The Travesty of Human Trafficking in South Africa

Renowned South African human rights lawyer George Bizos was moved to tears by the abuses highlighted in an exhibition on human trafficking in South Africa, launched at Constitutional Hill, writes Jackie Bischof for journalism.co.za.
Looking at the photographs,  Bizos said he “wondered what happened to sections of the Constitution in relation to the girls [in the images].”  Bizos said he was shocked to see how the photographs displayed “practically every one of the sub-sections in Section 28 [being] evidently disregarded.” Section 28 in the South African Bill of Rights deals the protection of children.Bizos said he was confounded that human trafficking was still an issue in South Africa when other regions, such as parts of Europe, had virtually eradicated the  problem within ten years of tackling it. “We don’t have to shout from the rooftops [about trafficking],” said Bizos. “We have [the media] and other ways in which our voices can be heard. But let’s not be silent.” He added that the first step that needs to be taken is urgently pushing through human trafficking legislation currently before Parliament.

The exhibition will run through mid-December and is part of Media Monitoring Africa’s interrogation of the media’s coverage of human trafficking in the country before, during and after the 2010 World Cup.Situated in the old Women’s Gaol at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, which housed several female activists during the apartheid era, the exhibition features the photographs of Melanie Hamman, who has been visually documenting incidences of human trafficking around the world since 2007. The exhibition of her work in South Africa features pictures of three victims who had been lured away from their home with empty promises of work and financial gain and were struggling to escape their situation.

Human trafficking is something that the ordinary South African is totally oblivious to, says Hamman, and the incredible wealth in the country makes it even harder to understand how the trafficking of young children can be so rife.“SA is a wonderfully prosperous country, and there’s so much hope and so much has been achieved in the last ten years,” said Hamman. “But I see the wealth and the prosperity and I’ve stepped into the darkest, most impoverished parts of this nation as well. And something about that is just not right. How can a nation care? And why doesn’t a nation care?” asked Hamman. Pursuing a life that is even “basically happy” is an impossible obstacle for some of the children who are trafficked.With

Hamman’s photos flanking one wall, the other side of the room featured images chosen by MMA’s Child Media Monitors. Some of the images had been taken by Hamman while others were captured by amateur photographers from the Umuzi Photo Club in Soweto. Over a period of four months, MMA ran media workshops with around 60 ‘Child Media Monitors’ aged 9 to 13, looking at whether South African media coverage of children was fair and balanced. A portion of the children focussed on the issue of child trafficking. Photographs chosen by the children and their responses to the pictures appeared in the exhibition.The children’s participation in the exhibition allowed them to “communicate their pressing concerns relating to children’s rights; how these rights are upheld or denied in their own communities and the potential impact this may have,” said the MMA’s William Bird.Prior to the exhibition, Hamman and the children also discussed media coverage of child trafficking rumours over the World Cup period and debated whether sensational reporting such as figures of 100 000 girls being trafficked in for the World Cup, or children being kidnapped and sold for tens of thousands of rands helped the issue or contributed to media fatigue.Some of the rumours were way off the mark. “South African children aren’t that valuable,” said Hamman. “It can cost you R100 for a pimp to buy a South African child. The media is not really telling the right story.”The exhibition will run until the middle of December at the Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill on Kotze Street, Johannesburg. For more information on the MMA, visit http://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/.

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Human Trafficking Research Gone Wrong?: The Case of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) won a tender by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to conduct research on human trafficking occurrence in South Africa. The research titled ‘Tsireledzani: understanding the dimensions of human trafficking in southern Africa’, came out some time back in March and I had the opportunity to read through it. However, this report, despite being a laudable attempt to investigate human trafficking, faced a lot of criticism from independent scholars who felt it fell short of the research rigour expected from an eminent research institution such as the HSRC. I quickly and quietly rubbished the criticism as an attempt to belittle the challenge of human trafficking in southern Africa and particularly South Africa.

Tsireledzani Report

Tsireledzani Report

That being said, on Wednesday, I stumbled upon a more concise rebuttal published by (not really sure, although one of the authors is employed by ISS) the Institute of Security Studies (ISS). The paper, titled ‘Of Nigerians, Albinos, Satanists and Anecdotes: A critical review of the HSRC report on human trafficking’ is a more robust critique of the HSRC report. It argues that the HSRC report did not address and or query the research terms of reference. It goes on to state that the report is weak as it fails to give new insight into the problem of human trafficking and reads just like previous research by other organisations such as IOM and Molo Songololo which are not backed by evidence and are therefore heavily anectodal. The report is argued as being sensationalistic and even alarmist having come to the conclusion that human trafficking is rife in South Africa and therefore needing to be addressed on all fronts yet failing to give research to back this claim. This, the ISS paper claims may lead to the use of state resources to address a problem whose full extent is not known, potentially diverting scarce but much needed resources from more pressing and proven social ills.

ISS paper

ISS paper

I read the Tsireledzani research report and I somewhat regrettably have to concur with the ISS paper as the HSRC report reads just like the other human trafficking reports before it and offers no new insight into the problem. It sights the exact same limitations to conducting human trafficking research but does not seem to have countered or gone around these limitations to give fresh impetus and insight into the challenge of modern day slavery. Frankly, the research does seem to fall short.

The dangers of half-baked human trafficking research reports are clearly apparent in this scenario. The main problem is that it leads not just to the refutation of the human trafficking research reports but indeed the objection or at least the insinuation of an objection of the occurrence of human trafficking. Poor research that sounds alarmist and sensationalistic just seems to bring out the human trafficking denial proponents thus presenting a great stumbling block to anti human trafficking work. Thus while the ISS paper does not state that there is no human trafficking in South Africa it does refute a report that states that there is human trafficking in South Africa and by extension the very occurrence of human trafficking in South Africa, until….. until proven otherwise by more credible and evidence based or backed research. The ISS paper’s authors have urged or rather demanded that the HSRC withdraw its human trafficking research report. What is perhaps also commedable about the ISS paper is the fact that it recommends or gives insight into how the research should have been done, for example, the need for strong caveats acknowledging time and methodological limitations in the research, use of the IOM database of 300 or so trafficking victims, contesting the terms of reference etc etc.

Now is this a case of human trafficking research gone bad? Or a case of those in denial coming out with their swords? The jury is clearly still out. Personally, this presents a challenge to all modern day abolitions to do more, to conduct more robust research, to go beyond scratching the surface of the problem. Because, believe you me, the problem is there-whether or not we appreciate its full extent is debatable.

Gilbert Makore

N.B: the views expressed in this blog are of the author in his own individual capacity and in no way reflect the views of SAAHTT

South Africa to fast-track human trafficking law

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa is to fast-track a comprehensive new law against human trafficking before the start of the soccer World Cup, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Tuesday.

South Africa hosts the month-long event from June 11 and some child rights groups have warned that trafficking, mainly for sexual exploitation, could rise during the tournament.

Work on the law, intended to bring together disparate pieces of legislation against trafficking and enhance prosecution, began in 2003. Currently, there is limited scope to prosecute because of the narrow nature of the existing trafficking laws.

Perpetrators could face life imprisonment or heavy fines under the bill.

“In the main this bill was not motivated by our hosting the 2010 World Cup, but as I’ve indicated all these international criminal syndicates might use (this) opportunity … in order to intensify this trafficking of persons,” Radebe said.

The bill would give South African courts extra-territorial jurisdiction to prosecute acts outside its borders and obliges Internet providers to report suspect activity and addresses.

According to a U.N. global report on trafficking, the most common form of human trafficking was sexual exploitation targeting girls and women, with forced labour the other major driver of a global phenomenon estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Radebe put the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill to parliament on Tuesday and said it would be fast-tracked to make sure it came into effect next month.

“We remain unrelenting in our commitment to fight crime, however it manifests itself, even in the form that seeks to prey on the most vulnerable members of our communities, women and children,” Radebe said.

South Africa would follow Mozambique, Zambia, Swaziland and Tanzania as southern African countries which have specific legislation dealing with human trafficking.

Source: www.reuters.com 16/03/2010