SA’s efforts in combating human trafficking “scandalous”


Approximately 27 million people are in trafficked situations worldwide, with more than 12 million of these in some form of bonded labour contributing to more than $32 billion in illicit economic activity. These startling numbers were part of the US’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report which posits human trafficking to be one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time. And while South Africa has made great strides, these are not nearly enough in dealing with the great scourge.

Fr Peter-John Pearson, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) said that despite the progress made in combatting human trafficking, especially in the area of legislation; admirable training programmes for law enforcement agents, social workers and immigration officials; and despite the herculean work being done by faith communities and NGOs, “it is scandalous that more funding to implement the policies has not been forthcoming; that corruption bedevils our national life; and that a lack of political will unnecessarily hampers real progress in this regard”.

According to the report, prosecutions in South Africa increased from 272 in2010 to 1,251 in 2016 with a similar increase in the number of convictions. However, the number of victims identified also rose from 9,626 in 2010 to 18,296 in 2016. The report, which analyses 190 nations, highlighted that 20 nations are doing better than in 2015, while 27 countries were downgraded.

The countries analysed are categorised according to the degree to which governments comply with the minimum standards of the USA’s Trafficking Victims Protection Acts with Tier 1 the highest rated and Tier 3 the lowest. South Africa and Namibia fall into Tier 2 as they are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance, whereas Swaziland falls into Tier 3 as it neither complies nor displays a desire to do so.

According to the CPLO director South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. “In particular, South African children are recruited from poor rural areas to urban centres, often as domestic workers, but also as part of the sex industry.” Fr Pearson said there were reports of criminal syndicates from Russia, Bulgaria and Nigeria operating in this sector.

South Africa remains on Tier 2 despite the acknowledged strides made over the past few years to implement legislation, and despite identifying double the number of victims than in the year before and referring them all to care. Fr Pearson said 11 traffickers were convicted, ten of whom received stringent sentences. In addition, the government established an anti-trafficking hotline and a programme to screen deportees for trafficking indicators prior to deportation. It also, together with churches and other NGOs, held vigorous information campaigns using traditional media such as radio and print, but also through social media. The government took steps to provide consular and immigration officials with basic anti-trafficking training in order to screen for trafficking indicators among visa applicants and individuals entering the country.

However, South Africa did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Critically, according to Fr Pearson, the government severely under-budgeted the funds required to implement the anti-trafficking law and consequently could not fully implement the law. The government did not comprehensively monitor or investigate forced child labour or the labour trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors, nor prosecute or convict any officials allegedly complicit in trafficking offenses, despite allegations of complicity involving immigration and law enforcement officials. In addition, the South Africa Police Service was widely criticised for not identifying victims, even after NGOs conducted preliminary identification screenings.

“As with many other areas of the South African reality, the policies and legislation are excellent, but the follow up and the political will to implement legislation is seriously wanting.”

Fr Pearson said it was the culture of corruption that had hindered proper investigations and bypasses officials who might be complicit in human trafficking offences. “Despite any number of illegal border crossings, faked documentation, and failure by the police to follow up on reported offences, as well as anecdotal stories of police warning traffickers about imminent raids on premises, during the period under review no arrests of officials or enforcement officers were recorded.”

Other recommendations made by the report include investigating employers who benefitted from trafficked workers. It also called for greater stringency in investigating, prosecuting and punishing corrupt officials and law enforcement personnel. In addition, the report urged more sensitive and extensive training across the board for those who come into contact with victims. Practices in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape were deemed worthy of replication in the other provinces, said Fr Pearson.

Fr Pearson said Pope Francis’ call for real commitment of “some important players” in addressing the worsening issue of human trafficking needs to be answered. He said the pope’s words should be a challenge to real introspection as “this form of modern slavery gains momentum, devastating the lives of millions irreparably and rending social cohesion for generations yet to come”. SA

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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SA’s efforts in combating human trafficking “scandalous”

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