Uniting against human trafficking: A call to the ANC Women's League
As we confront the challenges that plague our beloved South Africa, one pressing issue requires our immediate attention and unwavering resolve: human trafficking. Our nation, with its rich history and diverse cultures, is unfortunately not immune to the horrors of this crime.
On the eve of the ANC Women's League conference, I call upon all my sister comrades in our structure, an organisation known for its commitment to social justice and women's rights, to join forces in the fight against human trafficking in South Africa. As mothers, sisters and aunts we cannot turn a blind eye to this scourge.
Women and children are among the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking, both in South Africa and across the globe. They are targeted and exploited for various forms of labour, including forced prostitution, domestic servitude and child soldiering. This grave violation of their human rights robs them of their freedom, safety and dignity.
Human trafficking is a transnational issue that requires concerted efforts at local, national and international levels. It is imperative that governments, organisations and individuals join forces to raise awareness, strengthen legislation, provide support to survivors and address the root causes that make women and children susceptible to this heinous crime.
The challenges posed by our nation's geographical location, economic disparities and widespread poverty make our people especially susceptible to such exploitation. Human traffickers take advantage of their desperation, enticing them with false promises of a better life, job opportunities and education.
These stories range from babies being bought for their organs, young rural girls stolen as sex slaves, young white males kidnapped while walking to universities and disappearing into the underground sex trade, elderly Black men and women, kids of the wealthy.
Human trafficking affects women from both middle-class and rural backgrounds. It does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status or geographical location.
Rural women are vulnerable to human trafficking because of factors such as poverty, lack of education, few job opportunities and limited resources. Traffickers often prey on vulnerable individuals in rural areas who may be seeking better economic prospects or are in desperate situations.
Middle-class women also fall victim to human trafficking, for different reasons. They may be targeted for sexual exploitation, forced labour, or other forms of trafficking through methods such as false job offers, promises of better opportunities, or manipulation of their aspirations.
In both instances, traffickers exploit vulnerabilities such as aspirations for a better life, financial instability, or desire for career advancement.
Our efforts to combat human trafficking should encompass awareness, prevention, protection and support mechanisms for women from all backgrounds, irrespective of their socioeconomic status.
A report compiled by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows that human trafficking statistics are much higher than reported officially: In this report it was revealed that between August 9 2015 and January 17 2022, the South African police reported almost 11,000 human trafficking cases. That is about 1,550 cases a year.
Adult victims were documented in 7,140 of these cases, child victims were recorded in 1,463 cases and the ages of the victims were unknown in 2,217 cases.
For the same period, 91 human trafficking reports were made to the Hawks. Of these cases, 522 were adult victims and 102 were children.
In 2021, fewer than 80 human trafficking cases were reported in South African courts. This means that only about 5% of the annual number of cases are reported by the police.
I have heard personal accounts of trafficked survivors and tales of those who did not survive. These stories range from babies being bought for their organs, young rural girls stolen as sex slaves, young white males kidnapped while walking to universities and disappearing into the underground sex trade, elderly black men and women, children of the wealthy. It does not discriminate as long as bodies can be forced into slavery or used for the depraved behaviours of sick individuals.
The fact is that 70% of these cases are girls and women.
It is our duty as women to work hard to stop this crime through educational campaigns, public forums and media engagements. We can empower communities to identify the signs of trafficking and take action. Through such comprehensive awareness programmes, we will equip South Africans with the knowledge to report, prevent and combat trafficking.
Let us fight for the enhancement of existing legislation pertaining to human trafficking. By collaborating with politicians and influential stakeholders, we can work towards comprehensive legislation that addresses the intricacies of this crime, imposes stricter penalties and ensures the protection of victims. Our efforts will contribute to creating a robust legal framework, enabling us effectively to combat human trafficking.
We must establish and support initiatives that focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating survivors of human trafficking. Through partnerships with NGOs and government agencies, we can create safe spaces, offer counselling services and provide vocational training to survivors. Additionally, we should press for policies that prioritise the protection and support of survivors, ensuring that their rights are upheld and that they receive the necessary help to rebuild their lives.
Human trafficking knows no boundaries, and therefore our fight against it must be global. Let us foster partnerships with international organisations, neighbouring countries and diplomatic missions to strengthen cross-border efforts. Through collaboration and sharing best practices, we can develop comprehensive strategies that address the root causes of trafficking and dismantle criminal networks.
Let us turn away from those men who want to influence our process with their expansive illegal monies. Our conference is not for sale to the highest bidder. Nobody must cheapen and take us for granted.
And above all, we must empower women and girls. Recognising the disproportionate affect of human trafficking on women and girls, we must prioritise their empowerment through education, economic opportunities and access to healthcare. By addressing the underlying factors that make women vulnerable, such as poverty and lack of education, we can contribute to long-term prevention efforts.
I call on the ANC Women's League to ramp up its fight for women's rights and advocate for equality, as it holds a unique position to lead the charge against human trafficking in our nation. We must use this platform to raise awareness about the gravity of human trafficking. As women, feminists and mothers we must not allow men to manipulate and take our focus off this urgent matter. Recent history has shown us that men will use threats, lies, money, blackmail and manipulation to influence the outcome of our conference. We must remain vigilant because two weeks after the conference the money will be gone, and it will be you having to field the criticism from our people when women and children’s issues are put on the back burner to serve a patriarchal agenda.
We must place premium on the strength of the idea, rather than numerical short-termism. We must use this platform to raise awareness about the gravity of all forms of gender-based violence (GBV). This includes undue pressure and influence, a key feature of political GBV, largely perpetrated by men who like to interfere in the affairs of women.
Let us turn away from those men who want to influence our process with their expansive illegal monies. Our conference is not for sale to the highest bidder. Nobody must cheapen and take us for granted. The ANC was not formed with these strange or unfamiliar practices of just buying people. The ANC was formed for a particular revolutionary purpose. The same goes for the formation of the ANCWL.
Let us ensure that revolutionary integrity is ours. And let us never ever neglect the issue of the exploitation of girls and women, GBV and human trafficking in place of patriarchal demands that we use our voices to their advantage instead.
My sisters in the ANC Women's League, let us not waver from our feminist agenda. Let us harness our feminine might and confront this battle against human trafficking with all our collective resolve and determination. Let us gather together our maternal love and use it to bring a halt to this exploitation of the women and children of our land. As members of the ANC Women's League, we have the power to make a profound difference in the lives of those affected by this despicable crime.
Let us stand united and use our influence, resources and networks to champion the cause of those trapped in the clutches of modern slavery. Together, we can create a South Africa where every individual can live a life free from exploitation and fear.
* Lindiwe Sisulu is a member of the ANC NEC and ANCWL. She writes in her personal capacity.
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