Human trafficking did not end with the World Cup

Date: August 18, 2010
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The international journalists have all gone home, the pitches have been cleared and the screaming of fans is a distant memory. But in many cases the problems still remain.

In the months leading up to the 2010 World Cup, while most people were celebrating the world’s biggest sporting event to ever hit Africa’s shores, there was also a great concern about an increase in human trafficking.

Although at the time there was plenty of official grandstanding about the issue, now that the wailing of vuvuzelas has faded, so too has talk of action on human trafficking. As we celebrate Women’s Month we should keep in mind the thousands of women who are still victims of trafficking in our country.

Back in May we had Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya expressing concern over the possibility that women and children were likely to be trafficked during the sports tournament. We also had President Jacob Zuma urging parents to keep a close watch on their kids during the World Cup season.

And their concerns were not ill-founded. After all, South Africa – with its 72 official ports of entry, an expansive coastline and porous borders, as well as its status as the sub-regional economic powerhouse – has historically been the site of several trafficking rings.

It was also not unexpected that an event on the scale of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup would attract criminal elements. With a high influx of travellers, it was arguably easier to get into the country undetected. In the words of Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis South Africa and Stop the Traffik, “Wherever there is a major global sporting event, the inevitable international gathering of supporters and crowds provides a potential market for every kind of business.”

Unfortunately for some, this business is often unsavoury and illegal.

But now that the spotlight is off the World Cup, it’s important to remind our leaders that the threat of human trafficking hasn’t gone home with the sports fans.

According to Portia Dyasi, a counsellor at Cape Town-based Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), there seems to have been an increase in intra-national attempts at trafficking in the Western Cape region. Dyasi was recently in touch with a woman who was trafficked from Klerksdorp to Cape Town under the false promise of work as a nanny. A Durban woman has also just returned to South Africa after being trafficked to the United States on the premise that she, too, would work there as a nanny. In both cases, the women were eventually told they would not be nannies but instead join the sex trade.

The recent launch of Child Protection Week and the Children’s Act was a step in the right direction, but we need to keep walking. And there are two more ways the government can act now to end this crisis.

Many of those women trafficked during busy times like the World Cup will easily slip through the cracks, right into the dangerous and controversial world of sex work. If the government wants to curb human trafficking in South Africa, it should act now to decriminalise sex work. Organisations such as SWEAT have long called for decriminalisation as a way to deal with illegal trafficking. However, until now the government has remained steadfast in its refusal to decriminalise the sex trade. It is time to re-think this stand.

Secondly, the government needs to follow through on the international and national commitments it has made around human trafficking. Although South Africa is a signatory to the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, it has been lax in meeting the standards set out by the Protocol.

It is often claimed within South Africa that the sure-fire way to limit human trafficking is to adopt stricter immigration laws, making it harder for human traffickers to get their victims into the country. However, the reality is that South Africa already has stringent immigration laws, but they are crippled by inadequately-trained immigration personnel. In addition, a large percentage of trafficking occurs within the country’s borders and is not transnational and thus cannot be regulated by the tightening of immigration laws.

Internally, although an Anti-Human Trafficking Bill was passed in March and there have recently been several arrests and one conviction, Parliament needs to move swiftly and enact the legislation.

Finally, in an enquiry carried out by the South African Law Reform Commission, it was noted that poverty is one of the main causes of trafficking. Yet other factors are gender discrimination, family breakdown and political instability in home countries. As South Africa commemorates Women’s Month, it is a good time to remind our leaders to keep these issues on their agenda.

Because at the end of the day the question remains, how South Africa, with all its immigration laws and regulations, still fails to protect the vulnerable. Thousands of women and children continue to be trafficked into the country every year. The World Cup may be over but this problem has not gone with it.

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze is a consultant with the International Crime in Africa Programme, Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service, produced as part of the Red Light 2010 Campaign to say no to human trafficking.



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