While South Africa is said to be facing a growing human trafficking problem, figures on the extent of this phenomenon remains lacking. According to recent findings, South Africa ranks among the 10 countries in Africa where human trafficking is worst, with 100 000 people reportedly being trafficked in the country annually.
But according to Dr Monique Emser, who formed part of the KwaZulu-Natal Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Pornography and Brothel Task Team, these figures are a rough estimate that have been taken from media reports and is therefore an indirect measure of media reporting and awareness of human trafficking.
“Accurate data itself on the extent of trafficking does not exist. This situation is not unique to human trafficking itself but is however typical of criminal justice data in the area of serious and organised crime,” said Emser.
Human trafficking remains underreported and underdetected and as a result, under-prosecuted. Researchers and NGOs have found there are varying statistics available and therefore they are unable to uncover the full extent of this crime.
In a 2013 report by Africa Check, the fact checking NGO stated that the the estimated number of human trafficking victims reported are “exaggerated and sensational”. While research focussing solely on convictions undoubtedly underestimates the frequency of human trafficking, it is based on rigorous quantitative analysis – not anecdotal evidence, said Africa Check.
Researcher Chandre Gould has argued that while successful in capturing public attention and generating moral outrage, these figures “do not provide a sound basis for policy-making and resource allocation”.
But Emser said this did not mean human trafficking was not a serious problem. She described human trafficking as a “hidden crime” and an “egregious violation of human rights”.
“One of the reasons why it is so frightening and why we should be so worried about this phenomenon is that it is really the ultimate manifestation of the systemic, cultural, political and structural problems, which continue to entrench exclusion, inequality, discrimination as well as exploitation that is seen occurring,” Emser said.
The Department of Criminal and Medical Law at University of the Free State, where she is a research associate, will be releasing a 2014 index report, in which they specifically focus on the link between groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State and human trafficking.
“It will be focused on the growing links between terrorism and trafficking in the Africa region as well as focusing on the infamous case where 276 school children girls in Nigeria last year, that were abducted and trafficked by Boko Haram is an illustrative case of this,” added Emser.
Abductions, forced recruitment of child soldiers and sexual exploitation have been used for decades as a weapon of war. South Africa was in need of the comprehensive anti- trafficking legislation as well as a policy framework preventing this, Emser said, adding that the delay was “unfortunate”. While most people think that the phenomenon is isolated, it is part of a larger pattern of complex socio-economic challenges.
“It is holding us back and it is important that we have a really well thought out and comprehensive policy framework, so that we can implement the law itself,” Emser said.
Emser believes there is a need for capacity building with all those involved in the process of implementing the law. But what is most important are that resources are ploughed into the entire crime, crime syndicate around human trafficking. VOC (Imogen Vollenhoven)