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The reality of human trafficking

NOT FOR SALE: Women protest against human trafficking. Picture: Sibusiso Ndlovu

NOT FOR SALE: Women protest against human trafficking. Picture: Sibusiso Ndlovu

Published Sep 26, 2020


More than 53% of the population is vulnerable to trafficking. The reality is that less than 1% of victims are ever rescued.

This is according to anti-human trafficking non-profit organisation, A21. The A21 website says: “South Africa is known as a source, transit, and destination country, with an estimated 155 000 people enslaved. The beauty and perception of economic prosperity lure people from all over Africa and Asia with the promise of a better life.”

Researchers said they had seen many different forms of exploitation in South Africa, from forced labour on farms, fishing trawlers, and in domestic servitude to sexual exploitation on the streets and behind closed doors in illegal brothels.

Rene Hanekom, manager at SA National Human Trafficking Resource Line, told Independent Media there was 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,” said Hanekom.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, founder of Embrace Dignity, said it did not help to play human trafficking down or to ignore the stories people told from their lived experience.

“The only people who benefit from playing the statistics down are organised crime bosses and the sex trade itself,” said Madlala-Routledge.

Embrace Dignity was founded in 2010 to advocate for the abolitionist Equality Law, to address the exploitation of women and girls by the system of prostitution.

“The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates 2.5 million victims worldwide. Since human trafficking is a hidden crime, statistics on identified trafficking victims only reveal a small part of the problem, and the actual number of victims can only be estimated through statistical techniques,” said Madlala-Routledge.

She added the rise in unemployment and deepening poverty under Covid-19 exacerbated the situation.

“There are reports of job interview scams around the country, where people desperate for jobs are lured into human trafficking dens. Many of these job scams are advertised on social media as modelling or acting opportunities.

“The lived experience of the survivors of the sex trade that we work with, indicates that much of what they experience fits the classic definition of human trafficking, including deceit, abuse of vulnerability and sex bondage,” said Madlala-Routledge.

She said it was known that trafficking in persons was inextricably linked to organised crime and was operated by crime syndicates of many nationalities. It occurred across borders and within cities and towns.

“The overwhelming majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls, most of whom are bought and sold in the multi-billion dollar sex trade, where they suffer extreme violence at the hands of exploiters, including sex buyers.

“Women and girls trafficked for forced labour are equally vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence,” said Madlala-Routledge.

Juanita van Heerden, S-CAPE Director said the most common method of recruitment was:

– False job opportunities: Being promised a job in Cape Town or other cities.

– “Loverboy method”: This is when the trafficker/pimp gets the lady to fall in love with him and then after some time forces her into prostitution.

S-CAP is a registered non-profit organisation and accredited safe house committed to holistic restoration for women and children coming out of human trafficking and exploitation by providing victims with physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual care.

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