The Faceless and the Voiceless are Stripped of their Humanity

The crime of human trafficking within South Africa continues to be shrouded with mystery , whilst the victims remain faceless and voiceless. South Africa lacks sufficient legislation against human trafficking to empower these victims,restore their dignity and uphold their basic human rights.

South Africa recently commemorated and celebrated the fact that fifty years ago citizens protested against pass laws on 21st March 1950. This collective action which brought forth Human Rights Day; a day which focuses on honouring their actions, and reflecting on how we are currently experiencing the protection of our rights. The day passes, memories and emotions are stirred, calls to action are the popular action, and on the next day we return to work, and the day to day struggles for dignity and human rights continue.  Sadly, so do the tragedies.   One crime that stands out for its heinous nature is human trafficking, stripping its victim’s of their dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of association, and unequivocally denying them their human rights.

This form of modern slavery is as insidious as any organised criminal endeavour and takes on terrible forms which involve, domestic servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriages and the trafficking of body organs and body parts.  On March 29th 2011, the Cape Times reported the arrest of two Chinese females who were accused of running a brothel where they lured other Chinese women with promises of high paying jobs and subsequently forced them into sexual exploitation.  The two women were charged with the Common Law crimes of kidnapping, assault, and keeping a brothel. Currently the women are out on R 5000 bail.

Kidnapping, assault, and running a brothel are all criminal activities under our law, but human trafficking, per se, is yet to be seen under the law as a crime in and of itself.   The conjunction of various criminal elements,  which at present are viewed disjunctively, that [collectively] constitute human trafficking , as an entity, warrant it its own punitive measures.

The legislative bill is currently in parliament, where it has languished for several years.  While the lengthy process should produce a quality result, the current lack of legislation not only impacts on the prosecution of traffickers, but ultimately has negative impacts on victim assistance. This is evident through the lack of standard operating procedures and clear referral guidelines for victim assistance workers which in some instances results in secondary victimisation of the victim. Once rescued, another challenge which exists is the lack of places of safety solely dedicated to accommodating victims of this crime, particularly children and men.

Working without a legal framework makes effectiveness difficult for law enforcement, civil society, and the international organisations trying to combat the criminal phenomenon of human trafficking.  Without legislation networks of victim assistance services lag behind for want of a government mandate to accurately record and refer cases, funding allocation and specialised services to meet the needs of the human trafficking victims. Reinforced victim assistance services ultimately impact and empower victims to come out and report and speak out against trafficking, so that the survivors no longer remain ‘faceless’ and ‘voiceless’.

Efforts to counter trafficking leading up to and after 2010 should be commended, however, it will take more practical measures to address issues around prosecution, prevention and protection of victims of this crime to instil, restore and regain the basic human rights taken away from these victims. Human trafficking is not just a crime against an individual but indeed a crime against humanity. Human rights month has come to an end and is celebrated for triumphantly defeating a previous dispensation that violated these rights, 51 years later the perpetuation of injustices against humanity continues not because of a failure of the previous struggle but rather the present-day struggle to enforce and implement sufficient protective measures for those who are ‘faceless’ and ‘voiceless’.