Notre Dame sisters mobilize to fend off child traffickers in Tanzania

Paulina Masawe, right, who was pressured by her husband to relinquish her children to traffickers, and Stanley Joakim stand with Catholic sisters and Stanley's younger brother in Arusha, Tanzania. Masawe and Stanley were helped by the sisters after becoming victims of human traffickers. (GSR/Doreen Ajiambo)

Arusha, Tanzania — Editor's note: Global Sisters Report is focusing on the efforts of sisters to end human trafficking as Talitha Kum, the international anti-trafficking network of religious, marks its 10th anniversary and launches its Nuns Healing Hearts campaign. The special series will run periodically through September, when Talitha Kum will hold its first general assembly. Since its founding in 2014, GSR has dedicated a section of its coverage to sisters who in various ways fight human trafficking. Read all of our coverage.

Stanley Joakim sat on his bed in a tiny single room in this northern town of Tanzania as he recalled his terrifying ordeal in May: undergoing torture by unknown people who had kidnapped him outside the school gate.

"They tortured and left me to die," said the 17-year-old as he broke down in tears. "They beat me up for three days without giving me water or any food. They told me either to give them money or they would sacrifice me."

The teenager, accompanied by his mother, wished to speak openly with Global Sisters Report in hopes his experience would spur government action against traffickers in his area.

Stanley, who was being trafficked for ransom, is among thousands of victims of human trafficking in the East African country. The report by the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons indicates that human trafficking is a lucrative business in Tanzania, with thousands of children finding themselves in slavery after falling prey to smugglers who lure them in or promise their families a better life.

Some trafficking victims in the area have suffered, not just beatings and maltreatment, but ritual mutilation or severed body parts intended for resale. Some have been murdered. 

Stanley said he was kidnapped in the evening outside his school gate as he was waiting for his friend to accompany him home, after school closed for the summer holiday. A man on a motorbike approached him and offered him a ride home since he was going in the same direction, he said. Stanley eventually was persuaded to accept the ride.

On their way, another man on a motorbike, posing as a client, joined them and they sped away to an unknown location where they ordered Stanley to contact his parents to transfer $3,000 in Tanzanian shillings to their account before he could be released. However, Stanley told his abductors that his father had died and his family could not raise such a large amount of money.

"I was immediately sprayed with an unknown poisonous substance, leaving me unconscious," Stanley described to GSR in a low voice, his eyes moist. When he regained consciousness, he found he had been seriously wounded. "I was bleeding excessively. I tried to scream for help but my voice wasn't strong enough."

Read the full story on Global Sisters Report.

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