The Gauteng Department of Social Development urged people to be careful regarding their use of social media as human trafficking has become rife on these platforms.
Yesterday, the department, during a multi-stakeholder Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Week commemoration, called on the public to be vigilant on social media platforms as traffickers use the internet to recruit, lure and exploit victims.
“This engagement coincides with Social Development Month in which the department, among others, highlights its work in fighting and protecting the rights of the vulnerable in society,” the department said.
It said traffickers have adapted to modern technology and the internet using it to find their victims, coerce them into forced labour or sexual exploitation and simultaneously operating in multiple locations.
“The use and abuse of technology offers traffickers an opportunity to expand their business activities globally. Seated in their comfort zones, traffickers were and are still able to exploit victims using technology.
“The utilisation of the internet in the past years has made abuse easier and more accessible as traffickers do not need to leave their houses, acquiring more security for themselves. Victims on the other hand experienced the opposite,” said a department statement.
Moreover, sexual material can be used to either sell, uploaded on various platforms, or be used for further exploitation.
“Social isolation and lockdowns have led to more people spending time on the internet, increasing the online sexual exploitation especially of children,” said the department.
Shockingly, there were over 21 000 reports of child exploitation online were recorded as compared to 2019 reports.
“Online sexual exploitation can take forms in different ways, such as grooming, consuming sexual abuse material, live-streaming and forcing or blackmailing children for material,” said the department.
Many poor households also facilitate online exploitation because they see it as a means to earn money for survival. This further indicates that economic needs contribute to abuse and exploitation.
According to the UN TIP report on South Africa, trafficking in persons is a global problem that has plagued many countries and accounts for some of the highest proceeds of crime after drugs and arms trafficking. It remains a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.
Every year, worldwide, men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad. South Africa has not been spared from this. Whereas most crimes are generally reported to the police, trafficking is not – mainly because victims fear retaliation.
Resh Mehta, national co-ordinator of the International Labour Organisation, said trafficking for forced labour was a major concern.
“All work or service that is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered themselves voluntarily must be punishable as a penal offence with adequate penalties,” she said.
Mehta said that forced labour has been driven by compounding crises such as the pandemic, armed conflicts and climate change which have led to unprecedented disruption to employment and education, increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migrations.
“She added that 86% of forced labour is imposed by private actors and that women and girls make up 11.8 million of the total in forced labour. Almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children (3.3 million),” she said