The selling and trading in human organs has exponentially risen to become a source of wealth in many African jurisdictions. Of note recently, the story of a Ugandan young man who sold his kidney to India for cash has been widely debated in various public domains and social media. While this sale cuts across a diversity of bodily organs, it is mostly pronounced on the sale of kidneys. While some of these kidney ‘concessions’ have managed to benefit the ‘victims’, some transactions do not come to fruition.
Thousands of people have been duped or drugged, and their organs have been stolen without their permission, according to other horrifying stories. People in some parts of Africa are frequently forced to give up their organs so that they can be sold on the black market. The sale of human kidneys has not only been limited to Uganda but also its neighbouring East African countries. The pity revelations of these ongoing deals have also spread to the southern parts of Africa and the entire region. The benefit that accrues in selling one’s kidney has been reported to be a life-changing enterprise.
In South Africa, News 24 reported that the high demand for human kidneys owes to the medical need that is characterised by internal bodily organs. People in urgent need of organs are often not in a position to wait in the long donor queues, so some have taken to the black market and online traders to source the organ they so desperately need to survive. On the other side, desperately poor people are offering their kidneys for sale and the only winners are the scammers in the middle.
Scammers in the middle of the sales are the one who link the buyer to the seller forming a principal agent relationship. However, the scammers often benefit through blackmailing the seller or even duping the unfortunate players. The sale of human kidneys is however associated with situational compulsion. Pull and push factors such as rampant poverty, marginalisation, inequality and the ever-increasing unemployment in Africa have been blamed as the root causes. With an unemployed rate hovering around 65-70% in Uganda, it is understood that it is easier to find a willing seller of a kidney than a job vacancy.
The question that needs to be addressed nonetheless is whether one is free to dispose of their kidney for a fee. The World Trade Organisation documents that some 5-10% of organ transplants worldwide are undertaken with criminal intent. Organ trafficking is increasingly going hand-in-hand with human trafficking. The sale of human kidneys therefore often has a causal nexus with the nauseating crime of child trafficking in Africa.
In September 2014 an Italian police investigation revealed that a gang of human traffickers accepted migrants’ organs as payment for smuggling them to Europe from northern Africa, and in 2006 the Mozambican Human Rights League revived claims that trafficking in human organs is done not through exporting the organs themselves, but through the trafficking of children.
According to a report by the United Nations, illegal organ trafficking is an organised crime involving a host of players: a recruiter who identifies the vulnerable person, the desperate seller, the organ transporter, hospital or clinic staff and medical professionals, middlemen and contractors, buyers and organ banks where the organs are stored. Information suggests a wide spectrum of actors are involved in organ trafficking in North and West Africa with connections to the medical sector in countries from Africa and beyond, notably in Asia and the Middle East.
Due to the highly pronounced spread of the kidney dealings in Africa, the term transplant tourism has been coined to refer to these underhand dealings. Organised criminal groups profit from the desperation of the unemployed, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to coerce them into selling the kidneys. Victims of human trafficking for sexual and labour purposes also find themselves at additional risk.
The techniques used for the recruitment and control of the victims are the same as those used for other types of human trafficking, such as promises of job opportunities abroad, as well as the use of threats and violence. Most often, victim-donors receive a smaller amount of the money than had been agreed with the recruiter or broker, and in some cases they may not get any of the promised payment. Many victim-donors have suffered post-operative complications and health issues.
While the dealership in kidneys by some people in Africa is motivated by the need to ameliorate poverty, the practice has proved to be catastrophic in some global regions where kidney sales are common. For example, in Afghanistan, the buying and selling of kidneys has reached to a stage where some area is infamously known as the “one kidney village”. The worrisome factor however, is how the kidney sellers end up regretting their choices.
Seeing that cases of such bizarre undertakings such as organ dealings are spiraling as a result of insistence, is the region ready to give up its youthful population to extenuating circumstances. Are the African leaders keen to deal with these social nemesis head-on by churning out lasting solutions like job creation and fostering people-oriented policies?