HUMAN Trafficking is on the rise in South Africa, with the country remaining a Tier 2 country for the third year in a row on the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released last month.
This means that the country has a government that does not fully comply with the minimum standards in preventing such crimes, although it is making some strides towards doing so.
“However,” says the report, “the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity”.
While South Africa has the requisite legislation in place to fight human trafficking – in all its guises – it is the implementation and enforcement that is the problem. That, and understanding the scope of human trafficking and what the term encompasses.
IOL and Independent Media have been strong voices in reporting on many of the cases that do come to light, but even so, more needs to be done to educate the public and to curtail the scourge that appears to be rampant in the country, from the top down – the TIP report notes the prosecution of complicit government officials and questionable actions by SAPS and even the legal fraternity, in this regard, further entrenching the public’s mistrust of these organs of state.
In 2021, the Gauteng Department of Health came under the spotlight with Independent Media putting questions to it, over rumours of trafficking through some of its hospitals and the Department of Social Development, who also get a mention in the TIP report this year. We are still waiting for answers …
The only mitigating factor preventing South Africa being downgraded to a Tier 3 country – the worst of the offenders – is because the country has a written plan that, “if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards”.
The report details the efforts government has made in dealing with those that are identified, through either prosecuting the perpetrators or providing care for victims. The numbers shown, though, reflect only a margin of the scale of the problem itself.
Sex trafficking continues to make up most of the human trafficking cases that are prosecuted, followed by labour trafficking incidents. Hampering efforts to ensure more is done to eradicate trafficking or deal with it in totality, are a severe lack of resources, a knowledge gap in those tasked with looking out for such incidents, poor co-ordination between departments and personnel, and the lack of a dedicated anti-trafficking budget, suggesting South Africa appears not to take human trafficking seriously.
This is especially concerning considering the report also raises the spectre of trafficking syndicates operating in South Africa – again, something IOL and Independent Media have highlighted over the past few years.
“South African organised trafficking syndicates exploit girls as young as 10 years old in sex trafficking. Some well-known brothels, previously identified as locations of sex trafficking, continue to operate with officials’ tacit approval. In some cases, traffickers exploit women in brothels disguised as guest houses.
“Syndicates also recruit South African women to Europe, where traffickers force some into sex trafficking, domestic service, or drug smuggling,” states the report.
Traffickers operating in South Africa are mostly from Nigeria and South Africa. However, there have also been reports of traffickers from Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and China operating out of the country.
That said, the 2023 TIP report, also mentions the possibility of trafficking of Cuban doctors to South Africa, noting their exploitation and unsavoury working conditions in the country, among other things.