The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) has received alerts of potential human trafficking incidents during the COVID-19 lock down. Following FHRs Vulnerable Groups Manager Sarah Motha’s discussion on community radio about rights violations during COVID019, the Foundation for Human Rights has received alerts of potential human trafficking incidents during the lockdown.
South Africa’s anti-human trafficking hotline has already revealed that they have received a total of 588 calls at the end of March 2020, compared to the 245 calls during the same period last year. According to A21, a global organisation dedicated to combating human trafficking, this represents a 140% increase in calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Section 36 in the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution states that: everyone has the right to dignity, equality, body integrity and obliges the government that no one on the South African territory is subjected to human rights violations. These rights continue to apply subject to Constitution and are more relevant than ever in time of crisis.
Globally, human trafficking remains the fastest growing criminal industry in the world generating over R2 trillion every year. In South Africa, the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013 makes trafficking in persons, as well as other offences associated with trafficking in persons, criminal offences. Human trafficking feeds off vulnerability in particular, gender and economic inequalities and it is a symptom of frailty in our society. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the underlying causes of human trafficking such as poverty, inequality and deeply-rooted patriarchy, and traffickers take advantage of the most vulnerable persons which are mainly women and children whoare in desperate need of jobs and food. Human trafficking is a direct result of the failure of our societies and economies to protect the most vulnerable.
One common misconception about trafficking is that it is fundamentally a trans-border phenomenon and that the victim must have been moved from one country to another for the event to be considered trafficking. This is not the case, trafficking also occurs within the borders of the victim’s country, and sometimes within their own community. As the country observes the lockdown restrictions including severe restrictions on the freedom of movement, some victims are unable to return home and are forced to seek safety in shelters. Others face delays in legal proceedings, as well as a reduction in the support and protection they rely on. Some are also in danger of further abuse or neglect by their captors.
As South Africa diverts most of its resources to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we do no lose sight of many other pertaining issues affecting our society that must be addressed urgently. Survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking must have access to adequate shelters and basic services including legal and psycho-social support. Also, as people increasingly make use of online platforms, we need to be more vigilant in terms of preventing and protecting young girls and women from predators seeking to recruit victims online. Government needs to act and make sure that essential services for human trafficking victims continue to be available in order to prevent a further crises beyond COVID-19, as this is a security imperative and an urgent priority.
The Foundation for Human Rights is working with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the National Shelter Movement & Department of Social Development to assist the victims of trafficking whose cases have been brought to our attention.
For Media inquiries:
Lindiwe Sibiya - 082 634 7154
For more about the Foundation for Human Rights, refer to www.fhr.org.za.