OPINION: Ways South Africa can combat human trafficking

29 July 2015 - 16:15 By Monique Emser

30 July 2015 marks the second World Day against Trafficking in Persons. It represents a call to action‚ by governments‚ businesses and communities‚ to end this heinous crime and provide hope to its victims. If we are to make inroads in the fight against trafficking we must continue to “raise awareness of the situation of victims and for the promotion and protection of their rights” at an international level‚ whilst demanding domestic commitment.Trafficking in persons is a global phenomenon affecting millions of (invisible) victims. Intimately tied to the global economy‚ driven by corruption‚ and linked to cross-cutting issues‚ it is a crime which affects us all. Trafficking disproportionately affects “the poor‚ the desperate‚ the uneducated‚ the marginalised and the unprotected.” Accordingly‚ significant predictors of vulnerability to being trafficked are: (i) a lack of awareness of rights‚ (ii) a lack of awareness of risks‚ (iii) absence or weakness of protective organisations‚ (iv) household insecurity‚ (v) inadequate legal protection‚ and (vi) survivor vulnerability.In the 15 years the world has been committed to ending trafficking‚ a troubling picture has emerged. Not only do traffickers continue to operate with impunity‚ but only a small percentage of victims are ever identified and assisted.The latest LexisNexis South Africa Human Trafficking Awareness Index™ showed that at least 93 people were trafficked into and within South Africa over the 12 month period from January to December 2014 for unjust purposes ranging from sexual exploitation to forced labour‚ forced marriage and body part trafficking. In the rest of the continent‚ that figure stood was at least 2958 people trafficked through other African countries for purposes including sexual exploitation‚ forced labour‚ domestic servitude and forced recruitment as child soldiers.Human trafficking remains an under-reported crime due to the multiple vulnerabilities exhibited by victims‚ a lack of awareness and inability of law enforcement and other government role-players to identify and investigate potential cases‚ thereby denying victims justice. This means that as a global community we need to do more to combat trafficking.Enacting and implementing comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation‚ which is victim-centred‚ is only the beginning. South Africa has taken its first step on that journey. In order to meaningfully address trafficking‚ develop evidence-based strategies and policies‚ particularly community and structural interventions‚ we need to regularly conduct contextual research to understand the dynamics of trafficking in the South African context. While South African prevention strategies demonstrate a combination of existing supply-based ‚ demand-based and reducing financial gains of trafficking policies‚ measurable successes have been limited and even questionable (as a result of a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms‚ a lack of dedicated resources‚ personnel investment and coordination of responses). In addition‚ little has been done by government or business through their public procurement to stop sourcing goods and services that use the labour of trafficked persons. Nor has there been any meaningful engagement with the role that corruption plays in trafficking. These points were also flagged by the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.Understanding and reducing vulnerability is an important long-term strategy that intersects with other issues‚ such as gender-based violence‚ devaluation of women and children‚ patriarchy‚ inequality‚ poverty‚ discrimination‚ unemployment‚ political instability‚ conflict‚ and a lack of safe or legal migration opportunities.Another key strategy is capacity building in order to realise at-risk community resistance and resilience to trafficking. Following the community-based model advocated by the Free the Slaves Foundation‚ it is vital that particular attitudes and behaviours that facilitate trafficking are changed through education‚ participation and collective action. In addition‚ the government should be committed to empowering and mobilising vulnerable communities.International best practice suggests that the establishment of community vigilance/protection committees can be effective. Moreover‚ household security needs to be advanced in order to reduce vulnerability by helping communities access schooling‚ healthcare‚ legitimate sources of credit and employment.Lastly‚ more protection needs to be afforded to survivors of trafficking. Indeed‚ the 2015 TIP Report notes a number of systemic hurdles inhibiting the provision of justice and protection for victims.There is a need for survivor-led organisations to work hand-in-hand with service providers to ensure survivors receive appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration services as well as ensure that policies and practices which criminalise or allow for the deportation of victims be addressed.This is particularly relevant in the case of male victims of trafficking. At present‚ the burden of providing most services lies with NGOs who must operate with limited funding.We must not forget that trafficked persons are afforded special rights for protection and support by the UN Trafficking Protocol‚ and in domestic law in the form of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013.“These rights help them to recover and give them a chance to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately‚ trafficked people’s rights are often not respected‚ leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking.There is a large gap between the rights that victims of human trafficking are entitled to on paper‚ and the rights granted in practice.”Hope is what is exploited when a person is recruited‚ deceived or lured into a trafficking situation. Hope is what is stolen when a person is trafficked. Hope is what we need to give back to trafficking victims and survivors.We can only achieve this by holistically addressing this crime and the myriad of causal factors which render people and communities vulnerable to trafficking.About the Author: Monique Emser‚ PhD‚ is an expert on human trafficking in South Africa. She is a research associate with the Department of Criminal and Medical Law at the University of the Free State‚ as well as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Human Trafficking‚ Prostitution‚ Pornography and Brothels Task Team. She also wrote the first three LexisNexis Human Trafficking Awareness Index™ reports available at www.lexisnexis.co.za/ruleoflaw

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