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INT’L WOMEN’S DAY: South Africa Linked in the Global Human Trafficking

Yazeed Kamaldien

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 8 2005 (IPS) - Human trafficking, particularly of women and children, in South Africa is not slowing down while the country’s government has not yet implemented legislation recognising this vicious flesh trade as a crime.

With legislation, activists like Vanessa Anthony, a researcher and counsellor with child rights non-governmental organisation, Molo Songololo, can see justice for the victims she deals with.

Anthony says it recently ‘’took eight years to jail a man who kidnapped, gang-raped and exploited girls as young as 13’’.

‘’The situation is not getting better,’’ she says. She should know, after having worked with sexually abused children for the past ten years.

’’There are many cases, and more research needs to be done. There is an attempt from government to help. They have said that they do want to implement legislation. We are also creating the awareness about this issue and other organisations are also responding to that,’’ Anthony says.

The South African government has signed and ratified international charters such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It has also ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which defines trafficking as ‘’the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force for the purpose of exploitation’’.

Exploitation, according to this protocol, includes ‘’prostitution, forced labour or services, slavery or the removal of organs’’.

These international documents bind signatories to an agreement to outlaw and prevent trafficking, a path that South Africa seems to be wobbling along. And yet South Africa is well-linked in the global human trafficking game. It is a country where illegally bought and sold human beings are recruited, held and also passed on to other countries.

Sexual abuse is a global corporation with a non-stop demand and South Africa, according to research, is a major player. It is a country of origin, transit and destination for human trafficking.

In 2003 the U.S. State Department reported that at least 700,000 people worldwide, mostly women and children, are trafficked across borders annually. Up to four million people have also become human cargo in an industry netting around 20 billion dollars for its frontrunners.

Meanwhile, a 2003 UNICEF study found that children are trafficked at twice the rate of women globally. Molo Songololo also found that trafficked children are often sold by their parents and, like women, they are recruited into the sex industry with false promises of employment, education and also marriage. The NGO estimates that there are up to 38,000 child prostitutes in South Africa and 25 percent of the country’s street children engage in survival sex.

Molo Songololo’s chief researcher Karin Koen says children in Cape Town, South Africa, also ‘’had historically been trafficked as domestic workers’’. She says that there have been reports children from neighbouring Lesotho have been trafficked for labour by farmers in South Africa’s Free State province.

In 2003 a research study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also found that South Africa is a main destination for trafficked women and children.

’’Victims come from Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Extra-regional victims are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda. Others are from Thailand, Taiwan, China and Russia,’’ found the IOM.

Other southern African transit countries revealed are Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Traffickers operating in South Africa include Nigerian networks, Chinese triads, Russian and Bulgarian mafia and various groups of organised criminal syndicates. Victims trafficked in South Africa often end up in Europe and Asia. And those reaching South Africa come from as diverse countries as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Britain, Russia, China, Thailand and various African states.

Local organisations such as Molo Songololo hope that anti-trafficking legislation in South Africa could scare off perpetrators and clients demanding sex with trafficked women and children.

A recent audit of the governments of southern Africa found that measures taken to eliminate violence against women and children were ‘’patchy’’. The audit, conducted by the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network in late 2004, found that ‘’laws, services and resources are patchy to new threats like sex trafficking’’.

In South Africa, traffickers can so far only be tried and sentenced under laws relating to sexual offences, such as the Child Care Act which outlaws sex with a child. The country’s Immigration Act also criminalises trafficking while another law is the Sexual Offences Act, currently under review by the government in an attempt to include legislation and penalties relating to trafficking.

Legislation dealing directly with trafficking could mean that perpetrators are dealt with swiftly. In 2004 the government-affiliated South African Law Commission put forward an ‘Issue Paper’ to criminalise human trafficking. It recommended protocols to ‘’prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children’’. The document has been received by the Justice and Constitutional Development department which has to authorise and rubber-stamp it.

Organisations agree though that laws are not enough as there are other factors hindering efforts to combat trafficking. Researchers say these include ‘’a low level of legislative knowledge on the victim’s behalf, victim’s fears, scarce resources, corruption and complicity as well as poor inter-country information sharing’’.

Poverty is also a major contributing factor. Anthony says that poverty has played a key role in the exploitation, coupled with an increasing demand for sex with children.

Anthony currently heads up a project to free young women trapped in prostitution in Atlantis, an area in Cape Town where prostitution, poverty, drug abuse and alcoholism is rife. She has found that girls are trafficked, sometimes as young as four, into the sex work industry.

Foreigners trafficked into South Africa are being assisted through organisations like the IOM though. As they most likely do not speak any of the country’s eleven official languages, including English, the IOM has set up a 24-hour toll-free helpline (0800-555-999). The line has an automated voice in English which prompts a number of foreign languages. An IOM helpline counsellor is also available to offer trauma counselling telephonically as well as referrals to assistance centres.

A fast-track progress report on South Africa’s efforts to eradicate human trafficking would indicate an effort from a government that acknowledges the crime but has not yet legally committed itself to deal with the problem.

So for now, it seems, it is mostly the job of non-governmental organisations to put an end to the violence of sexual violations.

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