South African trafficking survivor urges UN to not just act ‘on paper’
South African human trafficking survivor Chrizelda Grootboom has made an impassioned plea to the global community to do more to ensure that victims are able to reclaim their dignity as she spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday.
Grootboom was invited to speak at the High Level meeting on Human Trafficking being held at the UN over the next two days.
Grootboom fought back tears as she stepped up to the podium but‚ encouraged by a round of applause from the General Assembly‚ she started singing Malibongwe‚ raising her fist in the air.
She spoke of growing up in Khayelitsha‚ desperate to escape a life on the streets. A friend "who knew I was desperate for hope and freedom‚ a friend who took my hope and turned it into a nightmare" took her to Johannesburg‚ to a house that "smelled so fresh and so hopeful".
Grootboom told those gathered that she had taken a nap‚ but had woken up being kicked‚ punched‚ her mouth taped shut and injected with crystal meth.
She was forced into sexual servitude - her first client being told "there's fresh meat on the market" when he walked in the door.
In the house‚ she learned to tell time by the way the men smelled.
"If it's the morning‚ he just came from home. If it's the afternoon‚ he probably just came from a business meeting".
When she was later kicked out of the house in the middle of the night‚ unsure of the Joburg city streets and with nowhere to go‚ she headed to a truck stop where some of her clients worked.
From the age of 18 to 26 she moved between brothels and strip clubs‚ finally ending up in a Port Elizabeth brothel during the 2010 World Cup.
"Everyone was at our brothel" she said.
Grootboom fell pregnant with a baby she called Summer‚ but at six months pregnant‚ was forced to have an abortion. She had to be back at work three hours later.
When she finally managed to escape‚ she found herself unable to find work or help because of her past‚ and soon returned to the pimps who had held her captive‚ and worked as a drug trafficker until she found her way back to Cape Town.
Free now‚ she said her health‚ "the boils‚ the HIV‚ the headaches are a reminder every day that I was a sex slave".
She urged the United Nations‚ to take action‚ not just on paper‚ but in ways that would restore human dignity to victims.
UN President Miroslav Lajčák said the organisation was committed to taking a victim-centred approach towards human trafficking. 79% of victims are women or children.
He urged nations to contribute to the victims’ trust fund which helps victims of human trafficking to "reclaim their dignity" and avoid becoming vulnerable to other forms of crime or of being re-trafficked.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that governments should treat human trafficking the way they treat drug traffickers.
"When I was prime minister [of Portugal]‚ I always thought my children could one day be victims of drugs‚ I did not think they could be victims of trafficking‚" he said.
"As long as this crime exists‚ we can't tell young people the future will be better than the past."
Hollywood actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Mira Sorvino said prosecuting human trafficking had been a "colossal failure" as over 40 million people had become victims of this "modern day slavery" but only 10‚000 convictions had been secured.