Zuma warns of human trafficking risk

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Parents must be vigilant during the FIFA soccer World Cup to guard against a possible jump in child trafficking, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.

Speaking in Atteridgeville at the start of Child Protection Week and to launch the Children’s Act, which came into effect on April 1, Zuma said the extended schools’ closure for the mid-term vacation will leave large numbers of children without full time supervision.

South African schools will be closed for the month-long Cup, which starts on June 11. “Not all parents and caregivers will be able to align their vacation with that of the extended school vacation. We urge parents to take extra care and ensure that their children are supervised and provided with guidance at all times,” he said. “Children wandering alone in shopping malls and football stadiums will be vulnerable to people with evil intentions.”
A clash of statistics

The United Nations says that trafficking generates billions of dollars annually, with 79% of those affected falling victim to sexual exploitation. An estimated 6 000 to 8 000 people are trafficked a year, half of them children, Reuters reports. The state BuaNews agency added the global trade in humans was estimated at US$32 billion, but did not provide a source. At odds with Reuters it added “six to eight hundred thousand people” were trafficked annually, stating approximately 80% of victims were women and girls and up to 50% minor children.

Reuters says South Africa fast-tracked a new law against human trafficking to bring it into effect before the World Cup, making it easier to prosecute suspects and giving South African courts jurisdiction over acts outside the country’s borders. Those found guilty could now face life imprisonment or a heavy fine.

Trafficking has not traditionally been a major issue in South Africa but activists say the problem is growing and child groups have warned of an increase in incidents during the tournament, when some 350 000 foreigners are expected to travel to the country. Zuma said that human trafficking had been prioritised within the justice system and that dedicated police coordinators and task teams had been set up. “We will play our part as government but parents and care-givers also have to be vigilant,” he said.

BuaNews added government departments including UNICEF [sic], police, justice officials, social workers and other service professionals are preparing to provide assistance in host cities and other areas. “Dedicated provincial anti-human trafficking police coordinators and task teams have been established. There are competent human trafficking investigators in every Organised Crime Unit and regular training workshops are presented to the police, especially to front line officers working at ports of entry,” Zuma said.

South Africa’s government has vowed to keep fans safe during the World Cup, setting aside an additional R1.3-billion for security. The country has some of the highest violent crime levels in the world, with more than 18 000 people murdered in the 12 months to March 2009 — around 50 a day and more than the US which has six times the population. Local news agency SAPA reported that Zuma had appealed to South Africans to “be good” for the month of the tournament. “In this time, we need good South Africans. Let them, just for four weeks, be good. Just for four weeks,” he said at a prayer meeting on Thursday.
A real issue

The South African Press Association on Saturday reported Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya as saying human trafficking may be the “dark side” of the World Cup. “We are very concerned as government about the challenge of human trafficking, particularly of women and children for various forms of exploitation,” Mayende-Sibiya told a rally against human trafficking in Midrand.
“We are gathered here less than 20 days before the Fifa Soccer World Cup to engage on an issue that threatens to be the dark side of what is otherwise a very memorable period.”

The rally, which followed a march through Midrand, was organised by the Catholic Justice and Peace Committee and was part of the SA Catholic Bishops conference. It was attended by a few hundred people. Midrand chairperson Jeanette Lesisa said her organisation was working with other NGO’s to bring attention to human trafficking being committed in central Gauteng. Lesisa said their campaign was currently focused on passage of human trafficking legislation which was promulgated in parliament but not passed. [sic]

SAPA added fellow committee member Emma McBride said that South Africa had become a hub for human trafficking from other countries. “Most of the countries in Africa are sending people for trafficking reasons to here. So it’s a real issue,” said McBride. Also present at the rally was Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who shared similar sentiments about the crime. “We firmly believe that trafficking in human persons is a very serious problem undermining our collective effort to end exploitation, oppression, abuse and inequality,” said Motshekga. The selling and buying of women and children, as prostitutes, child slaves and drug runners, are matters of both national and international concern, because they utterly destroy lives of many innocent people the world over.” Neither apparently provided facts or statistics to back their claims.

Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe was also scheduled to attend but was instead represented by his director-general Nonkululeko Msomi who accepted a memorandum from the committee.

Pic: A UN IOM (United Nations Internetional Organisation on Migration) poster on human trafficking, recounting the cautionary tale of “Maria” trafficked from Mozambique to Johannesburg.