Tendai Rupapa Senior Court Reporter
A 31-year-old Harare woman has been jailed 20 years effective for facilitating the trafficking of five Zimbabwean women to Kuwait where they were turned into slaves and prostitutes.
Norest Maruma, the ring leader of the trafficking gang, was in December convicted on five counts of contravening the Trafficking in Persons Act by magistrate Mr Lazini Ncube who could not pass sentence because his jurisdiction is limited.
In Zimbabwe, crimes of this nature attract a penal provision of life imprisonment or more than 10 years per count.
This prompted Mr Ncube to refer the matter to the High Court for sentencing where Justice Tawanda Chitapi yesterday slapped her with a combined 50 years in jail after sentencing her to 10 years in prison on each count.
However, counts one to three are to run concurrently as well as four and five which are also going to run concurrently, leaving her with a 20-year jail term.
When he convicted her, Mr Ncube ruled that there were no special circumstances in her case to warrant the court to disregard the mandatory sentence.
In his ruling, Mr Ncube said Maruma, in submitting special circumstances, said she was also a victim of human trafficking.
“It is clear that the victims were trafficked on different dates and for money,” he said.
“The fact that she was a victim who turned perpetrator is aggravating,” he said.
Maruma is the first person to be sent to jail in the Kuwait human trafficking saga that left several women stranded in March 2016 after being lured to the Middle East country on the pretext that they were going to be offered lucrative jobs.
Maruma acted as a local agent.
Prosecutor Ms Francesca Mukumbiri said Maruma trafficked eight people, but the State only managed to get hold of five.
One of the victims narrated to the court how she worked with another woman from another African country as slaves, but the woman later died.
She told the court that their master kept the corpse in the house.
In aggravation, Ms Mukumbiri said Maruma’s moral blameworthiness was high taking into account that she was once a victim of human trafficking before she was roped in as an agent by the syndicate.
“After she had also been duped, she went further to recruit other unsuspecting victims to Kuwait promising them jobs as waitresses only for them to discover that they had been duped after being placed in refrigerated rooms in Kuwait.
“After she trafficked the women, they called her for help, but she threatened them saying they should continue working.
“She met some of her victims at the embassy who beat her up and instead of being apologetic, she told them that there was nothing special about being trafficked because even rotten meat is sold.
“Some of the victims were forced into prostitution and they are suffering the after effects, which include trauma and diseases,” Ms Mukumbiri said.
Ms Mukumbiri said, “Your Worship, the offence she committed is serious and she deserves to be severely punished.”
In 2014, a 62-year-old cross-border trader, Jessica Mahuni, who recruited two Zimbabwean women to work in Angola before forcing them into prostitution was jailed for one-and-a-half years.
Mahuni was given a lighter sentence because the Trafficking in Persons Act had not been enacted then and she was convicted of violating Section 83 of the Criminal Codification and Reform Act, which prohibits leaving the country with the intention that the other person may become a prostitute.
Ms Mukumbiri proved that between December 2015 and March 2016, Maruma unlawfully and intentionally recruited unsuspecting victims to Kuwait using facebook and WhatsApp.
She misrepresented to the complainants that housemaids in Kuwait were paid $750, before sending them pictures of some girls she said were well paid in Kuwait.
The victims sent their medical examinations and police clearance to Maruma and communication was through the WhatsApp number.
Soon after the victims arrived in Kuwait, their passports were taken away by their employers and they fell into slavery and exploitation.
They would work for more than 22 hours a day without rest and were called “Khadama”, which means slave.
They were not allowed to communicate with anyone.