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SOCIAL MEDIA MAKING IT EASIER FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKERS

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Sir,

Key to any human trafficking operation is the recruiter, often occupying a position of authority in the community. They may be the leader of the trafficking ring but are often just someone credible, even with significant religious or political standing. Consider the documented case of a teacher from Lesotho who persuaded pupils to look for women most likely to accept employment ‘abroad’. Five young women were duly introduced to the teacher, who deceitfully briefed them on the available work and where it was – an offer they readily accepted.

Victims

However, upon getting to the destination, they were promptly sold into sexual exploitation. The southern Africa region is not free from human trafficking, a crime that entails the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Traffickers of human beings treat their victims as commodities that can be used and sold for financial gain, without regard for human dignity and rights.

Traffickers usually target the most marginalised and vulnerable, such as those with mental disorders and undocumented migrants, along with those living in poverty, the unemployed as well as abandoned children and those in dysfunctional families. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region cases have been reported of people with albinism being trafficked for their organs. While the scenario of an influential community member doubling up as a recruiter is still a reality, the internet has revolutionised human trafficking. It has presented recruiters with more convenient ways to connect with targeted victims, usually with fake job offers, or to find buyers for their products, such as human kidneys, and even to live-stream acts of exploitation. Through the internet it is also possible to anonymously arrange logistics such as transport and accommodation for victims, in addition to moving and hiding proceeds of crime.

Strategies

In the recruitment phase for human trafficking, two types of strategies can be identified. ‘Hunting’ is when traffickers proactively target specific victims or clients in order to gain access to victims and establish connections with potential buyers or exploitative services. ‘Fishing’ involves human traffickers posting adverts online and waiting for potential clients of victims to respond. They may include fake job adverts or the offer to buyers for certain services. Victims of human trafficking are invariably kept against their will through fear of physical violence. In other instances, victims are prevented from fleeing because they have been forcibly introduced to drugs, or have been deceived into believing that they owe the traffickers huge amounts of money for services provided, such as the provision of a false ID, transportation or housing.

‘Loverboy’ cases have also been reported in the SADC region. This is where male traffickers romance potential female victims for months and even years, building a relationship of trust, before trafficking them into sexual exploitation or forced labour. Detection is particularly difficult and even where suspects have been identified, building up a case for prosecution is a process fraught with technicalities. It doesn’t help that human trafficking is often conflated with people smuggling and irregular migration, leading to further complications. Thus it is critical that guardians and educators teach children how to navigate the internet safely. Social media presents a significant danger, not least because it is now such an indispensable part of life, with WhatsApp and Facebook among the most popular.

Jane Marie Ongolo

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