Misunderstood and misidentified, human trafficking is usually anything but human trafficking. All too often, the lesser crimes of assault, gender-based violence, child abuse or labour violations are what perpetrators are charged with.

The result is that relatively few cases of trafficking in persons – which carries heavy prison sentences – make it to court. Reversing this trend requires a high level of awareness on the tell-tale signs of what constitutes trafficking in persons.

Yet the best awareness-raising act for this crime is nothing short of a successful investigation and prosecution, according to South African prosecutor Ms Carina Coetzee.

“A high profile and successful prosecution will reverberate across society over many years,” she said, urging law enforcement officials to make use of cell phone records, among other forms of digital evidence, to support cases.

This is because in recent years traffickers have modified their methods and have taken to recruiting their victims online through the offer of fake job and study opportunities. Individuals can also be targeted on social media with the offer of friendship. Traffickers also use technology and the internet to arrange logistics such as transportation and accommodation for victims, in addition to moving and hiding the proceeds of their crimes.

“Everyone leaves an electronic footprint,” said Ms Coetzee. “Digital evidence is extremely important. You must be able to link this information with the accused.”

Ms Coetzee was speaking at a meeting of South Africa’s National Inter-Sectoral Committee on Combating Trafficking in Persons (NICTIP) held in Johannesburg.

Over the course of three days, government representatives and stakeholders took stock of the gaps, challenges and opportunities in addressing the country’s national policy framework on the crime of human trafficking, and reached consensus on a roadmap for the finalization of a revised framework.

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mr John Jeffery, spoke of the need for government to bolster its reporting duties on human trafficking, along with strengthening partnerships with civil society organizations.

He described the lack on agreed statistics as being among the most “burning issues”. According to Mr Jeffery: “On the one hand the cases being investigated by the police are not that high and on the other hand the cases being reported to the (crime) hotline are high.”

Ms Heather Merritt, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Pretoria, commended South Africa for making strides in the fight against trafficking in persons. She said the US supported 13 bilateral and regional projects meant to bolster efforts to confront trafficking in persons.

Mr Theodorus Kaspers, Head of Development and Cooperation with the European Union Delegation to South Africa, highlighted the contributions made under the EU-funded Southern Africa Migration Management project in the fight against trafficking in persons. This included boosting capacity among frontline personnel, such as through the production of an anti-trafficking in persons handbook for judges.

“Human trafficking usually follows migration patterns, making refugees and migrants more vulnerable than others,” he said. “Women and girls are often the most vulnerable.”

Ms Atuweni Juwayeyi-Agbermodji from the UNODC Southern Africa Regional Office cautioned against the thinking that foreign nationals are the primary victims as well as the main perpetrators of human trafficking. “Such thinking could blind us to the crime happening before our very own eyes in plain sight,” she said.

Ms Juwayeyi-Agbermodji also referred to the reported rise in kidnappings in South Africa and mentioned the prevalence of beggars often accompanied by young children, who occupy key junctions in parts of the country.

“What this means is that we need to pay closer attention to such issues happening in our own neighbourhoods,” said Ms Juwayeyi-Agbermodji. “In some of the big cities the prevalence of so-called ‘guest houses’ calls for more vigilance and scrutiny.”

Story by Wilson Johwa, UNODC Southern Africa

Source: UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By pr.web