Human trafficking, the scary side of the World Cup

Date: December 3, 2009
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The Soccer World Cup represents major economic opportunities for South Africa. It represents the possibility of showcasing South Africa to the world, and everything it is possible of accomplishing. However, the less glamorous side is the possible increase in sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

South Africa represents a beacon of hope to many poor and destitute people who come from countries across the continent in pursuit of a better life. Many people move with clear intentions and plans. However, many are also misled and find themselves in exploitive and dangerous situations.

In some cases, women move to South Africa’s cities, especially Johannesburg, on the promise of better opportunities. On arriving in the city, women quickly realise that this is far from what was expected. In some cases they may be exploited for cheap labour, and worse, sold into forced sex work.

The glamour of the World Cup will further contribute to the increased movement of women and children to major cities. A Project Manager of a local shelter had the following to say about trafficking and sexual exploitation “If we do not get the message out to rural and isolated communities, women and children will continue to come to Johannesburg. We need to help them know that trafficking happens, it can happen to anyone, and it can be done by someone you know.”

Children who arrive in South Africa from other countries are even more vulnerable. Sometimes these children are fortunate enough to escape. One such person is Jessie, a young girl from Angola.

Jessie came to South Africa from Angola with a man who her mother knew. Her mother agreed for Jessie to travel to the country to go to school. She was taken to live with a family in Edenvale, close to the airport.

Jessie was kept inside to clean the house and forced to have sex with the man who brought her to South Africa. After a few months, Jessie escaped from the house and found herself in the inner city of Johannesburg. She was 14-years-old in a country with no family and in a place she did not know.

After two nights of sleeping outside, she was approached by another young girl who said she would show her how to get money. Jessie found herself working on the street as a sex worker, until she was identified and placed in a shelter. Jessie is recovering and now able to go to school. This case is one of the more fortunate ones. In many others, girls and women are not able to escape, and do not find the help they need.

The movement of people to South Africa for the Soccer World Cup is not solely fuelled by perceived economic opportunity. There is a curiosity and desire to be involved and witness to a major sporting event. It is expected that many young children, who will also not be attending school during the mega-event, will seek transport to stadium cities to be part of the festivities.

The absence of alternative recreational activities during this period and the large volume of local and foreign visitors are expected to contribute to increased risk for vulnerable children. Children may be travelling unaccompanied and may use cheap or free travel in the form of hiking from truck drivers or travelling in long-distance taxis.

Upon arrival in stadium cities, children will likely b unsupervised and easily susceptible to exploitation by adults. This can take the form of sexual exploitation or use of children to commit crime. These are the social faces of the Soccer World Cup which are not receiving the same amount of attention and resources as the stadiums, opening events and accommodation.

Child Protection organisations are lobbying at a provincial and national level for the decision regarding the closure of schools to be reviewed, and for additional resources to be earmarked for the protection of children during this period. Some such activities include the use of community volunteers in the areas surrounding the stadiums, community awareness of the nature of trafficking, and the particular risks faced by children who are unsupervised and located in proximity to stadiums, hotels and public gathering places.

Raising awareness about the problem of child trafficking during the 16 Days of Activism will ensure that communities and children know about this problem, and send the message to local and international visitors that South Africa cares about its women and children.

Rebecca Pursell is a Social Worker with Khulisa Management Services. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.



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