SA hub and destination for human trafficking: report


South Africa continues to be a hub and destination for human trafficking and serious intervention is needed to curb this practice, says a study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

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, says 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. All documented cases are 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, hopes 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 last week 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 before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, media reports convinced the public that 40 000 women and children would be trafficked into Germany to meet the demand of an estimated three million soccer spectators. “However researchers only find evidence of five cases of trafficking. While the research may not have identified all incidents that occurred during the 2006 World Cup, it highlights the substantial gulf that exists between reality and the fears that exist in relation to human trafficking.”

Gold says FIFA estimates that at best 450 000 international spectators will 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, the South African Press Association reports SA’s National Prosecuting Authority has obtained its first conviction for human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. SAPA says 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 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) welcomed the conviction. “We would welcome any prosecution for trafficking in humans in particular successful prosecutions,” said UNODC national project co-ordinator for human trafficking Johan Kruger. Sayed and Chuchumporn are due to be sentenced on May 10 and face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or a R100 million fine, he said.

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.

“It was also revealed that they were responsible for managing operations and activities at the said premises. The premises were therefore identified as the central operational point for the unauthorised and unlawful activities,” said Mhaga. “There was therefore an existence of an organised human trafficking structure where females were being sexually exploited for a profit.” The women have since returned to Thailand.

The conviction comes on the heels of the tabling in the National Assembly of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill [B7-2010]. Presently, the NPA is prosecuting accused human traffickers for a combination of other crimes, such as in the case of Sayed and Chuchumporn, SAPA said. However, Mhaga said that while human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation could draw long sentences, this was not necessarily the case with human trafficking for other reasons. It is hoped that the new legislation will address this.

The Bill, announced by Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe in Parliament on Tuesday last week, will further give South African courts jurisdiction in respect of acts committed outside South Africa if those acts would have been an offence under the Bill had they been committed in South Africa, the BuaNews agency reports. Radebe said the Bill, once it becomes an Act of Parliament and is fully operational, will be one of the most comprehensive laws in the fight against human trafficking in the world.

Kruger applauded the NPA’s use of existing legislation to prosecute human traffickers. “This serves as a guide for prosecutors in the absence [of human trafficking law], when you have a skilled prosecutor who can use other legislation to secure a conviction,” he said. The NPA is also receiving assistance from the European Union (EU) to tackle human trafficking. Last week, an EU representative said the NPA had received 3.6 million euros (R35 millin) to identify and prosecute human trafficking. “They are important partners in our campaign,” said Mhaga.

In another development, Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma told Parliament guidelines were in place to coordinate immigration and police functions during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer tournament in order to protect victims of human trafficking and arrest the perpetrators.

Answering a written question by ruling party MP ZL “Mighty” Madasa, she said guidelines in place included:

  • The Department of Home Affairs will liaise with all relevant stakeholders, namely, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Department of Social Services, The International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), and South African Police Service (SAPS).

  • Victims will be placed in Places of Safety to be rehabilitated, and assisted to supply information (when ready, and able to do so) to the Law Enforcement Agencies to take the necessary legal action, and steps against perpetrators.

  • Assessments will be undertaken to determine if victims, who are foreign nationals can be safely returned to their countries of origin by means of liaising with the applicable Embassies.

  • Arrests will be made, and legal action will be taken against perpetrators, if information is received from, either the victims, or from the respective Law Enforcement Agencies.

  • Application of the applicable legislative framework will depend on the circumstances of these cases, namely, the Immigration Act, 2002 (Act No 13 of 2002), and the Sexual Offences, and Related Matters Amendment Act, 2007 (Act No 32 of 2007).