Fungai Lupande Senior Court Reporter
The 30-year-old woman who facilitated the trafficking of five Zimbabwean women to Kuwait where they were turned into slaves, faces life imprisonment or more than 10 years per count after the court ruled that there are no special circumstances in her case.
Norest Maruma will be sentenced by a High Court Judge after the sentence fell out of the jurisdiction of Harare magistrate Mr Lazini Ncube. Maruma will hear her sentence on January 4 next year for the five counts she is facing.
Trafficking in Persons Act has penal provisions of life imprisonment or more than 10 years per count. 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.”
Maruma is the first person to be convicted in the Kuwait human trafficking saga that left several women stranded in March last year after being lured to the Middle East country on the pretext that they were going to be offered lucrative jobs by a local human trafficking syndicate.
She becomes a second person to be sentenced for human trafficking after 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 half years in 2014.
Mahuni was given a lighter sentence because the Trafficking in Persons Act had not been enacted 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. In Maruma’s case, prosecutor Ms Francesca Mukumbiri said she trafficked eight people, but the court only managed to get hold of five.
“After she trafficked the women, they called her for help, but she threatened them saying they should continue working. She went to the Zimbabwean embassy in Kuwait because her visa had expired, not because she wanted help,” said Ms Mukumbiri.
“She met some of her victims at the embassy who beat her up and instead of being apologetic she told them that there is nothing special about being trafficked because even rotten meat is sold. Some of the victims were forced into prostitution and they are suffering after effects, which include trauma and diseases.”
Ms Mukumbiri proved that between December 2015 and March last year, Maruma unlawfully and intentionally recruited unsuspecting victims to Kuwait using WhatsApp (mobile number 0096 550 728 695).
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.
One of the victims was sexually abused by her employer’s son. The victims fled their employers and were repatriated back into the country by the Zimbabwean Government after seeking assistance from the country’s embassy in Kuwait.