FIFA 2010: One trafficked woman is too many

Date: April 9, 2010
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For four weeks in 2010, South Africa will be the centre of the world. The FIFA World Cup, the world’s biggest sporting event after the Olympic Games in terms of television audience, is in a class of its own.

This event has the potential to make a huge contribution to the continent’s development, and South Africa’s socio-economic growth. According to consulting firm Grant Thornton, the World Cup is pumping around R21.3-billion into South Africa’s economy, generating an estimated R12.7-billion in direct spending and creating an estimated 159 000 new jobs. The country’s tourism industry will benefit from the estimated three million visitors, while construction firms have thrived on the billions spent on infrastructure in the lead-up to the event.

This is the good and bright side of the story.

However, the other side is that the event is also likely be an effective trap for individuals, especially women and children, to fall prey to perpetrators seizing on these high economic hopes. One area of particular concern is human trafficking, especially into the sex industry.
It is no doubt that the forth-coming World Cup fiesta in South Africa will provide an opportunity for sex tourism and lead to a boom in the sex industry. The trafficking of women and girls is likely to increase in order to meet the expected rise in demand for sex.

Reports indicate that on the eve of the 2006 German World Cup, police authorities observed increased demand and resulting influx of an estimated 40,000 sex workers, mainly from poorer European countries, many believed to be under age girls.

Interpol estimates that today, human trafficking is the third largest source of profit for transnational criminal organisations after drug trafficking and weapons smuggling, fetching as much as US$19 billion-a-year.

Such a background should give rise to concerns that given the region’s high poverty and unemployment rates, which often render women and youth vulnerable to perpetrators of sex trafficking, the increased demand for sex work may take on a dangerous note for some of the region’s women and girls.

However, some disagree that increases in human trafficking will take place, arguing that increased police presence during the World Cup will render the environment too risky for traffickers to function as they wish. However, realistically speaking, focused police presence may not be the deterrent it should be. The police force’s current involvement in the sex work industry is questionable, with sex workers often complaining about lack of protection.

While some say that trafficking was not as big of a problem in previous World Cups as sometimes suggested, others point out that the extreme poverty in Africa makes the situation different.

Various reports and research carried out by local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cite South Africa as a source, transit and destination country for trafficked men, women and children. This is largely because most of Africa perceives South Africa as the economic giant in Africa offering many opportunities. Perceptions such as these fuel desperate attempts for a better life, which can end up in sexual and labor exploitation.

The South African Police Service has a Human Trafficking Desk within its Organized Crime Unit, but it seems that there has been little success in actually capturing traffickers. Regardless of the efforts being made, South Africa remains on the “Tier 2 Watch List” kept by the United States Department of Trafficking in Persons for the past four years.

This is because the country does not meet the minimum standards needed to eliminate trafficking and was unable to provide data on trafficking crimes that have been investigated or prosecuted. Added to this is the fact that it has consistently been unable to provide information regarding its efforts to protect survivors of human trafficking.

Both internal and external trafficking should be sources of concern for South African authorities, knowing that the country, like other countries in the region, has no law specifically prohibiting trafficking in persons. The Sexual Offences Amendment Act passed in 2007 makes provisions against sex trafficking, but makes no provision for victim protection. A draft comprehensive human trafficking bill was recommended to the Department of Justice in early 2008.

While the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2006 FIFA World Cup offer some insight into the importance of preventative efforts to tackle the problem, it is imperative for South Africa to consider any action in the context of Southern Africa’s human trafficking trends and responses to date.

The scale of human trafficking is becoming clearer and scarier. Research shows that most Southern African governments are not adequately prepared to deal with incidences of trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Since human trafficking thrives on its underground nature, it is difficult to know how many people are trafficked every year, and to guess how big the problem can be during World Cup. However, while we may not know the exact scale of the problem, one trafficked women or girls, is one too many.

Albert Ngosa is an intern working with the Gender Protocol Alliance, based at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.




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