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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a virtual webinar “Covid-19 causing economic vulnerability amongst young people” hosted by the Department of Social Development, 22 October 2020

Programme Director,
Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu,
The Regional Representative of the UNODC, Ms Akisheva,
Representatives from civil society,
Representatives from government departments,
Everyone joining on the platform,

Yesterday the topic of human trafficking in South Africa was, again, trending on social media platforms.

We saw #EndHumanTraffickinginSA and #AmINext trending, following reports of a girl in Rustenburg who was kidnapped by suspected human traffickers.

According to reports, the girl was still in her school clothes when she was shoved into a car. She then managed to escape by jumping out of the moving car.

From looking at social media, it is abundantly clear that there is a lot of emotion around the issue of human trafficking, or as we call it, trafficking in persons.

When one commentator raised the issue about the lack of evidence and seemingly low statistics on trafficking, the responses were heated.  Some of the comments were as follows:

Other people argued differently and said, for example:

Those of us who work in the prevention and combating of TIP know that even researchers and academics do not agree on the extent of the issue. For example, the “Child Trafficking in South Africa” report done by the University of Pretoria and the Centre for Child Law states that although it is claimed that child trafficking is widespread in South Africa, currently very little reliable data exists to determine the nature and scope of the problem in the country.

The report states that what is known about trafficking is largely based on ad hoc studies, “questionable and outdated statistics”, anecdotal information, and common myths.

On the other hand, a report called “Child trafficking and children in South Africa’s sex trade: Evidence, undercounting and obfuscations” by Dr Marcel van der Watt indicates that some researchers’ use of truncated definitions of trafficking in persons undercounts the prevalence of TIP among research participants and further argues that claims by TIP sceptics of “little evidence to substantiate” the prevalence of child trafficking and children in South Africa’s sex trade are misleading.

He argues that woven together, literature, research, media reports, academic studies, police investigations (closed and on-going) and prosecutions (successful and unsuccessful) over the past three decades – contextualised within South Africa’s complex socio-cultural vulnerability landscape – indicate that child trafficking and children in South Africa’s sex trade cannot be ignored as a systemic South African problem.

We can be here all afternoon arguing about statistics.

But we are not discussing statistics – we are talking about people.

The short answer is that we simply do not know the exact extent of human trafficking in our country.

This is not unique to South Africa, as TIP is by its very nature a hidden crime and factors such as under-reporting do play a significant role.

What we do know for certain is that it is an extremely serious crime, that is does happen and, most importantly, that Government – through the work of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, along with the other Departments represented here today – is fighting this scourge.

The Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act came into operation in August 2015. With this legislation the country now has a comprehensive legal tool to combat trafficking in persons in all its forms.

Prior to the enactment of Act, trafficking in persons for sexual purposes was criminalised through other pieces of legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act and trafficking in children through the Children’s Act.  

In compliance with South Africa’s international obligations - particularly the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (the Palermo Convention) - the current Trafficking in Persons Act was passed.

The main objective of the Act is to prevent, protect and prosecute.

Mention was made earlier of the definition of TIP. With regards to the definition of trafficking in persons, the Act provides that any person who delivers, recruits, transports, transfers, harbours, sells, exchanges, leases or receives another person within or across the borders of the Republic, by means of a threat of harm, the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, the abuse of vulnerability, fraud, deception, abduction, kidnapping, the abuse of power, the direct or indirect giving or receiving of payments or benefits to obtain the consent of a person having control or authority over another person or the direct or indirect giving or receiving of payments, compensation, rewards, benefits or any other advantage, aimed at either the person or an immediate family member of that person or any other person in close relationship to that person, for the purpose of any form or manner of exploitation, is guilty of the offence of trafficking in persons.

It also provides that any person who adopts a child, facilitated or secured through legal or illegal means; or concludes a forced marriage with another person, within or across the borders of the Republic, for the purpose of the exploitation of that child or other person in any form or manner, is guilty of an offence.

The Act created the offence of trafficking in persons which includes labour trafficking and broadened the scope so that other offences subsidiary thereto could be adequately covered. 

It also provides for the imposition of appropriate sentences.

The penalties for the commission of the offences under the TIP Act depend on the nature of the offence. These include, amongst others, a fine not exceeding R100 million or an imprisonment for life, or such imprisonment without the option of a fine, or both imprisonment and a fine, upon a conviction of TIP.

Most importantly, what is Government doing to fight TIP? We have put various interventions in place to combat and prevent TIP.

Provincial TIP task teams and rapid response task teams were created to respond to TIP crimes in the provinces, and a National Intersectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons (NICTIP) operates on a national level to provide assistance with coordination of response activities. These structures constitute South Africa’s National Referral Mechanism.

A best practice employed by Government is its close collaboration with key civil society role-players and NGOs working in the field of counter-human trafficking.

These role-players are a vital part of a comprehensive response to the crime and are represented on both provincial and national response levels.

With regards to the work we are doing to combat and prevent human trafficking, our hard work had started to bear fruit as South Africa has recently been upgraded to Tier 2 on the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. The Report is currently one of the world’s most comprehensive resources of monitoring governmental anti-trafficking efforts.

Being upgraded to Tier 2 is a positive milestone and it shows what can be achieved when government successfully partners with civil society stakeholders.

In order to strengthen training initiatives and harness a common understanding of the intent and spirit of the TIP Act, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in partnership with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has developed a Generic Integrated Training Manual on the TIP Act.

The manual is complete and plans for roll out thereof in the provinces were underway before the COVID 19 pandemic and will be resumed in due course.

The Department has also, in partnership with International Office of Migrants (IOM), developed Integrated Victim Assistance Standard Operating Procedures that focus on the protection of the rights of Victims of Trafficking, to provide them with appropriate protection, care and attention, preventing them from secondary victimisation and providing them with appropriate steps for prevention of re-trafficking.  The IOM further assisted our Department with sector-specific training in all provinces.

The TIP Act requires the Director-General of Justice and Constitutional Development to develop a National Policy Framework on TIP in collaboration with the all the relevant departments in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster of Government.

We also have such a national policy framework on trafficking in persons which is a guiding tool to ensure a uniform, coordinated and cooperative approach by all government departments, organs of state and institutions in dealing with matters relating to trafficking in persons. We cannot fight TIP if we work in silos.

The policy framework guides the implementation of the Act and enhances service delivery by promoting a cooperative and aligned response among all government departments, in partnership with civil society organisations engaged in assisting and supporting trafficked persons.

Our Department is responsible for the management and implementation of the NPF and as such must ensure that, its objectives are realised.

These include training requirements for government and civil society to build and increase capacity on trafficking in persons issues, with more focus on frontline officials.  

South Africa has also identified a gap in reliable data. A Data Tool was therefore developed by the National Prosecuting Authority and the DoJCD to respond to questions from various international fora. It aims to collect data and focuses on important questions such as, for example, the total number of trafficking victims (suspected and/or confirmed) identified by government during a specific reporting period, as well as an indication of the form of trafficking and the details of the victims and the perpetrators.

Work is also being undertaken on the National Baseline Study, where the Department of Science and Innovation in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is aiming to develop reliable baseline data, revealing the nature and magnitude of TIP in South Africa and to make recommendations toward a change in scale and impact of Government policies and activities in this area.

We are also in the process of developing an integrated information system to collect data as well as commissioning research on TIP so as to come up with tailored and targeted responses to prevent and combat trafficking in persons.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) supports the South African government in the implementation, monitoring and reporting of progress on the various international protocols and treaties related to Human Trafficking.

From 2004 to date, IOM South Africa has assisted over 600 VoTs from 23 countries and facilitated the return of more than 1500 vulnerable migrants to their countries of origin under the Assisted Voluntary Return program. Vulnerable migrants include victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors, abandoned women and children, stranded migrants, rejected asylum seekers, migrants in administrative detention centres, the elderly or victims of xenophobia.

What do we know about the victims? For the period 2019-2020 –

For the same period, Government prosecuted 71 alleged traffickers - 44 were men and 27 were women – and convicted 8 traffickers (three men and five women). Of the 71 prosecutions, most of these cases are still on-going and there were two withdrawals and two acquittals.

The effective use and potential of the TIP Act in South Africa’s courts is noteworthy with some of the most lengthy sentences recorded globally being imposed by our courts on those convicted of TIP crimes.

A recent example is the case of State v Seleso in which both accused were sentenced to 19 life terms for a range of charges related to sex trafficking of a minor. 

In another case, in Gauteng North, one of the three accused was convicted and sentenced to six life sentences and an additional 129 years.

What is also important to highlight is that, around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new risks and challenges to victims and survivors of trafficking.  It has also worsened the vulnerabilities of at-risk groups, especially women and children, to trafficking.

UN Women has recently launched a survey of survivors of trafficking and frontline organizations working in the field of human trafficking. The survey findings indicate that through the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards, vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation will increase.

Programme Director,

Much has been done and there is still more to be done.

From the side of Government, together with our courts, we are fighting the scourge of trafficking and, with the help of our civil society partners, we are providing much-needed support to victims of trafficking.

I thank you.