30 July 2020: Trafficking in persons situation in South Africa: The Republic of South Africa is a primary destination for trafficked persons in the Southern Africa region and within Africa at large. It is also an origin and transit country for: trafficking towards Europe and North America. Trafficking affects women, men and children exploited in forced labour, commercial sex, forced begging and forced criminality. Foreign male forced labour victims have also been detected on fishing vessels in South Africa’s territorial waters. Internally, girls are trafficked from rural to urban areas for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, while boys are forced to work in street vending, begging, agriculture, mining, and criminal activities. There are also reports of trafficking for the purposes of organ removal, including for traditional medicine. Trafficking involves a range of criminal networks, dominated by different nationalities in different locations.
Current challenges to the response to combating trafficking in persons in South Africa:
· There is a limited number of shelters for male victims of trafficking in persons in South Africa, however, it is important to mention this is not only unique to South Africa, but it is also a challenge across the Southern Africa Development Community member states.
· Lack of the institutionalization of trafficking in persons capacity building initiatives for criminal justice practitioners as a result only a few criminal justice practitioners have the skills needed to identify, investigate and prosecute cases.
· Poor coordination amongst various trafficking in persons task force teams across provinces on combating trafficking in persons exists, hence the need for continuous basis support.
UNODC work in combating human trafficking in South Africa:
Planning, Policy and Coordination
UNODC has supported the Republic of South Africa in developing and finalizing the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons National Policy Framework (NPF) and it was launched on the 25 April 2019. The policy document informs the operational response to Trafficking in Persons and ensures a coordinated implementation of the trafficking in persons legislation. As a strategic planning tool, the National Policy Framework is also key to secure political and financial support and to ensure rational use of resources and effective responses.
UNODC has strengthened the coordination mechanisms of the various Trafficking in Persons Task Force teams in South Africa, these are the National Inter-Sectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons (NICTIP), Provincial Trafficking in Persons Task Teams and Provincial Trafficking in Persons Rapid in Response Task Teams. UNODC has recently deployed the SADC Regional Trafficking in Persons Data Collection system to South Africa in order to support the government with the collection of trafficking in persons national data at country level in a coordinated manner. The system enhances understanding of the nature and extent of the crime, profile traffickers and victims, identify the types of exploitation and the trafficking in persons routes.
Criminal Justice Capacity
To date South African TIP jurisprudence has been centered around TIP for sexual exploitation, yet statistically the region and the country are known to have a higher prevalence of labour exploitation (although victims are rescued these cases have rarely been brought before the courts). UNODC has focused on strengthening criminal justice capacity, in identification, investigation and prosecution of TIP for labour exploitation in South Africa. UNODC has also been strengthening the cooperation between the criminal justice sector and the labour sector. An example of a tangible result of this effort has been that a labour inspector who participated in a UNODC training recently referred a case of TIP for labour exploitation identified in a farm in Mpumalanga Province. The coordination between the Police and labour in the investigation of the case has been successful, and the matter is being prepared for court.
As part of efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation on combating trafficking in persons, UNODC supported an NGO for Malawian vulnerable migrants, in South Africa to launch a book called Wamama Chronicles, which narrates experiences of women who are trafficked or smuggled from Malawi, including the abuses that they are subjected to along the journey and at destination. The book has been an impactful awareness raising tool. In South Africa, it shocked authorities and moved them to action. As a result, the first intelligence driven operation targeting Malawi – South Africa trafficking route was implemented by both Malawi and South Africa law enforcement. Operation Batho is a counter-trafficking in persons intelligence driven operation targeting human trafficking syndicates. Highlights of the operation included the arrests of more than 21 suspected traffickers and the rescue of 87 victims. Most of the investigations are still pending in these cases, but one conviction was been obtained in Malawi, resulting in an 8-year conviction of three traffickers. The successes of the operation further roused the Malawi Consulate in South Africa to conduct awareness raising initiatives targeting traditional leaders of source districts that produce the most victims identified in South Africa, with the support of UNODC. These traditional leaders have in turn also conducted awareness raising at community level which received a lot of press coverage.
UNODC has been enhancing the capacity of criminal justice practitioners in South Africa to identify, investigate, prosecute and adjudicate trafficking in persons. This has involved convening training workshops on combating trafficking in persons for police investigators, prosecutors, social workers and traditional leaders from across the provinces. As a result of such initiatives a number of trafficking in persons cases have been identified and investigated.
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. In that regard, UNODC has provided PPE materials to various shelters for victims of trafficking in prisons in South Africa to be used by both victims of trafficking in persons and social workers who are in the front line. UNODC has also provided PPE materials to the Department of Home Affairs immigration officials who are also in the frontline in the response to trafficking in persons.
As part of strengthening regional and trans-regional cooperation in the response to trafficking in persons, UNODC has collaborated with the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI) to establish a regional network of Judicial officers to promote mutual learning and sharing of good practices in adjudication of TIP cases. It is the first professional network of its kind in the region and has promoted robust discussions on quality and compliance of judgments on TIP that are emerging from the SADC region. It has also strengthened both the regional and global case law repositories on TIP as Judges are sharing judgments / decisions on TIP as they are finalized. It also created an appetite for further capacity building of Judicial officers on the topic, which is a milestone because there is no culture of training Judges in the region in line with the common law legal tradition.