suspects for this offence and are answering charges of trafficking in person contrary to Section 14 of the Trafficking in Persons Act.
The three girls were rescued from trafficking in February this year and were kept under a Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) victims’ safe home in Zomba where police was supposed to provide security round the clock.
The stay at Yoneco followed a request from the ministries of Homeland Security and Gender and Social Welfare, who lacked proper shelter for the girls.
Government, through social welfare office, has established homes for victims of all sorts of abuse. But under Section 45 of the Trafficking in Persons act (2015), the Minister responsible for social welfare, has powers to designate “any premises to be shelter for the care and protection of trafficked persons”.
Yoneco executive director MacBain Mkandawire confirmed about the missing girls under their custody, pushing the blame on police for ‘deliberately’ creating a lapse to have the girls run away from the safe home.
Yoneco, Mkandawire claimed, accepted to keep the girls on condition that police will provide 24-hour security because the Nepalese posed a security risk to the safe home as they had shown intention to escape.
True to the suspected intention, the girls ‘escaped’ from the safe house last month, leaving Yoneco and other sources close to the issue, suspicious.
“The commissioner of police actually wrote me confirming that they will provide security 24/7, which they never did. They only did so for the first four weeks.
“Actually, for us, we know that someone was behind that. The police should not cheat you about this case. They know what is happening. We know that it was a systematic plan and, for me, to be honest with you, I lost confidence in the police,” said Mkandawire.
On Friday, there was a high level meeting at the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), which included officials Security and Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare where the issue of protection of trafficking victims was discussed at length. from ministries of Homeland
Mkandawire took advantage of the meeting to express his disappointment with the police on the manner they handled the issue of the Nepalese girls.
“I must say I am disappointed with the police. I have been receiving threats for housing these girls,” Mkandawire told the meeting.
Speaking at the stakeholders meeting on Friday, UNODC’s national officer on trafficking in person Maxwell Matewere said under the international agreement at UN level and national law, Malawi was expected to provide protection of the rescued Nepalese girls until they were repatriated.
According to Matewere, failure to provide security to these girls amounted to a diplomatic blunder.
In an interview with Nation on Sunday, senior deputy secretary in the Ministry of Homeland Security Patricia Liabuba said government has noted the security concern regarding the Nepalese girls and that it will take appropriate measures.
“We have an obligation to provide care and protection to victims of trafficking in person. I can assure you that this issue has been reported to the national committee on trafficking in persons,” she explained.
Efforts to seek comments from the police proved futile.
Meanwhile, hearing of the case is expected to resume on August 26. Justice Mwale said it is her wish to expedite the case so that the girls can be repatriated back home.