Traffickers prey on those hoping for a better life, says John Jeffery during global awareness walk
Deputy minister of justice John Jeffery has likened human trafficking to modern-day slavery that thrives on people’s vulnerability and quest for a better life.
Jeffery was speaking during the 2022 Freedom for Justice walk on Durban’s South Beach on Saturday.
The walk — an eighth single-line walk organised by A21 in 278 cities across the globe, nine of them in South Africa — seeks to raise global awareness about human trafficking and comes after National Human Trafficking Week which was observed at the beginning of October.
Speaking to TimesLIVE, Jeffery said human trafficking targeted people of all genders and ages.
“Most people are probably thinking that slavery is over, but that’s not the case because we’re still living with modern-day slavery, human trafficking. People who get trafficked are forced [into things such as] removal of organs, marriage and ukuthwala, where there is no consent from the woman or those forced into the sex industry,” he said.
“It exploits people’s extreme vulnerability and takes advantage of the very human need we all have to create better lives for ourselves and our families.”
Gloria de Gee from the Umgeni Community Empowerment Centre shared similar sentiments. She said human traffickers used people’s desperation to lure them to big cities with promises of lucrative jobs, only to become victims of trafficking.
“They are slowly introduced to drugs and once you’re addicted, you can’t get away because you want more of the drug. They then start selling you, that is all part of the plan,” she said.
De Gee added that syndicate members included drug dealers, business people and even those in the medical profession.
Jeffery said he was aware organ trafficking was rife across the world but was not aware of its prevalence in South Africa.
On claims of medical professionals being involved, Jeffery said he was aware of the allegations but needed evidence to be certain.
“There are allegations of medical professionals being involved in organising unwanted babies so that they can be delivered in hospitals for trafficking or adoption but we would need evidence of that,” he said.
TimesLIVE spoke to two human trafficking survivors who had similar stories. They had become sex workers after being “rejected” by their families while growing up.
Zinhle Dlamini, 52, said her mother had her at a young age and then came to Durban from eShowe to seek better opportunities. From the age of eight — with her mother having married another man — Dlamini was sent to live with any relative who needed someone to look after their children.
“Each and every house I lived in a father of that family or uncle would see a wife to sleep with. I don’t know how many times I was raped and I was always vocal about it but my mother wouldn’t believe me. At 13 I went to live with her and her husband who also did the same to me. So at 16 I was sleeping everywhere and doing anything and I got five children from that,” she said.
She met friends who introduced her to the sex industry so she could take care of her children. She said she was introduced to drugs and contracted HIV.
“Someone on drugs will do anything and you need them to survive in this industry. That’s how people end up being trafficked,” she said.
Slindile Xulu, 48, from Umlazi said she was introduced to sex work by friends and started using drugs.
Explaining how she was trafficked, she said she went with a client who said they were going to book a hotel in Riverside but then sweet-talked her into going with him to Johannesburg, promising her she would get more clients and make more money.
“Those who are in brothels are the ones pushing people to sex work so they would take drugs and depend on them. When I arrived there they start speaking languages I don’t know. They lock you up, usually vandalised buildings. You are only allowed out when a client fetches you to do business. The money doesn’t even come to you, it goes to them,” she said.
“You are told what to say to a client and you have to make sure you win that client [over] and bring it back to the house. You can’t say you’re tired, they can’t lose money. Next thing there is physical abuse and stuff.”
Both women said they were against the legalisation of sex work.
“As survivors who knows what’s happening on the streets we don’t agree with legalising sex work. The level of drugs in that industry is very high and you need them because a normal person can’t sleep with 10 people in a day. That’s why sex workers depend so much on drugs and drugs are always changing hence most of the sex workers these days are mentally disturbed,” she said.
Jeffery admitted that internal trafficking was as rife, if not more so than trafficking in and out of the country. He said statistics may not paint the whole picture because it was hard to track cases of human trafficking.
“The problem with human trafficking is (that) it’s a hidden crime, people don’t report it, so the number of cases that have been reported and went to court is quite limited but it’s driven by the economic system; people being desperate or caught up in situations where they are desperate for work and find themselves forced into it. So their economic situation will make people more vulnerable and susceptible to human trafficking.”
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