With the World Cup fast approaching, southern Africa could be faced with human trafficking on an unprecedented scale. Experts investigating human trafficking estimated that some 40 000 women and girls were trafficked into Germany for the World Cup in 2006, and Hanlie Linde, of the Stop the Trafficking of People Alliance (STOP) in South Africa, estimates that up to 100 000 could be trafficked into southern and South Africa for 2010.
At the South African Bishops’ Conference, Father Chris Townsend, spokesman from the Bishop’s Conference of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, suggested that organised crime could actively target fans with these trafficked women.
“Thousands of women from all over the world are arriving ÔÇô not only from other African nations, but from Asian and European nations as well,” Townsend warned.
And while countries like Mozambique and Zambia have stringent legislation protecting women and children against trafficking, South Africa lags behind, making the vulnerability of these individuals even greater. To make matters worse, a proposal was made by former National Commissioner of the South African Police Services, Jackie Selebi, that prostitution be tolerated during the World Cup ÔÇô evidence has shown that, in countries where prostitution has been decriminalised, such as Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, trafficking has flourished. And, says Shanaaz Parker of the Institute for Security Studies, the sex industry has close ties to organised crime and trafficking.
“The long-term effects on such an industry should not be forgotten when trying to host a successful World Cup,” Parker noted in a research paper entitled ‘Will the 2010 World Cup Increase Modern Day Slavery?’
The problem is further compounded by the fearfully high incidence of HIV and Aids in southern Africa.
A study conducted in the Southern African Region by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation found that South Africa is a destination country for regional and extra-regional trafficking and South Africa has no public services designed to assist victims of trafficking. Further, refugee trafficking often occurs through family members or friends of a victim, getting them undocumented, illegal access to South Africa.
Factors that push women’s recruitment into trafficking include poverty and unemployment ÔÇô traffickers need look no further than poor, financially dependent women in southern Africa who may already be victims of gender-based violence and abuse.
Another point of concern is the fact that South Africa borders Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. It has 72 official parts of entry and many unofficial ports along its 5 000km-long border. These porous borders make trafficking easier than it might be otherwise.
Among other countries, Botswana has known trafficking links with South Africa, and visa-free travel across southern Africa ÔÇô expected to facilitate the flow of fans into the country for the World Cup ÔÇô will mean not only tourism and freer business travel but also exploitation and migration for the purposes of trafficking. Especially vulnerable are rural women and children who may be lured to the country with promises of easy money and a chance to enjoy the festivities.
As fans are likely to be put up in lodges and hotels around Botswana, the country should realise that trafficking could happen within its own borders, too.
Churches and non-governmental organisations have expressed concern and begun awareness campaigns so that people know what the nature and scope of the problem is. The Catholic church’s campaign against trafficking is being led by the Counter Trafficking in Persons Desk (CTIP) and the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCL) of South Africa.
In Cape Town, a community project called ‘Beat the Kicks 2010′ aims to protect children and vulnerable adults against sexual abuse. Earlier this year, police and non-governmental organisations launched a campaign ÔÇô ‘Red Light 2010′ ÔÇô to fight trafficking.
The Department of Social Development is also a key role-player in human trafficking, being part of the ‘Trafficking in Persons Intersectoral Task Team’ responsible for co-coordinating South Africa’s anti-trafficking activities.
There is also pressure on South Africa to pass the Human Trafficking Bill, which currently sits before the parliamentary portfolio committee.
Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, has promised that Home Affairs will tighten security at all points of entry, with particular attention being paid to smuggling and human trafficking.
“Human trafficking has always been a major problem in this country, even before the World Cup,” said Gigaba.
He has promised to post an extra 150 immigration officers to the busiest ports of entry and will be sending mobile units to the Kopfontein, Beit Bridge and Lebombo border posts in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, respectively.
Of course, the 2010 fans themselves can also play a role in reducing the exploitation of women and children.
“We hope the fans will not only think about going to the stadium to drinking and entertainment, but that they will also open their eyes to the reality of South Africa,” said Father Townsend, who added that Catholic volunteers will be standing by to support the campaign against trafficking and assist women who may approach them for help.