Johannesburg - In recent years, South Africa has become a hot spot for human traffickers. This development is backed up by spiralling human trafficking statistics.
It is no secret that a large proportion of South Africa’s population is jobless, with the unemployment rate currently standing at 35.3% in a country with a population of over 60 million.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed to the rise in unemployment, as about 2 million people lost their jobs in the two years since March 2020 owing to the hard lockdowns.
To try and survive, many people might have resorted to crime, with some of them aiding potential human traffickers, as there seems to have been a rise in the number of children being trafficked, while some are being mutilated and killed.
In May, a voice note from an underage girl allegedly pimped out to foreign nationals by a young woman in Parklands, Cape Town, did the rounds on social media.
This voice note sparked conversations about how teenage girls go missing without a trace while human traffickers go unnoticed and unpunished in the country.
To shed some light on the prevalence of human trafficking, a Western Cape non-profit organisation, Stop Trafficking, has researched the issue and found that 2 million children are exploited in the sex industry annually.
The reasons for the rise in children being trafficked in and around South Africa vary, but Bianca van Aswegen, the national co-ordinator for Missing Children South Africa, said job losses and poverty have driven people to desperation – and therefore exploitation.
“There has been an increase in false job advertisements where people have fallen victim to human trafficking. Children have also become more active on social media, where criminal syndicates have been grooming and luring them.
“We have seen a rise in not only children falling victim to human trafficking, although the majority of victims in SA are children. There are different types of uses for the victim within these rings, and anyone can fall victim to human trafficking. Victims are taken for such purposes as illegal adoptions, forced labour, sexual exploitation, and organ trafficking,” Van Aswegen said.
She further explained how perpetrators targeted various unsuspecting victims.
“Unfortunately, only a small number of trafficking victims are ever found, and therefore it is difficult when it comes to (compiling) statistics (on the issue), as people/children who are still missing could potentially be human-trafficking victims.”
Van Aswegen added: “Trafficking cases involve very sensitive matters and require highly organised rescue missions. The human-trafficking syndicates are unfortunately very dangerous, and we have great task teams that assist us in these specific cases.”
To raise more awareness about human trafficking, Van Aswegen said parents should monitor their children’s social media use. Social media has become one of the main sources of the grooming of children, through false advertisements or exploitation.
“Adults should also be careful of social media. Make sure all the privacy settings on your social media are set correctly. Always know where and with whom your child is.
“Be very vigilant in public areas and shopping malls. Never let your child out of your sight.
“It is important for our communities to educate themselves about human trafficking and stand together to prevent someone falling victim to this scourge,” said Van Aswegen.
The National Freedom Network, an anti-trafficking group launched in 2011 as a means for counter-trafficking organisations to collaborate with one another, said that 2.8 out of every 1 000 people in Africa are living in modern-day slavery. Some 64% of African trafficking victims are children. The group has also seen an increase in cases of human trafficking, especially during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
In 2018, in a report on the South African government’s human-trafficking prevention methodology, the US Department of State declared South Africa to be a second-tier human trafficking hub.
According to the Department of State: “Tier 2 represents countries whose governments do not fully comply with the (Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
The main components of the Act are protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators, and preventing further human trafficking opportunities for perpetrators, such as the US T visa, which facilitates temporary US residency and creates a path to US citizenship for victims of human trafficking.
The Department of State report noted the South African government’s lacklustre progress in prosecuting traffickers linked to international syndicates that facilitated sex and labour trafficking.
The report also said the South African government “did little to address reports of official complicity in trafficking crimes”.
Missing Children South Africa noted that Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Free State were hot spots for human trafficking. Victims have been held in areas including Heidelberg, Springs, Hillbrow, Randburg, and Pretoria.
Tershia De Klerk, spokesperson for the National Freedom Network, said: “Human trafficking is, unfortunately, a hidden crime. So the best way to establish the extent of the problem is actually to refer to the people who are working on the ground.”