Efforts to stamp out human trafficking received a boost on Tuesday when Parliament’s justice committee adopted the long-awaited Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill.
Once enacted, the new law will provide a co-ordinated response to all forms of human trafficking, set out the social services that victims will be entitled to, and prescribe punishments for those guilty of trafficking offences – including possible life behind bars and fines of up to R100 million.
The bill was to have been completed in time for the 2010 Fifa World Cup after civil society groups warned the event would attract dealing in people, primarily sex workers.
However, once the scale of the task became clear, lawmakers abandoned this deadline and opted for a single, comprehensive law instead of a piecemeal approach to the problem.
The US first placed SA on its human trafficking watchlist in 2004. In a follow-up report in 2008, the US State Department noted that SA did not have any laws specifically aimed at combating trafficking and did not “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, despite being a signatory to UN protocols against trafficking.
“South African girls are trafficked within their country for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, while boys are trafficked internally for use in street vending, food service and agriculture,” the report stated.
It said women from elsewhere on the continent were brought to SA, while locals were duped or sold into domestic servitude in Ireland, the Middle East and the US.
To attack the nexus of human trafficking and organised crime, the new law will enable authorities to seize property used during or for the commission of a trafficking offence. It will also punish landlords who allow their buildings to be used if they knew or “ought reasonably to have known or suspected” they would be used for this purpose.
Crucially, any person who benefits from the services or labour of a victim will be guilty of an offence.
Electronic communications service providers, such as internet service providers and cellphone network providers, aware of any of their services being used to facilitate trafficking and who fail to report this will be guilty of an offence.
While the bill stops short of requiring them to monitor their networks for such information, they will have to hand over customer information at the request of the police if such activities are brought to light.
The law will punish parents or guardians of minors who consent to their exploitation.
Also, the extra-territorial scope of the bill will grant SA courts jurisdiction to try cases involving trafficking offences committed anywhere in the world if such acts would have been an offence in SA.
The bill, which enjoys cross-party support, will now go to the National Assembly for a debate and a vote, before being referred to the National Council of Provinces.