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26 Jan 2024

Citizen (Kenya)

Tanzania: Migrant workers allegedly trapped in harsh and exploitative labour conditions in tobacco farms, incl. child labour, violence and sexual assaults

"Sexual abuse, exploitation rampant in tobacco farms" 26 January 2024

In the remote tobacco farming hub of Ushetu District Council, Shinyanga region, the promise of economic prosperity for farmers conceals a dark secret: the exploitation of trafficked victims. Gideon, a 15-year-old from Burundi, and 15 of his peers were lured to Tanzanian tobacco fields with the promise of fair wages. However, what awaited them was a harsh reality far removed from the envisioned prosperity. "We were promised by the ‘agent’ that we would be paid between Sh150,000 and Sh250,000 per season. It was easy to accept given the difficult life that we endured back home," recounts Gideon. The allure of employment on tobacco farms often serves as a beacon of hope for impoverished individuals, making them susceptible to traffickers preying on their dreams of escaping poverty.“I found myself toiling in gruelling conditions, facing endless hours of labour under the blazing sun without proper protective gear,” the teenager narrates, adding that his dream of a better life has transformed into a living nightmare.

A two-month investigation by The Citizen exposes a troubling trend where vulnerable individuals, predominantly from Burundi, Rwanda, and the DR Congo, find themselves ensnared in exploitative labour conditions. Some work tirelessly throughout the year without receiving payment, compelling them to escape and face life on the streets, often becoming undocumented Tanzanian citizens in the process. “I’m, however, looking for any chances to escape to towns where I can hustle freely to make ends meet. I have no plan of going back home as of now,” Gideon says. The remote and isolated nature of tobacco farms, coupled with the lack of oversight, contributes to the invisibility of this exploitation, according to the locals. Victims, unable to seek help or the authorities' intervention, remain silent due to fear of revenge from their oppressors.