Wednesday, March 17, 2010

South Africa "magnet" for human trafficking

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's "open, cosmopolitan" society was being used to facilitate human trafficking, a United Nations representative said on Wednesday.

"The fact is that South Africa is being used because of its (technical and travel) infrastructure. Its cosmopolitan society is being used for the facilitation of crime," UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) national project co-ordinator for trafficking Johan Kruger said.

"Its own open society and democracy environment is conducive to trafficking."

Kruger said organised crime syndicates were using another of South Africa's attributes, its economic strength, to aid their profitable human trafficking endeavours.

Economic pull

UNODC international law enforcement advisor Patrik Engstrom concurred that economic factors were drawing human traffickers.

"The strong economic pull factor in the region is not just for people, but for traffickers," he said.

"I'm absolutely convinced that it is a real problem with South Africa."

Kruger and Engstrom were speaking on the sidelines of a workshop on international co-operation in trafficking in persons and smuggling migrants in Johannesburg.

The workshop was hosted by the UNODC and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

UNODC regional representative Jonathan Lucas said a lack of legislation had hindered law enforcement against human trafficking in the SADC.

"In the whole of the SADC region there has not been a single conviction for human trafficking," Lucas told reporters.


Only five of the 15 SADC countries had proposed legislation to deal specifically with human trafficking - Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa.

South Africa's draft anti-trafficking legislation was only tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

Six SADC countries were receiving legal and technical help to draft legislation against human trafficking.

Lucas did, however, single out South Africa favourably, because it had prosecuted human traffickers by using existing legislation against such crimes as fraud and extortion.

Combating human trafficking was also difficult because of a lack of statistics kept by affected countries.

"To counter trafficking in persons more forcefully and adopt appropriate strategies, we need increased and better information," Lucas said.

Knowledge gap

"We discovered that some countries do not collect even basic data about trafficking in persons. In others, the information is incomplete."

"This knowledge gap enables criminals to operate in the shadows, while we grope in the dark," he said.

The lack of information had also affected how the scale of the problem was perceived in South Africa.

"In this country, people are being taken away. It's definitely a country being taken away from," said Kruger.

"Mostly for sexual exploitation to labour exploitation."

Sexual exploitation comprised not only prostitution, but also pornography, including child pornography.

Kruger said the dearth of information made it difficult to know whether the problem was one of trafficked persons being brought into the country to work, being recruited in South Africa, or only stopping in South Africa before being taken elsewhere.


Engstrom said his office had recently launched a 36-month project to improve human trafficking detection at borders and international airports.

This would include document examination sites at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, King Shaka Airport in Durban, and Cape Town International Airport.

Immigration officials on the borders would also receive training to help them stop potential victims of human trafficking.

Engstrom cautioned that many human traffickers took advantage of fraudulent documents and entry procedures rather than open borders.

Presently, the UNODC border programme would only assist South Africa.

But Engstrom said if it was successful it would encourage better monitoring in other SADC countries and co-operation across borders.

Something that would be necessary as the region drew closer.

"When a region integrates like this you will reach a point where you need to do it with regional co-operation," Engstrom said.

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