16 Days of Activism: Victims of Trafficking, Migrant Women and children among most vulnerable to abuse

By | 27 November 2009

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is calling for more attention to the plight of victims of human trafficking and migrant women and children, who are among the most vulnerable to violent abuse, and often need more protection and rehabilitation services than they get. During the 16 Days of Activism against Abuse of Women and Children, it is important to highlight their vulnerability and needs, and to encourage measures towards their protection.

A victim of trafficking is usually recruited by deception or force, transported to an unfamiliar location, and exploited in forced labour or sexual slavery among others. This protracted process, which sometimes entails travel through one or several international borders, exposes the victim to repeated mental and physical abuse and violence – including threats, rape, sexual slavery and slave-like bondage, and beatings. In addition, trafficking victims are often subjected to stigmatization as a result of the kind of activities (such as forced prostitution) that they were forced into by their traffickers. This makes their rehabilitation a difficult process. South Africa is a source, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking. IOM research indicates that internal trafficking is also a concern, with victims recruited form mostly poor rural areas for exploitation in big cities across the country.

Migrant women and children are also vulnerable to abuse during the migration process, and often in their countries of destination.  For example, women and unaccompanied minors who have to travel through land borders into South Africa are vulnerable to robbery, rape and abuse, especially if they are being smuggled. The risks are higher if they have to travel to and from repeatedly, as in the case of some cross-border traders. Once in South Africa, women often have to care for children and work at the same time, in an environment that does not offer them opportunities to access labour, social and health services. This leaves many of them at the brink of survival and renders them extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and health problems.

The vulnerability of these women is heightened by incidents such as the attacks of foreign nationals which took place in May 2008, and sporadic incidents which continue thereafter. Many migrant women who experienced such attacks suffer symptoms including post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, self-blame, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, intense feelings of anger and aggression, depression, bodily pain and increased vulnerability to physical illness, identity problems, drug abuse, and a sense of hopelessness.

“During the 16 Days of Activism, from 25 November through 10 December, IOM’s activities will focus on raising awareness on the vulnerability of these groups, while continuing to work with the government and other relevant stakeholders to enhance protective structures that cater for their special needs”, says Bernardo Mariano, Regional Representative for IOM.

IOM has released an animated web-story to educate young internet users on the dangers and impact of human trafficking within their communities. The animation, which is based on true stories, is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSdKKzdOclw  and can be requested and/or downloaded and disseminated freely.

Through programmes such as the Southern African Counter-trafficking Assistance Programme (SACTAP) and Migration Health, IOM offers direct and comprehensive assistance to victims of human trafficking and addresses the health needs of migrants, while promoting safe and regular migration that reduces the risk of abuse and violence. IOM’s ONE Movement also promotes integration and the respect of migrant rights, as a means of minimising incidences of abuse and violence against migrants. IOM also provides emergency response and humanitarian return assistance to vulnerable and destitute migrants, many of whom are victims of violence and wish to return home.

For more information please contact Nde Ndifonka on email: nndifonka@iom.int or tel: 012 342 2789

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