/ 23 June 2021

NPOs warn of a possible surge in human trafficking

Protest Against Human Trafficking In South Africa
People with black tape on their mouth walk along the Sea Point coast as they attend a protest against human trafficking in Cape Town. (Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

An apparent surge in human trafficking has propelled the Salvation Army to appeal to the public to be more vigilant, adding that the promise of employment can easily lead people into being trafficked.  

The Salvation Army’s anti-human trafficking co-ordinator, Captain Juanita Wright, has said that 80% of calls received by the relief organisation over the past three months relate to human trafficking. 

“We believe that many of the calls for help involve people who have been tricked into human-trafficking situations as a result of the difficult economic circumstances which South Africa is experiencing,” Wright said.

“If an offer of employment sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she warned. 

Those most likely to fall prey to human trafficking include children, teenagers, young women, refugees, job seekers and people living on the street. “These people are preyed upon in various ways and are literally tricked into going somewhere with their traffickers, and subsequently held against their will,” Wright said.

The global anti-human trafficking nonprofit organisation, A21, claims human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than R258-trillion a year.

Katie Modrau, A21’s manager in South Africa, told the Mail & Guardian that the national human-trafficking hotline recorded a 46.5% increase in the number of human trafficking-related reports received in 2020 compared to 2019. 

In 2020, the trafficking hotline reported 696 potential victims to authorities for further investigation. Since the beginning of this year, A21 had identified nine victims of human trafficking, Modrau said. 

Last year’s main recruitment methods reported to the trafficking hotline were false job opportunities and what they call the “lover boy” method — when traffickers form intimate relationships to manipulate victims.

Modrau said that false job opportunities often involved promises of job or educational opportunities, as well as promises of a better life.

Confirming the statistics supplied by the Salvation Army, Modrau said the trafficking hotline “experienced a spike in job vetting requests from October 2020, with 271 requests submitted in the final three months of 2020”. On further investigation, several requests turned out to have the potential to lead to exploitative situations. 

The Western Cape Missing Persons Unit has also appealed to parents to be vigilant after two children were kidnapped while playing outside their home in Elsies River last week. Fortunately, the children managed to jump out of the vehicle and were taken to a local police station, where they received trauma counselling. 

Candice van der Rheede, the founder of the missing persons unit, told the M&G she too believed there was an increase in human trafficking, “mostly girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years old”. 

Van der Rheede said the girls were being sexually abused by older men, who they are made to believe they can trust. She said that in 95% of the cases in which girls were sexually exploited, they had an absent father figure. 

“There are still far too many people in our communities who don’t really believe that human trafficking is happening,” claims Wright, appealing to communities “to be much more vigilant about human trafficking. It is real and it is happening in our society to people of all ages.”

Wright offered several guidelines for being aware of human trafficking, and how to be wise online. 

Human-trafficking awareness:

  • Become informed;
  • Parents or caregivers: have conversations with your children about the dangers and realities of human trafficking;
  • Distribute information on trafficking;
  • Avoid responding to social media, online or newspaper employment advertisements without verifying the job-related information or location; and
  • Let family members and friends know when and where you are going for the job interview.

Online awareness:

  • Do not post or share personal details, including phone numbers, home addresses, and the name of your school or place of employment;
  • Do not post, send or share inappropriate photos or information when asked to do so by someone you perhaps doubt or do not know;
  • Avoid accepting friend requests on social-media platforms unless they are from your close friends and family members, especially they are from a stranger;
  • Don’t ignore red flags or warning signals: if you feel uncomfortable or sense something is not right, do your best to get away from the person or situation.

The M&G has contacted the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the Hawks) for official statistics on human trafficking in South Africa. The statistics will be published when a response has been provided.

You can contact the national human-trafficking hotline on 0800 222 777 or at 0800222777.org.za.