State accused of creating culture of impunity for offenders

Lack of robust data stunts war on human trafficking

Human trafficking victims were rescued in Rustenburg and Kuruman.
Human trafficking victims were rescued in Rustenburg and Kuruman.
Image: Artit Oubkaew/123RF

The year 2020 has seen a major rise in reports on human trafficking that has exposed the massive issue of a paucity of reliable statistics on the phenomenon.

The reports on human trafficking have largely been broadcast over social media, with a number of sites being highlighted as hotspots.

Several buildings in the city centres of Johannesburg and Pretoria have been listed among the hotspots.

These buildings are described as being zones where human traffickers lure their victims with the promise of work.

Despite the claims on social media and this information being shared, including with relevant authorities, there does not appear to have been any action taken to verify these claims and deal with the criminal activities reported on social media.

The lack of data and failure by authorities to provide easily available and understandable statistics on this type of crime can only lead to more panic and paranoia, which will be worsened in the social media environment.

The panic on social media is unlikely to remain there, and South Africans will be spurred on to take action into their own hands when they do not feel that anything is being done by the state.

Information from the US Department of State indicates that SA is a source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children.

There is a substantial amount of trafficking within the borders of the country and the majority of victims are South African. Many people are being taken from poor rural areas and moved to the major urban areas of the country such as Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. When they arrive in urban centres the trafficked persons are subjected to sex slavery, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labour.

Despite the challenge of getting robust data and information, consensus indicates that Gauteng is the most active province in terms of human trafficking. In the period of 2019/20, 11 out of 16 confirmed national cases of human trafficking were traced to Gauteng. This means that there is a need for more concerted action from authorities at national, provincial and local government level in dealing with the scourge of human trafficking in Gauteng.

SA is classified as a Tier 2 country on the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. This classification means that the government of SA “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so”.

The fight against human trafficking will be lost by failures in identifying people who are trafficked and in protecting victims. Victims are often afraid to assist law enforcement in identifying and getting traffickers prosecuted for fear of revictimisation.

There have been negligible efforts by the SA government to address reports of corruption and official complicity in trafficking. The state has been accused of creating a “a culture of impunity for offenders”. Corruption and official complicity occur at all levels of human trafficking in SA.

For the state to see any success in fighting human trafficking and to instil confidence in South Africans it needs to make major improvements in its data collection efforts, increase the rate of prosecution and do more to protect victims to ensure they come forward in assisting law enforcement.

Shackleton is a DA member of provincial legislature in Gauteng and the shadow MEC for community safety.

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