SAY the words "human trafficking" and many imagine the international trade of people for the purposes of slavery, forced labour, sexual exploitation and perhaps even body parts. In South Africa, however, many cases happen within the country as the vulnerable and the poor fall victim to promises of better lives. It's taken years for activists to convince the authorities of the weight of this problem. At last, though, South Africa's first anti-human tracking bill may become a reality.
"It's been about eight years in the making," says Matipa Mwamuka, an anti-trafficking activist." After lengthy deliberation and tightening up of the proposal, it looks like the bill will be signed into law by the end of the year."
In its current draft format, the 79-page Prevention and Combating of Trafficking Persons Bill is extensive. The bill addresses things such as internet service providers, which (if it's promulgated in this form) will be obligated to report sites that they believe could perpetuate trafficking by posting false recruitment information online. It also provides for "compensation for care, accommodation, transportation, return and repatriation of the victim of the offence" from the convicted trafficker or carrier via the state's Criminal Assets Recovery Account.
Anex, a Cape Town-based non-profit organisation established in 2003 with the objective of ending all forms of exploitation and abuse of children, has been part of the process of planning the new bill from the onset. In addition to addressing the problems of child trafficking and underage labour, Anex (the name is derived from it s original title, Activists Networking Against the Exploitation of Children) also helps adult victims of trafficking, builds awareness of the problem and trains relevant authorities in how to deal with it.
Mwamuka, who was a finalist in the social entrepreneur category of the Businesswomen's Association Regional Business Achiever Awards recently, was a student in organisational psychology and labour law at the University of Cape Town when she encountered Anex on an internship in 2007.
The following year she joined the organisation and was given the task of training and building capacity and awareness, and managing the national human trafficking helpline.
But, because Anex consists of a small team of five in Athlone (in the Saartjie Baartman Centre) and two in Beaufort West and Murraysburg in the Central Karoo, her work is multifaceted. "Although human trafficking and child labour are not new problems in South Africa, awareness - among victims, civil society and the authorities - is not great. Much of our time and energy is spent building awareness and helping people recognise and deal with trafficking. Also, because trafficking is always becoming more sophisticated - through use of the internet, social media, and so on - we're constantly involved in research. And there's extensive lobbying and advocacy work to be done too."
Anex divides its activities into three areas: anti-child labour, anti-trafficking and youth development. Its youth development programmes look at preventative strategies. Many of these activities take place in Beaufort West and Murraysburg, which were identified as hot spots for recruiting youngsters.
"With easy access to the N1, which is a major truck route, people are frequently trafficked from these towns to the city. Our outreach work there involves working with kids, and teaching them life skills and about the realities of ending up in a city without skills or resources. We work with tertiary education centres to provide youngsters with other options to help prevent them being lured by traffickers. We hope the communities will take over the running of these centres, and that government and business will provide skills development and job opportunities to help make people less vulnerable to trafficking," says Mwamuka.
The organisation's anti-child labour programme is primarily a research project at present.
"We're looking at the extent of the problem in the Western Cape and what government and civil society's responses to child labour are. People tend to ignore it, but child labour exists. Young girls are forced into domestic servitude, children are sent onto the streets to sell things and, particularly if you go into the city centre, you'll see underage sex workers. Some are forced into it by parents and others by syndicates. There's often a pimp behind the scenes. Sometimes the kids have been trafficked to the city and put to work, which is where the child labour and the trafficking programmes meet."
That said, most trafficking cases in the Western Cape involve adults. Aside from those brought to Cape Town from the Karoo, the organisation sees countless young women lured from the Eastern and Northern Cape. Men too, particularly in the fishing industry, are also victims of trafficking. Many, says Mwamuka, are oblivious to their rights and don't realise they've actually been trafficked, even when they are "sold" multiple times. But it's not just about rescuing and counselling victims and helping them make their way home, it's also about training others to recognise human trafficking and teaching them what to do when they come across it.
"We were lucky to get additional funding leading up to and during the World Cup in 2010, which enabled us to train more than 300 police officials and many others from relevant NGOs (nongovernmental organisations), government departments, shelters and faith-based organisations. Prior to that, trafficked women who escaped their captors were regularly turned away from police stations because the police didn't know how to deal with them. They'd demand her papers and when she couldn't produce them, the police would either detain her or send her away. Following our training, the police began to call us instead."
Not that that is the end of the problem. It's very difficult, she says, to find places for people who have been trafficked. Where syndicates are involved, shelters fear for their safety. If the victim is foreign, institutions can't always meet language and dietary requirements, and they worry about who will be responsible for repatriation. And where women are forced to work as sex workers, they're often fed drugs, in which case shelters insist they detox before taking them in.
Anex hopes, with the law on its side, it'll be able to extend its reach. There's much that needs addressing, including a repatriation and reintegration plan: "We recently helped a young woman from the Eastern Cape go home. She and friend had been lured to Cape Town by her Nigerian boyfriend, who sold them to a pimp. They were forced into sex work in the infamous Senator Park. She escaped and the police found her when she had a psychotic incident because of the drugs she'd been fed. We got her home. But within weeks, when we called her mother to find out how she was, we were told she'd felt depressed and hopeless, and had returned to the boyfriend. That's what happens when victims are desperate and there's no reintegration plan."
Anex operates a national toll-free helpline (0800 555 999), which not only helps victims of trafficking but also accepts queries about recruitment offers people are unsure of.