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South Africa: SA anti-human trafficking hotline records 140% increase in calls

SOUTH AFRICA. South Africa’s anti-human trafficking hotline received a total of 588 calls at the end of March, compared to the 245 calls during the same period last year.

A21, a global organisation dedicated to combating human trafficking, said the 140% increase in calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline was concerning, especially during the Covid-19 coronavirus national lockdown.

The organisation also said it had 15 reports of trafficking sent to police stations and investigative bodies since the lockdown began on March 27.

A21 country manager, Katie Modrau, said the increase in calls may have stemmed from several factors, including a desperate need for food and jobs.

She added that traffickers target vulnerable people.

“Vulnerable people include children, those who are in desperate need for food – particularly during this time – and those seeking employment.

“People are increasingly using online platforms to communicate during the lockdown and this may lead to perpetrators shifting their focus to the online recruitment of victims,” Modrau said.

“In addition, parents are now working from home, meaning that they are noticing their children’s behaviour and are seeing potential red flags.”

According to A21’s parent guide for kids, these red flags include “sudden changes in behaviour such as increased chatting online, a child acquiring new and often older friends as well as owning new items that they [the child] or parents, would not be able to afford”.

Modrau added: “With children, the perpetrators will create a fake profile, make themselves more appealing and develop a trusting relationship with the child with hidden intentions of exploitation.”

The organisation also provided safety guidelines that people can follow when using social media platforms:
  • Set your profiles on private settings.
  • Be aware of the age restrictions on the various social media apps.
  • Stay away from posting naked images – for example, children during bath time or in their swimming costumes by the pool.
  • Avoid hashtags with your child’s full names or triggering content – for example #bathtime #daddysgirl.
  • Avoid posting personal details such as street names, school names or what gym you go to.
  • Familiarise yourself with platforms your children are using, even if you won’t personally make use of the apps yourself.
  • Children sometimes have a “safe for parents” accounts and then a secret second account.
  • Social media is not the only culprit, any online, interactive app or game can open opportunities for predators to act through an “innocent” conversation or asking a lot of personal questions.

Nicole Bartels, the operations manager at Stop Trafficking of People, another organisation fighting human trafficking, said that while it was important for people to understand that “once something is online, it’s there permanently”, it’s not only those using online platforms that are at risk.

“Traffickers have people who recruit unsuspecting victims.

“Sometimes they use someone you know, who tells you to go with them to a place to look for a job, only to find yourself locked up in a hotel room as a sex slave.