THE aftermath of a global pandemic on the human trafficking trade may be felt for years to come as experts warn that traffickers have refined their illicit trade to continue to operate even under lockdown.
Having marked World Day Against Human Trafficking last Thursday, the effects of the lockdown and restrictions of movement of people across the world has raised concerns over the ability of victims to seek help.
The United States’ 2020 Trafficking in Person Report found that while South Africa does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the report commended efforts to eradicate the practice by increasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers.
And with the country battling the spread of Covid-19 which has had a dire impact on the economy and stretched resources, organisations working with victims of trafficking have warned of a spike in the trade as traffickers prey on the vulnerable.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) fingered the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) as one of the fastest-growing crimes in the region, highlighting how they expected traffickers to up-scale their activities while taking advantage of reduced vigilance by law enforcement that are tied up in enforcing Covid-19 regulations.
Founder of anti-trafficking organisation Embrace Dignity, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, said: “Covid-19 has spread internationally and has exacerbated the underlying socio-economic conditions that cause vulnerability to human trafficking, sex trafficking and prostitution.”
“The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has estimated that there will be between 20.1 million and 35 million more people in poverty than before the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 1.6 billion informal sector workers affected.
“At the same time, human trafficking in girls and women constitutes global oppression in virtually all nations, either as the source, transit, or destination. Measures taken across the globe to fight the global pandemic have substantially inhibited individual liberties and the movements of people.
“The instability at home and the absence of work are some of the factors that push women into selling sex and sex traffickers into exploiting them further.”
Trafficking survivor and activist Grizelda Grootboom said the lockdown has emboldened traffickers to find other means to stay in human trading business.
“The lockdown and curfew meant that we cannot do raids or respond to calls for help from women who are being held against their will. It has made it that much harder for victims who are experiencing a different kind of lockdown under the control of their pimps,” she said.
“We are seeing a greater migration to the use of underground chat rooms and websites where we sometimes reach out to girls posing as clients to gauge what their situation is. Women are being moved around the country in containers and in trucks while truck stops have become a hub of sorts.
“Traffickers have moved to online platforms where the demand has increased from porn sites for teasers from youngsters. It is heartbreaking that while our efforts are concentrated on fighting this pandemic that the crisis of slavery of women is widening.”