Human trafficking is a global issue with it being labelled as modern day slavery with an estimated 27 million victims worldwide. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked globally each year. It is said that South Africa is a source, destination and transit for trafficked victims. Everyday people are trafficked within and from the borders of South Africa and trafficked from other countries into South Africa.
South Africa is ranked among the 10 countries in Africa where trafficking is at its highest. Men, women and children are not only trafficked for sexual exploitation but for forced labour as well as other forms of exploitation involving crime. The covert nature of human trafficking makes this multi-million dollar industry difficult to assess and there are few reliable statistics on the number of persons trafficked in the southern African region.
“The problem is that there isn’t accurate statistics available about trafficked victims,” said Claudia Smith, director of ANEX.
ANEX stands for activists working against the exploitation of children. The organisation was formed in 2003 and is based at the Saartjie Bartman centre in Athlone. The aim of Anex is to combat all forms of exploitation of children (including child trafficking, child labour, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children, Children used by Adults to Commit Crime) through prevention and early intervention programs.
Smith says that when human trafficking cases are reported to institutions such as the police, the police do not always know that they are dealing with a human trafficking case. In this way trafficking is blurred by cases of sexual violence, abuse and various other crimes. The most common signs of human trafficking can be identified via three steps which is recruitment, transportation and exploitation.
“In addition to police not recognising signs of human trafficking, the general population is also afraid to report on crimes occurring around them,” Smith explained.
“People stare blindly to the abuse and they don’t go deeper to see if it is human trafficking”.
Myths about human trafficking
People usually assume that human trafficking deals with young women being forced into prostitution or people trying to escape poverty. However Smith says that while those are true, it is not the only factors that contribute to trafficking.
“What makes a child vulnerable is that they have access to the latest technology but might be the loneliest child on the planet,” Smith went further.
Children are thus susceptible to the lure of predators online that provide them with a sense of comfort and attention that they cannot find in their everyday environment.
“We need to stop thinking that it’s only in the poor communities and in the far off communities because they are desperate to have their needs met. While that may be true, human trafficking happens in every community,” Smith continued.
People need to be smart about who they engage with online and whether or not false promises are being made. Those in need of employment fall into the trap of being promised employment in a far-away city and once they reach their destination they are forced into some form of harsh labour.
In South Africa, with its large agricultural industry, children are also forced to work on farms to support their families.
In Cape Town, there are a number of organisations that get together under the banner of the counter trafficking coalition, but Smith says that sometimes these organisations work in silos and it would be better if they worked together to counter this issue.
Anex hosts a human trafficking hotline where people can call in for help or even those members of the community who have a suspicion about trafficking in their area can call in and inform the organisation so that this practice of modern day slavery can be curbed. The number is 0800 555 999.
This is the first part of a series. The second part deals with the stories of trafficked victims. VOC (Umarah Hartley)