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SA does not meet ’minimum standards’ in fighting human trafficking

Picture: Pexels

Picture: Pexels

Published Dec 2, 2020


Cape Town - South Africa does not meet the minimum standards in several key areas in the fight against human trafficking.This despite government implementing some of the most effective counter trafficking laws in the world.

The revelation formed part of the annual United States Trafficking in Persons Report (US TIP), which monitors the response to human trafficking in different parts of the world.

“Corruption and official complicity among law enforcement and immigration officials remain a significant obstacle,” said the report.

The report also revealed that despite instituting human trafficking training for all new labour inspectors, government did not “comprehensively monitor or investigate forced child labour or the labour trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors.”

Poor understanding of trafficking also hindered the government’s overall anti-trafficking efforts.

CEO of anti-trafficking organisation, National Freedom Network, Diane Wilkinson, says that while government has made some great strides in combating human trafficking, it remains a problem in South Africa.

“South Africa’s legislation and the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013 is one of the best pieces of counter-trafficking legislation globally. However, South Africa is notorious for having amazing laws but falling short when it comes to implementation,” says Wilkinson.

She says that some of the country’s recent achievements include developing a data collection tool and designing the generic and sector specific training manuals. However some of the challenges that remain include ;

– Lack of training for frontline professionals (especially SAPS).

– Lack of a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach to victims and cases.

– Communication deficits within and between government departments.

– Corruption.

The report also acknowledged the increased efforts of governments fight against human trafficking.

“The Government of South Africa does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore South Africa was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers, including within organized criminal syndicates that facilitated the crime,” said the report.

This week more than 50 independent United Nations (UN) human rights experts said in a statement on Monday that they were concerned that human trafficking practices have increased in the past months and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The group of experts said governments should recognise the direct link between the pandemic, socio-economic vulnerability and the risk of exploitation.

“If workers don’t receive adequate economic, social and other support from governments, without discrimination on grounds of migration and other status, they face serious risk of exploitation, including being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or bonded labour, or trafficking in persons,” said the statement.

Human trafficking statistics in South Africa. Graphic by Keagan le Grange.
Human trafficking statistics in South Africa. Statistics provided by the 2020 United States Trafficking in Persons Report. Graphic by Keagan le Grange.

Responding to IOL, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development spokesperson Crispin Phiri said government had put structures in place at both national and provincial level to combat human trafficking.

The National Inter-sectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons (NICTIP) and the Provincial Task Teams (PTT) are responsible for the anti-trafficking response in the country.

“It should be noted that, the challenges may not easily be dealt with at the same time and some will just appear and provide a huge negative impact like we are currently experiencing that with the Covid-19 pandemic, but the government through the NICTIP will continue to improve the effectiveness of the PTTs,” said Phiri.

He said efforts to curb the crime and protect victims require the intervention of a multiplicity of stakeholders, including governmental departments and agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society at large and international organisations.