‘Human trafficking is in the top three of the most profitable crimes in the world’

Romita Hanuman-Pillay

Romita Hanuman-Pillay

Published Mar 16, 2024


Romita Hanuman-Pillay, leader of the Human Trafficking Hub, an organisation formed to educate communities and fight the scourge of trafficking, has been driving various campaigns, including the #TraffickingHub campaign in South Africa, to shut down pornography sites that masquerade human trafficking ‘explicitly.’

Q: How prevalent has human trafficking become in SA and where are the main hotspots?

A: Extremely prevalent. Nowadays, you see more and more cases of humans being kidnapped and trafficked. Thankfully, law enforcement is starting to take the issue more seriously. The main hotspots are Durban, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. Cases have also been recorded in the Eastern Cape.

Q: What is the modus operandi used in human trafficking, and how are victims found and taken?

A: Many are lured with job offers or promises of a better life, while others are forcefully kidnapped and trafficked. Some victims are also sold for child marriage, which is also a practice of human trafficking.

Q: What are the recent crime statistics indicating, and is it a true reflection of the number of cases in SA?

A: This question is very difficult to answer because many cases go unreported, some are classified as kidnapping alone and not human trafficking. This prevents us from seeing the true reality of the numbers.

Q: What happens to victims of human trafficking and what percentage of them are rescued or found?

A: Traffickers recruit victims from neighbouring countries and rural areas within South Africa, particularly Gauteng, and exploit them in sex trafficking locally and in urban centres, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein. Traffickers force both adults and children, particularly those from socio-economically disadvantaged communities and rural areas as well as migrants, into labour in domestic service, mining, food services, construction, criminal activities, agriculture, and the fishing sector. A very small percentage of victims are found and worldwide, less than 1% of victims are found. Human trafficking is in the top three of the most profitable crimes in the world.

Q: Who is usually responsible for human trafficking syndicates?

A: Traffickers operating in South Africa are mostly from Nigeria and South Africa; however, there were reports of traffickers from Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

Q: Where are victims taken to and how are they found?

A: For forced labour, victims are sourced primarily from developing countries. They are recruited and trafficked, using deception and coercion and find themselves held in conditions of slavery in a variety of jobs.

People are also trafficked for forced criminal activities, where trafficking allows criminal networks to reap the profits of a variety of illicit activities without the risk. Victims are forced to carry out a range of illegal activities, which in turn generate income. These can include theft, drug cultivation, selling counterfeit goods and even forced begging.

Victims often have quotas and if these are not met, they can face severe punishment. Then there are women and children from vulnerable parts of society who are often targeted for sexual exploitation. They are lured by promises of decent employment, and they leave their homes and travel towards what they see as a ‘better life.’

Victims are provided with false travel documents and an organised network is used to transport them to their destination country where they find themselves forced to sell their bodies, and are held in inhumane conditions and constant terror.

There are also people who are trafficked for their organs. In many countries, waiting lists for transplants are very long and criminals have seized this opportunity to exploit the desperation of patients and potential donors. The health of victims is at risk because these operations are conducted in bad conditions with no medical follow-up.

Q: Are women and children more likely to be human trafficked or does gender and age not play a role?

A: It depends what the trafficker requires them for. Mostly, young girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation while boys or men are trafficked for labour-intensive work. This is not to say that they aren’t interchangeable as women can also be trafficked for slavery and males for sexual exploitation.

Q: Are women also in these syndicates?

A: Yes. Many syndicates do have women in them and are often used so that a victim feels safer or that they can trust a woman, rather than a man.

Q: What role does social media play in human trafficking?

A: Social media is a very dangerous space. Traffickers or online predators use social media to find their next victim. Why? We make it so easy for them! We post our locations, family homes, cars, school names etc. During the outbreak of Covid-19 traffickers became even more smart as they monitored people’s social media usage, patterns, etc.