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PRESS RELEASE: UNODC “Committed to the Cause- Working on the Frontline to End Human Trafficking in South Africa”

Pretoria, July 30 — On this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the focus is on first responders- the social workers, labour inspectors, law enforcement officers and prosecutors, health workers and NGO staff who identify victims, help them on their path to justice and with rebuilding their lives. We thank all of those first responders in South Africa who are putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect and save victims of trafficking. This includes ensuring that all victims of human trafficking are identified, rescued, rehabilitated, reintegrated with their families and justice pursued for victims whilst challenging the impunity of traffickers.

As the guardian of the Organized Crime Convention and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime offers practical help to States, not only helping to draft laws and create comprehensive national anti-trafficking strategies but also assisting with resources to implement them. States receive specialized assistance including the development of local capacity and expertise, as well as practical tools to encourage cross-border cooperation in investigations and prosecutions. In particular, the UNODC also supports first responders’ mission by channeling funding to help victims; providing protective equipment to anti-trafficking units and shelters; and assisting Member States to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on anti-trafficking responses.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the essential role of first responders has become even more important. Particularly as the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have made their work even more difficult. Still, their contribution is often overlooked and unrecognized.

“First responders, like Mary Mmusi a social worker from Mercy House, a place of shelter for victims of trafficking in persons in South Africa are our heroes, who work tirelessly in providing psychosocial support, and skills development to victims of trafficking in persons,” said Zhuldyz Akisheva, UNODC Regional Representative for Southern Africa.

The coronavirus pandemic has made the work of these frontline workers even more challenging, but they know they cannot ease up as criminal networks try to exploit the economic difficulties of others.

Trafficking in persons ruins the lives of men, women and children who are sold for profit and forced into sexual exploitation, slave labour and even selling their human organs.

“By working together with UNODC, the South African government has shown its commitment to end the atrocity of trafficking in persons, a heinous crime that destroys lives and exploits the vulnerability of women and children”

In South Africa, UNODC has amongst other initiatives, focused on strengthening criminal justice capacity, in the identification, investigation, prosecution and adjudication of trafficking in persons using victim centered approaches. This has involved working closely with law enforcement, prosecutors, labour inspectors, social workers, traditional leaders as well as NGOs involved in combating human trafficking. Recent counter-trafficking in persons intelligence driven operations supported by UNODC and INTERPOL Regional Bureau for Southern Africa, such as Operation Batho I & II that spanned the Southern African Development Community including South Africa, have disrupted major trafficking networks, culminating in the arrest of dozens of traffickers and the rescue of almost 200 men, women and children victims of trafficking in persons.

“Crushing human trafficking brings us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, combatting organized crime and eradicating forced labour, abuse, exploitation and violence against children. We applaud our frontline responders for rising to the challenges with the active support of their governments, and we support them in their fight”.

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For media enquiries please contact: Jeptum Bargoria, Programme Officer, Tel: +27 12 432 0867; Email: jeptum.bargoria@un.org Banele Kunene, National Project Officer: Human Trafficking & Migrant Smuggling, Tel: +27 12 432 0827, Email: banele.kunene@un.org