An international human trafficking syndicate masquerading as an employment agency is believed to be luring Zimbabwean women to China where they are coerced to work as club strippers and to participate in the production of pornographic material.
The syndicate, believed to comprise a Zimbabwean based in Beijing and an undisclosed number of Chinese nationals, is using Harare-based runners to recruit the women.
Investigations by news crew revealed that a significant number of victims are already "working" abroad while many more are scheduled to leave for the Oriental state this August.
The ring targets both sexes but mostly females in the 16 to 25 age group. Social joints, among them upmarket night clubs, are some of the recruiting grounds.
Men are recruited to work as escorts, commonly known by the English title gigolos, which is big business in parts of Asia, Europe and the United States.
Posing as a prospective recruit after learning of the syndicate, a female member of the news crew got in touch with the Beijing-based Zimbabwean who only identified himself as Chris on his mobile phone and whatsapp social media platform. Asked about the available employment opportunities, the recruiting agent revealed that he could facilitate a dancing contract.
However, after the reporter made it clear that she was aware of "other opportunities", he requested nude pictures for onward transmission to his bosses who would in turn determine whether or not to engage her.
The "other opportunities" include participating in the production of pornographic material and performing in strip clubs.
The linkman also asked for raunchy videos she might have previously recorded.
"It would be ideal if you would send your nude pictures so that the bosses process the requisite needs. They would want to be satisfied about your general appearance."
The agent said individuals were supposed to process their own travel visas at a cost of US$90 for six months' double entry. He said his bosses would thereafter purchase an air ticket and make accommodation arrangements. They would also immediately process a work permit valid for six months and pay their new "employees" US$500 as a start-up salary.
It was unclear, though, whether the money would be paid monthly or weekly, but the human traffickers are believed to make substantial sums of money from their activities.
The agents said recruits are required to undergo HIV and cancer tests.
"We have our doctors based there (Zimbabwe) and you have to go for a thorough medical check-up so that you are certified fit for recruitment," he said.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Zimbabwe counter-trafficking officer Mr Tapfuma Kusemwa said his organisation had long suspected the existence of such a syndicate.
Mr Tapfuma said the IOM would investigate the case.
"At the moment, we do not have concrete evidence to nail any culprits, but it has been our fear that something of that nature has been happening," he said.
The Director of Legal and Consular Services in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Crispen Mavodza, said the country was against sexual exploitation, especially of women.
He said the authorities would take necessary action once the cases were proved.
"We would definitely want to nip this form of human trafficking in the bud. It is tantamount to slavery. We will work closely with other law enforcement agents to bust local rings linked to the shipping of our girls for such purposes."
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said: "We are not aware of the syndicate, but we will certainly investigate. Human trafficking is a serious offence under international law and locally."
Contacted for comment, the Chinese Embassy's charge d'affaires office said the Chinese government has spared no effort in combating human trafficking and protecting the rights of women and children at large.
The office said they were, however, not aware of this latest case of human trafficking. "China has implemented China's Action Plan against Human Trafficking (2013-2020).
China also actively carries out bilateral, regional and international cooperation in attacking human trafficking.
In this regard, China has in recent years carried out a series of activities in cooperation with other countries, such as information exchange, victim repatriation and transfer of suspects," reads the statement from the office. China has strict criteria for foreigners to work in China.
Chinese government authorities for Human Resources and Social Security issue Foreigners Employment Permit according to the relevant Chinese laws and regulations.
"The Chinese Embassy has never heard of Zimbabweans involved in human trafficking cases and if that incident really exists, we will handle it according to dictates of law, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of the victims."
International human trafficking for sexual exploitation has become an alarming trend in different parts of the world. Recent studies by the United Nations Human Rights Commission revealed that four million people are estimated to be exploited by human traffickers each year.