Who can ignore the voices of our African queens, stolen, kidnapped, sold in to slavery? When our imagination fails to help us envision their pain, the beating of Patsey in “12 years a slave” forces the mind to feel it. Twelve years a slave, for others it’s a lifetime. This is the reality of the world and more closely, the reality of Africa and her pain. Twenty seven million people are modern day slaves and the world is still counting. It is modern day slavery which we call human trafficking.
Our nation freshly emerging from its twenty years of freedom is a landscape anything but free. Gender inequalities, poor attitudes and interventions for women and children render South Africa an open door for the worlds trafficking victims to pass through. South Africa has shamefully been named one of the top ten global societies where human trafficking is the worst. Research studies reveal that there are close to 30 000 child prostitutes on South African streets today and the numbers are increasing.
Human trafficking is something that each one of us is becoming painfully aware of. With close to 300 innocent girls kidnapped in Nigeria in May this year, the world’s outcry has brought human trafficking in to centre stage but there still remain millions of victims hidden away. Behind closed doors waiting for someone to come and save them.
It is estimated that 1,2 million children are currently trafficked victims, half of these children are from Africa. Human trafficking affects all people, while women and children are the main victims of human trafficking, men are frequently kidnapped and sold as well. Victims of trafficking are sold for a number of reasons;
· Agricultural or domestic workers
· Forced or child labour
· Forced marriages
· Drug mules
Thobeka* (name changed to protect identity) grew up in an informal settlement in a rural area of South Africa. Her sister met an older man who was visiting his family from Johannesburg and he promised Thobeka and her sister a great job as waitresses in the big city of Joburg. Thobeka’s parents were elderly and poor; she thought she could help them by sending money home each month, so she agreed to travel to Joburg. Thobeka and her sister used their last bit of money to travel on a bus up to Johannesburg. When they arrived their I.D books were taken from them and they were placed in a small apartment in one of South Africa’s worst suburbs, Hilbrow. They were drugged, beaten and forced to stand on the street as prostitutes. Their lives were threatened until one day Thobeka begged one of the men who picked her up, to take her to the police station.
Today, Thobeka is a survivor but her journey to healing is a lifelong one. Added to this, before July last year South Africa had no legal framework to prosecute human trafficking offenders. Neither could the police intervene to help victims of trafficking, as no single law existed to protect victims and survivors. The good news is that today South Africa has a “Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill.” This bill stipulates that if a trafficking offender is caught, he or she can face life imprisonment or up to R100 million fine. The bill also provides an infrastructure to protect and aid victims of human trafficking. While the legal system may be in place on paper, it is up to us as women and citizens of a free country, to educate ourselves and our daughters on the reality of human trafficking. Legislation may exist but the implementation of that legislation takes time. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s prime minister and freedom activist once said “please use your freedom to promote ours.” Let us use our freedom in this nation to speak up for those who are still in chained, let us guard the hearts and lives of the girls and children of Africa; their lives and their voices are precious, they are counting on us, let us not be silent.