Only 1% of human trafficking victims are ever rescued. These are the words of A21, a human trafficking NPO. Picture: Brenton Geach/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - Only 1% of human trafficking victims are ever rescued. These are the words of A21, a human trafficking NPO.

Human trafficking is a $150billion (R2.3trillion) industry.

Rene Hanekom, the manager at SA National Human Trafficking Resource Line, said that there is a high prevalence of human trafficking in the Western Cape.

“How many are recovered and assisted largely depends on the public identifying victims and even victims self-identifying. The Global Slavery Index of last year estimated that there are 155000 people living in modern slavery in South Africa,” said Hanekom.

She said the majority of calls to its hotline were from Gauteng and the Western Cape and had seen a large number of rescues taking place in the province. “To date, our line has assisted 105 victims of trafficking in South Africa over the past three years. Over a period of nine months, we had 18 rescues and of those 18, 11 were in the Western Cape.”

Of the 18 rescues it assisted on, 14 were sex-trafficking cases, two were for labour trafficking, one child trafficking, and one forced labour/debt bondage.

“For the 2018 reporting period, the general age at recruitment that we noted were individuals between the age of 21 to 25 and second highest, 31 to 35. We did, however, also see a small number of young adults between 16 and 20 falling prey to traffickers - this is likely the ages they begin looking to enter the workforce or enter into relationships where they can be vulnerable,” said Hanekom.

Human trafficking is a situation of supply and demand, according to A21. Where there is a demand for cheap labour and commercial sex, someone will try to provide a supply.

“We have seen people trafficked through false job opportunities, sold by family members or by friends. Another common method is being trafficked through false relationships and recruitment methods such as the lover-boy method,” she said.

“Lover boys” are human traffickers who operate by trying to make young girls or boys fall in love with them. Sometimes they manipulate young people in other ways. Once they have victims under their influence, they exploit them, for instance, in the sex industry. Other ways people have been trafficked include abduction and false promises of immigration and a better life.

Hanekom said the majority of victims all have one thing in common - vulnerability.

“People who are uneducated, unemployed, homeless, children in care/foster care, people living in poverty who have a poor quality of life, people suffering from economic imbalances, unstable social and political conditions, war, undocumented migrants, people who have cultural and language difficulties, people suffering from substance addictions. Many victims are hidden in plain sight,” added Hanekom.

Hawks spokesperson for the Western Cape Captain Philani Nkwalase said there had been a slight increase in human trafficking in recent years.

“Generally, the market for this practice is in urban areas, particularly where there are more intense economic activities, like Cape Town, Johannesburg, to mention few. Victims can be from our neighbouring countries, individuals who come for economic opportunities, others are local victims from rural peripheries of our country to urban areas. Also it’s people who want economic opportunities, in general. There are instances where the factors noted above are not relevant, so traffickers use different tactics and operate anywhere and victims can also be from any background,” said Nkwalase.

When asked if there is a syndicate operating in South Africa, he said, yes and no, but it was dependent on where you were in the country. He added some syndicates were connected while others operated independently. He stressed that if an offer sounds too good to be true, take a moment and step back.

“Human trafficking occurs year-round and multidisciplinary approaches are employed to fight the scourge. The issue of unemployment makes victims more vulnerable.”

He added that most people who are trafficked in South Africa are for sexual exploitation and hard labour.

“We seek to abolish the system of prostitution which supplies the demand for sex trafficking. International and our own research shows a definite link between prostitution and sex trafficking,” said Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the executive director and co-founder of Embrace Dignity.

South Africa’s anti-trafficking legislation passed in 2015 delinked prostitution and trafficking. Embrace Dignity’s view is that because prostitution and sex trafficking are inextricably linked, they should be seen as one and dealt with together.

S-CAPE is a safe home and NPO that brings holistic restoration to women coming out of human trafficking and exploitation said that 90% of residents which they have had at the safe house were South African and trafficked from within the country to other provinces.

“Nearly all trafficking cases do not include kidnapping. Instead, it happens in the form of coercion, a lot of times by someone close to the victim. They are kept in slavery by being forced to become addicted to drugs and by serious violence, abuse and threats,” said Juanita van Heerden, S-CAPE director.

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