Blow the whistle: human trafficking week highlights modern day slavery

Date: January 1, 1970
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It is hard to believe that in the modern day world, you can buy and sell a woman against her will. What is even more amazing is that those engaging in such a trade often do not even feel the need to hide it all that much.

 “It is common, and everyone knows it,” reported a mineworker interviewed at a local nightclub. “If you bring a woman here, people will buy. They know that the men are always looking for women. Five hundred rands, six hundred rands, they sell them.”
A taxi driver at the Carletonville central taxi rank in South Africa, who claims to have experience in recruiting and transporting women from Mozambique says, “It will cost you R500 per woman, and I can arrange you two every week, if you are serious…. My job is to bring you the women; you do what you like with them.” He proceeded to explain how he recruits them, “I put it nicely to them.”
In other words, “we do not tell them the kind of work they will be doing when they come here. We can tell them that they will work in a shop, so that when they come, we can sell them to you.” Such deception is a common characteristic of human trafficking. Many victims never suspect that offers of jobs or education are not genuine, until it is too late.
During 2-8 September, the private sector, media, humanitarian organisations and civil society are joining efforts to raise awareness by holding a Human Trafficking Awareness Week in South Africa. Spearheaded by marketing and media company Diasporafric and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in partnership with Metro FM and Kaizer Chiefs, the week hosts a variety of activities to raise awareness of Human Trafficking.
Themed “Blow the Whistle,” the week recognises that the need for awareness of human trafficking will grow in importance as the 2010 Soccer World Cup approaches. Added opportunities for sex work and exploitation will increase the vulnerability of the women from all over Southern Africa.  
The violence and health risks for victims of human trafficking are devastating. What’s more, they often face secondary victimisation from family and legal institutions that do not understand the problem.
Take the case of *Jamila Dube. Only sixteen, she left Zimbabwe with her uncle, a respected member of the family.  Rather than put her in school as he said he would, he forcibly put her in a brothel. For two years, the bright teenager, who had arrived in South Africa as a virgin worked as a sex worker, closely guarded by heavily built men, and too scared try to escape.
One day, Dube escaped after a client took her out of the brothel. After two days on the streets, she realised she had nowhere to go. She contacted her family in Zimbabwe. Her uncle had informed them that she was undisciplined, had run away from him, and he was unaware of her whereabouts. She was deeply hurt, especially because she could not tell them the truth.
She was afraid of the stigma attached to sex work, even if it was not her choice. She decided to avoid her family, and in her bid to survive, returned to the brothel. When a local non-governmental organisation found her, she had given up hope. “I don’t know how to do anything else. Even if I did, I have completely lost my dignity. Please leave me alone. This is my life.”
In the case of Mozambique, taxi drivers recruit young women from rural areas such as Macia and Chokwe in Mozambique’s Gaza province.  Using the EN1 highway that runs through Maputo (another fertile recruiting ground), they transport the women to the border post at Ressano Garcia.  Usually, a guide will then take them through the border, along with other smuggled migrants, and assist them to evade border officials.
Another mine worker, who works part-time as a bar keeper near one of the hostels, claimed to have contacts who can supply Mozambican women to anyone who needs them. He said he would always make sure that the women are “not killed or anything, just used for prostitution.”
Upon arrival in Carletonville, victims realise that there are no jobs for them.  The traffickers seem to depend mainly on the helplessness and disorientation the women experience once they reach a town where there seems to be no means of survival and no social networks on which they can depend. 
The mineworker at the local nightclub stated: “Sometimes, they will share a woman with their friends, for money or as a favour. They may keep these women permanently or abandon them after a while. Sometimes, the women run away.” 
Human trafficking has evolved into one of the most tragic features of contemporary global migration. The United States government estimates that as many as 800,000 people are trafficked across borders annually, and millions more within their own countries. Lured by promises of well-paying jobs and other opportunities, victims of trafficking willingly accept the services offered by human traffickers without realising the full nature of their future employment, or the conditions in which they will work.

Despite the heinousness of this crime, there are presently no laws in Southern Africa that focus specifically on human trafficking, enabling it to remain a largely clandestine activity perpetrated by criminal networks. This factor, among others, contributes to the lack of reliable statistics on human trafficking in the region, as well as a general lack of awareness among the public.

If you would like to report a case of human trafficking, or would like more information on human trafficking and Human Trafficking Awareness Week, contact IOM’s human trafficking help line at 0800 555 999. By talking about it and spreading the word, hopefully we can prevent young women like Jamila Dube from becoming victims.
          *not her real name
Karen Blackman is an Information and Awareness Raising Specialist with IOM’s Southern African Counter-trafficking Assistance Program (SACTAP). This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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