Fighting human trafficking: From understanding to action

“A crime which shames us all”, “Modern slavery”, “Sex slave epidemic”: human trafficking-related reports make striking news headlines on a fairly regular basis. But how much do people really know about this global phenomenon? How can governments and institutions go beyond mere awareness-raising campaigns and encourage a truly sustainable change in the way people think and react to human trafficking? How can people be prompted to move from awareness to real understanding, then to rejection and reporting?

These are questions that affect most countries around the world, just as most countries around the world are, in one way or another, affected by this shameful crime whose effects are very tangible, but which is also difficult to detect and understand.

In South Africa, government officials acknowledge that current legislation is inadequate to combat human trafficking, and there are moves to introduce a new Trafficking Bill to provide a stronger legal basis for tackling the problem.  In many ways, in fact, South Africa is today at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking.  The country’s commitment, coordinated by its National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), is recognized in the support and collaboration of many international organizations, such as the ILO, UNODC, UNICEF, IOM and UNESCO, national research institutes like the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the University of South Africa (UNISA).  It also receives financial support and guidance from the European Commission.

This coalition of goodwill has led to the establishment of a National Action Plan on human trafficking and to the launch of the Tsireledzani! (Protect!) campaign, whose primary aim is to provide a blueprint for all those working to prevent trafficking and protect the people of South Africa from this terrible denial of their human rights.

The Action Plan has four pillars: research, victim support, capacity building and awareness-raising.  Responsibility for implementing this fourth component has been assigned to the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization.  Working closely with the NPA and all the other stakeholders in the National Action Plan, the Project will produce and test a series of campaign messages that target selected groups and areas central to the trafficking problem in South Africa.  The aim is not only to have an immediate impact on attitudes and reporting of human trafficking among those groups and areas, but to develop a sustainable model for promoting attitude and behaviour change that can be adapted and replicated across the country.

The ILO will also build on the capacity of its constituent workers’ and employers’ organizations, who can play a crucial role in tackling a problem which is so fundamentally connected with the world of work. The social partners can only benefit from a labour market that is not undercut by the exploitative labour which is the end result of human trafficking.



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