HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SOUTH AFRICA
It’s now one and half years since I came to South Africa. Like any other country, South Africa has its own unique reality which has been shaped by its own unique history. My destination to the country was primarily for studies, however, during varsity’s holiday I do join my community in their apostolate in the slum of Mamelodi in the city of Pretoria.
The studies and also involvement in pastoral field has given me a chance to be in touch with the South African people’s culture, history and reality in general. It is inevitable to speak of the history and reality of South Africa without speaking of the apartheid, that is, a system of political domination and social exclusion based on race that ruled South Africa since 1948 to 1994. The aftermath of this system can still be seen in the mistrust and insecurity that exist in the multi-racial people of South Africa. This means that though the apartheid is long gone, almost now two decades, its scars are not yet healed.
Apart from the scars of the apartheid, the country is challenged by other social evils that violate and degrade the very dignity of the human person and its inalienable rights which are rooted in image and likeness of God that human person bears. Some of these challenges are: rape, crime, abortion, xenophobia, murder and human trafficking.
My community, that is, Comboni Missionary sisters here in South Africa, is involved in human promotion and safeguarding of human dignity as their apostolate, which they carry out by working with the victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a violation of human rights that reduces human beings to the status of commodities to be bought, sold and disposed once proved not working.
By getting involved in one of the areas that my sisters are involved in during my school holidays, I have come to encounter and interact with some victims of human trafficking who by God’s grace have miraculous escaped, and sharing in their experience I have come to understand that human trafficking is fuelled by demand for prostitution and cheap labor. I have also learnt how human trafficking is facilitated by porous borders, absent rule of law, failure to prosecute traffickers, complicity of corrupt officials and modern communication technology.
It’s sad but true that people are being bought, sold and smuggled like commodities. They are trapped in lives of misery, often manhandled, starved and forced into prostitution, domestic work and others used for organ removal. Majority of those who have escaped have confessed cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, forced labour under severe conditions and other inhuman treatment.
It is difficult to remain indifference to human trafficking given its seriousness and especially the fact that millions of men, women, and children worldwide fall victims to it. Recent estimates show that there are 27 million people being enslaved in sex or labour exploitation. These shocking figures should be a call to re-awaken us to the dawn of acting in order to ensure the safety of our brothers and sisters.
For a long time the South African government has been silent on this issue. It is only recently, on 29th July this year, that President Jacob Zuma following the Palermo protocol, signed the law that forbids any kind of human trafficking, charge the culprits with a penalty of R100 million plus a life-imprisonment. Previously, lack of this necessary political will resulted to an increased number of people trafficked while leaving majority of traffickers unpunished or charged only with smuggling or rape. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is not only a cross-border/international phenomenon it is also intra-border reality. Actually, the current data shows that intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons. This gives more reasons why there is urgent need to sensitize and mobilise people to fight this evil. This is exactly what the Comboni Missionary sisters are doing in the pastoral field.
In their effort to spread this awareness widely, the Comboni Missionary sisters, led by Sr. Clara organise workshops and seminars on human trafficking, awareness campaigns against human trafficking and form passionate youth groups to take the mantle of the campaign. Apart from creating awareness, the Comboni Missionary sisters are involved in the therapeutic care of the victims aimed at healing since most of them suffer trauma and therefore in need of restoring their dignity which has been abused.
Because of the trauma that they suffer in the hands of their traffickers, most of the victims are closed and unable to share their experiences; however, during the computer classes Sr. Clara gives them some open up and start typing their ordeal under the hands of their offenders which is very therapeutic for their inner healing and restoration of self-esteem and image. Our presence in their midst and interaction makes them feel the sense of warmth and acceptance that slowly breaks their feeling of rejection, hence making them to slowly start changing their pessimistic perception and attitudes which, helps them to re-integrate in the society.