Human trafficking fears sideline other issues: Wits report


Claims exaggerating the danger of human trafficking during the 2010 FIFA World Cup have resulted in the sidelining of other important social issues, the University of the Witwatersrand’s forced migration studies programme has found.

Programme director Professor Loren Landau said that despite “alarming” radio and television advertisements, there had been little evidence suggesting high volumes of human trafficking in South and southern Africa, the South African Press Association reports. “Nor does local or comparative evidence indicate that a major sporting event is likely to increase these volumes,” he said in a statement.

The programme’s latest “Migration Issue Brief 4: Human Trafficking and Migration” refuted what it felt were exaggerated claims about the crime. “Before the 2006 FIFA World Cup, media reports and [Non-Governmental Ooragnisations] claimed that 40 000 women and children would be trafficked into Germany,” said Landau. “Yet, in research conducted after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, researchers found evidence of only five cases of trafficking,” he said. “Considering the limited evidence for trafficking into South Africa, the attention that the issue has received in policy prioritisation and media reporting appears disproportionate.
“This undue emphasis diverts attention and resources from other issues and creates several blind spots.” Therefore, other human rights abuses and social ills remained unmonitored and this would have long-term consequences on the region. There was also confusion between the terms trafficking and sex work. Trafficking was when people were brought across a border, usually with the promise of a job, and then their passports were confiscated until they paid a certain amount of money. Sex work was often done by choice.

Landau said that the money and effort spent on highlighting trafficking could be better spent raising awareness on reporting rape, sexual abuse and labour exploitation. The International Organisation for Migration had spent lots of money trying to trace people who had been trafficked over the past few years, but could only find a “few hundred people” people. This was not insignificant, but was not on the scale that had been claimed or warned of, Landau said.

By contrast, a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) released in March said SA was “a hub and destination for human trafficking” and serious intervention was needed to curb this practice. The study, commissioned by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), found that victims are mostly women, girls and boys trafficked for a variety of reasons including prostitution, pornography, domestic servitude and forced labour. The study, Tsireledzani: Understanding the dimensions of human trafficking in southern Africa, said young boys are trafficked to smuggle drugs and for other criminal activities, the BuaNews agency reports.

The HSRC identified a number of trafficking flows into South Africa, found that the country is a destination county for long-distance flows for people mainly women trafficked from Thailand, Philippines, India, China, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. People trafficked within the African continent are mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho.

Longer-distance trafficking involves victims trafficked from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Rwanda, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria and Somalia, the report avered. All documented cases were women trafficked for both sexual and labour exploitation and the main point of entry of this trafficking stream is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The study also found that the largest movement of trafficked people is from rural areas to cities.

Women, girls and boys and to a lesser extent, men are the targets of traffickers for prostitution and criminal activities. The albino community was identified as vulnerable to human traffickers for the harvesting of body parts, due the belief of ‘white’ skin having potent powers.

Trafficking of South Africans out of their country is less of a problem, but eight cases were identified between January 2004 and January 2008. Destination countries included Ireland, Zimbabwe, Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Macau. In all cases, the victims were women trafficked for either sexual and labour exploitation or forced marriage.

The study, which was conducted to obtain a more detailed national picture of human trafficking in South Africa, hoped to help guide new policies to combat the practice. Funded by the European Union, it is the first comprehensive study of the problem in South Africa, BuaNews said. The 235-page report, available on the HSRC website, contains no firm figures on the scale of the problem however, the researchers emphasising that they experienced serious difficulties in conducting the study. “South Africa is not collecting even basic national-level data which will allow sound estimates about the scale of the problem. … Still, as an exploratory study, the HSRC report confirms a portrait of human trafficking in South Africa that requires serious action by government and civil society to track and address the problem.”

The Institute for Security Studies in March cautioned that while important, information presented in anti-trafficking initiatives had to be accurate and based on evidence, “rather than merely aiming to instill fear and outrage.” Senior researcher Chandre Gould, noted that a grouping called “Stop 2010 Human Trafficking” recently released a web-based video clip aimed at raising awareness about trafficking in the run-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. She said in the clip, popular South African soap opera stars and musicians made exaggerated and inaccurate claims about trafficking and sex work in South Africa, claiming, among other things that “100 000 people will fall victim to trafficking in South Africa before the World Cup.”

Gould said FIFA estimates at the time said that at best 450 000 international spectators would visit South Africa – that is six times fewer visitors than to the 2006 Germany World Cup. “It is therefore highly unlikely that 100 000 people would be trafficked into South Africa. Indeed, were that to be the case there would be just less than one trafficked victim for every four spectators.”

Meanwhile, SAPA reported around that time the NPA had obtained its first conviction for human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. SAPA said the state used racketeering laws related to sexual exploitation to convict a couple, South African Basheer Sayed and Thai national, Somcharee Chuchumporn, in the Durban Regional Court. “We are using that so that we can charge people for trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation,” said NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga. The duo was arrested in 2007 after three Thai women fled their brothel on Umbilo road and sought sanctuary at their embassy. The women were recruited by Chuchumporn in Thailand. “It was clear from the moment they left Thailand it was for prostitution. There were no false pretences,” said Mhaga. Though the women knew they were recruited to be prostitutes, the harsh treatment they received at the brothel forced them to flee.