After completing college, Agnes Igoye joined Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs as an immigration officer. While working at the border and at the passport office, she was confronted with the reality of human trafficking in Uganda, and wondered why nothing was being done about it.
She persuaded the Minister of Internal Affairs that with proper instruction, officers could help root out traffickers and protect survivors from being moved in and out of the country. The Minister appointed Igoye as Uganda’s first trafficking trainer, and the first woman officer to hold an immigration command post.
Since then, Igoye’s taught close to 2,000 new recruits how to identify suspected traffickers and victims. She helped develop and improve Uganda’s anti-trafficking efforts to meet international standards.
Fittingly born on International Women’s Day, Igoye was raised in a community that did not value girls. While her parents were insistent that Igoye and her five sisters all receive an education, it was perceived as highly taboo by the rest of the community. In addition to public ridicule, Igoye faced many other hurdles on her quest for knowledge.
Militant religious leader Joseph Kony and his followers, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), launched a powerful campaign throughout Uganda and surrounding regions. Igoye grew up under the shadow of this terrorist guerrilla group, and became a first-hand witness to the sexual assault and violence inflicted on the country’s children and women, including her own cousin.
Igoye later became a refugee in the wake of Kony’s reign, and she never forgot about the sexual exploitation, through human trafficking, that continues to plague Uganda.
“Human trafficking is everywhere, but it can have different manifestations and even different definitions depending on the country,” Igoye explained in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. “In Uganda, for us, human trafficking includes child marriage, it includes the use of children in armed conflict, it includes superstition. It includes removal of organs for witchcraft and rituals and it includes forced labor and servitude, street begging by children or karaoke performances and dancing for money.”
Igoye went on to serve her country as a consultant, advocate, and leader in a campaign to combat against human trafficking within Uganda’s borders. She worked to arm officers with the deductive skills and methodology needed to spot traffickers, but still remain undercover.
Igoye also acknowledges the country’s weak economy as a contributing factor to the rise in trafficking. “The challenge in Uganda is unemployment; people need to work,” Igoye explained. “[Recruiters] lie to you that they got you this fantastic job, and when you get there, it’s not that job, it’s prostitution or forced labor, perhaps in the Middle East.”
Now, Igoye is Uganda’s National Training Manager and Deputy National Coordinator of the country’s anti-trafficking task force, and the proud recipient of a $50,000 award courtesy of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation. Igoye uses this money to travel throughout the region to give educational talks on trafficking, and meet with law enforcers and other anti-trafficking professionals.
Recently, Igoye officer opened a support center for victims of trafficking in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. She hopes the facility, called the “Dreams Revival Center,” will serve as another step towards fighting the trafficking industry.
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