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Child trafficking – debunking common myths on a South African reality

Categories: HEADLINES, Safety & Security
Recent media stories such as the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria and a new report in America* revealing that 100 000 children in the US are being trafficked each year, highlight a startling reality that child trafficking is on the increase.

Even locally this is becoming a great concern: Missing Children SA reporting that a child goes missing every five hours in South Africa*. 

“South Africa is classified as a source, transit and destination country, making it a hotbed for the billion dollar industry of human trafficking. Men, women and children are all at risk and especially among children were we’ve seen an increase. Compounded with all the other social issues plaguing our children today such as sexual abuse, violence in the home, absent parents etc, they are definitely rendered highly vulnerable to exploitation, as traffickers pray on the vulnerable seemingly easy controlled targets,” says Katie Modrau, South African Development Manager for the Cape Town based counter trafficking organisation, The A21 Campaign.

“During National Child Protection Week (26 May – 1 June), we strongly want to urge society to confront the reality of child trafficking by becoming aware and informed on how this happens and what you can do to protect children in your neighbourhood,” she adds.

The first step in taking a stand is to differentiate fact from fiction and she highlights these common misperceptions on trafficking:

Myth #1: Only adult women get trafficked for sex purposes
This is true but sadly not the only reality. The average age of trafficking victims is 12 years old, which means children from a young age are at risk for trafficking. Females are probably the most common victim we’ve seen locally, but men are trafficked too. They are usually lured on the pretenses of a soccer contract or labour on farms for example. Men can be used in labour exploitation, especially on fishing boats, on farms and in the mines. We know young boys from Lesotho are recruited for mine work especially and we have seen men from Kenya and Mozambique forced to sell drugs and pimp ladies out. Men are also sometimes recruited for sex work.

Myth #2: Human trafficking only happens abroad

This is definitely not true. In fact, the state of trafficking locally is in dire need of confrontation.  Modrau says that: “As said before, South Africa is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking, which means victims are smuggled into the country for local exploitation but are also kept here until they are being sold abroad. Our country has become a prime destination for international crime syndicates from Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, smuggling not only children, but also women, and sometimes even males, into South Africa for sex purposes and other forms of exploitation such as labour trafficking.” Trafficking also occurs nationally in South Africa, with victims are recruited and transported to different parts of the country for exploitation. The major hotspot South African cities where victims are transported to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban- for obvious reasons.

Myth #3: All victims of child trafficking are kidnapped

Only a tiny minority of abducted children are taken by strangers.  There have been many reported instances where the abductees were not aware that they were being abducted. “There are instances where the child will be taken by a close family member or an acquaintance.  What is even more shocking is that in some parts of South Africa, there are cultural practices, like ukuthwala, where parents sell their under aged children to become child brides to much older men against the child’s will”.

Myth #4: Trafficking victims are mostly uneducated and rural

Trafficking affects all groups of people.  Vulnerability levels may be higher in the disadvantaged areas, due to poverty and lack of employment opportunities, which is why there are cases such as ukuthwala. There are also instances however where you will find that even educated girls and women become victims too, due to lack of information when it comes to what to the types of signs to look out for and things to avoid when seeking education or employment opportunities abroad. Human trafficking organisations 

Myth #5: It’s easy to identify a trafficker
Despite all the stereotypes that Hollywood portrays, trafficking rings are more sophisticated than people think. They are often a network of people who are involved – from the recruiter through to a taxi driver to someone waiting at the airport. In fact, most reported trafficking incidents came from callers who were purely acting on a negative gut-feeling.  “We’ve received many calls from people who don’t necessarily have substantial evidence, but you find that it is these calls that have given us the best leads to date,” says Modrau. Another element is also trust. It’s not easy for a child to identify a family member or a close friend who could be a threat to their safety, which is why education and awareness is necessary from a young age. 

 “By increasing your own awareness on the issue, you can become a voice in your neighbourhood, school, university or home and start to inform others in your family or friend circles. Social media is also a powerful tool to share the knowledge, so use what is in your hand to make a difference,” Modrau concludes.

If you see anything or see any suspicious behaviour, please call the hotline number (24 hours a day): 0800 555 999.

*Missing Children SA stats: http://www.missingchildren.org.za

About The A21 Campaign

The A21 Campaign is a global counter trafficking organisation with a local office in Cape Town, South Africa. Their work is based on a four-prong strategy adopted from the United Nation’s Palermo protocol which includes: prevention (awareness and education), protection (crisis shelters and transition homes), prosecution (legal response) and partnering (government, police and community). The A21 Campaign in Cape Town are currently leading the Rapid Response team in the Western Cape, working together with local law enforcement to place victims in safe care and respond to their immediate physical, emotional and medical needs once they are identified. In June 2013, A21 represented the Western Cape with two other NGO’s at the National Strategic planning seminar working with national government on the national strategic plan to effectively implement the long awaited bill illegalising human trafficking in South Africa.

For more information, resources and facts, visit www.thea21campaign.org, or keep up to date with local initiatives on the A21 Campaign South Africa Facebook page: here. Follow them also on Twitter: @thea21campaign or Youtube: here.  The South African hotline number and helpline: 0800 555 999.

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