My sister-in-law recently received a call from a friend in Tembisa informing her that the the body of her child, who had been missing, had been found.
“We will bury him this weekend. How cruel can people be? I can accept that my child is dead but what I can’t accept is that the body is returned to me with missing body parts: an eye, an ear and his tongue are missing and it seems even other internal organs are missing. My child is going back to his ancestors in a condition different to the condition that he was given to me. ”
The “child”, a 22-year-old man, was known in his neighbourhood as a quiet, shy guy. He enjoyed the company of his friends but did not party much. He left home to visit a friend and when he didn’t return, his family attempted to reach him on his phone, but it was off, which, said his mother, was out of character. That is when she informed the police that he was missing.
In my work, I do a lot of research around human trafficking, but it has never left a chill on my back as this call did. Human trafficking was no longer words on a page but a reality. It was the first time I had had such a close encounter with this type of human trafficking – where people are abducted for body parts. Normally, my involvement with trafficking involves interaction with girls in Gauteng’s shelters who have been rescued from the streets or those still working the streets.
So, what is human tracking? The broad definition is that human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Narrowing it down, one finds that human trafficking has many components to it: unremunerated work, kidnapping of people and killing them for body parts, prostitution, and drug peddling, among others. In the example of the woman from Tembisa, it’s about a child whose life was taken because there were plans to sell body parts on the black market.
I have done some research about how girls are lured into human trafficking. In many instances it happens like this: A good-looking young man is recruited and given an expensive vehicle. He scouts the local hangouts for potential targets. His sole job is to look good, chat up a young lady and take her away. He is paid as much as R100,000 per young woman he delivers. With the South African economic situation as it is today, many girls fall victim to this because they see the “hunk” as a blesser – someone they can date and who will take care of their material and financial needs, and help them provide for their families.
If she is taken into sex work, she is then “broken in” – made to sleep with multiple partners and given drugs to help her cope. Most girls who are taken into this industry leave through death – those lucky enough to be rescued say it is a life of hell. They have no control over what happens to their bodies, in some cases they are forced to sleep with as many as a hundred men per day, and the only time they rest is when they have their periods.
Some of the more painful stories I have heard while visiting shelters for young girls who have been rescued include an uncle who went to Nigeria and convinced a girl’s parents that their daughter would have better opportunities in South Africa. The parents then released the child into the custody of the uncle. Upon arrival in South Africa, the child was then pimped by the uncle into sex work – when she phoned home, the uncle would be next to her to ensure that she says that all is well and that she is going to school and loves being in her uncle’s home. Some of the girls I was told are about are as young as 12.
Human trafficking earns mega profits, roughly $150-billion a year for traffickers, according to Human Rights First. It often runs alongside the drug trade and often has as clientele of high-profile members of society such as public representatives and senior officials in big corporates are customers of victims of human trafficking.
We must be more vigilant as South Africans. We need to teach our children to be careful of strangers (primary school and high school children). I introduced a password for my children: anyone who approaches them at school must give “the password” – if the password is wrong, they should inform a teacher. Parents need to teach their children that appearances can be deceiving. It is also important to set rules at home, for instance curfews, so that it sends a single that something is wrong when the curfew is missed.
Human trafficking has the potential to destroy lives. We have to work together to deal with it. Our young people need to be in educational institutions or in employment instead of falling prey to unscrupulous traffickers. DM