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Concerning US human trafficking report identifies hot spots in SA

File image.

File image.

Published Jan 28, 2023


Johannesburg - A report coming out of Washington has again raised concerns about the scourge of human trafficking in South Africa.

It also appears that the Joburg CBD, Saxonwold and Sandringham are the sex traffic hubs.

The US Agency for International Development and its research partners released their first report from a larger authoritative research study on the scope and nature of human trafficking in South Africa.

The partners, which include SA, SA Laser Pulse, Purdue University, the School of Human and Community Development at the University of the Witwatersrand and Khulisa Management Services, supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the US Agency for International Development (USAid), said the report stemmed from a study on human trafficking that was conducted from 2020 and 2022.

The study aimed to provide evidence on the nature and magnitude of human trafficking in South Africa to policy makers and to development partners, implementing partners and service providers. The evidence of the study, scheduled for release in March, will elevate data into a more prominent role in public-policy debates and amplify South African institutional capacity to participate in and lead this process through partnership with US institutions and engagement with the government.

The report’s data sources include a quantitative analysis of media reports; reporting by three national human trafficking non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which have a presence on the provincial and national human trafficking task teams, and one national NGO that works in the area of missing persons.

It also contains available statistics by the SAPS for 2007 to 2021, ongoing human trafficking prosecutions in South African courts during 2021 and successfully prosecuted human trafficking cases in South African courts from 2007 to 2022.

Findings from the research confirm that sex trafficking continues to make up most of both reported cases and prosecutions of human trafficking while labour trafficking prosecutions, similar to trends observed internationally, are severely lacking.

The report said: “Victims and perpetrators of human trafficking are significantly undercounted in both research and practice. Extreme violence is meted out by traffickers while places where exploitation occurs are embedded in communities and operate for protracted periods without any meaningful law enforcement intervention.”

It added that “civil society reports and evidence in several successful prosecutions confirmed indifference, corruption and complicity by law enforcement officials. The prominence of consumer‐level demand for commercial sex was evident in potentially thousands of sex buyers who used the services of adult and child victims of sex trafficking”.

It also highlighted that despite adequate laws to address this dimension of human trafficking in South Africa, sex buyers continued to exploit women and children with impunity.

Several adult websites, some advertised on public roadways, are repeatedly implicated in ongoing and successful sex trafficking prosecutions, yet none have been prosecuted. Victims and perpetrators of human trafficking are nationals from several countries. The authors said the failure to employ the legally binding definition of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons (Pacotip) Act in several research studies, contributed to the undercounting of trafficking victims.

Despite significant challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of an official centralised human trafficking database, and consistent challenges with engagement at some levels, the research was able to produce several important recommendations which the government should prioritise to address this growing crime.

Head of advocacy at Women and Men Against Child Abuse, Luke Lamprecht, said while he did not dispute the statistics that were available, he cautioned that there was no way to know for sure.

“We are seeing women transported to SA from the East. Some are documented, others are not. Some of the visas even expired. Recently we acted on a tip-off and found seven women being kept in a house in Bryanston. They said their passports were kept in a safe. They also knew that they are coming to SA for sex work at a strip club in the JHB CBD,” he said.

Lamprecht, who has worked in this space for 31 years, added that in cases like these, the women would call men who would verify that they were married. This often leaves authorities with their hands tied as there are no witnesses to the alleged crime.

“The law is good, provided we have witnesses. We are now also seeing that more and more women are doing the recruiting. They view SA as the land of milk and honey. About 15% of the cases I have been involved in are children,” he said.