It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Week, and South Africa is heavily affected by this highly-organised underworld industry. It’s time to confront this reality and raise awareness of both the major and lesser known factors at play. Here are five things you may not have known about human trafficking in South Africa.

1. Unemployment and demand are big factors

According to IOL, unemployment rates in South Africa have opened the floodgates for human trafficking. Experts have confirmed that the ‘demand for cheap labour and sexual services keep growing’ – Times Live. Salvation Army’s major Margaret Stafford has emphasised that, as long as there is a market for sex slavery‚ the industry will continue.

‘Unlike most items‚ you can resell a person over and over again. We are in too deep because South Africa is a source and destination country. We have slaves coming into the country from abroad, while others are recruited from province to province.’

2. Children are often the primary target

‘Human trafficking is a global phenomenon and a devastating crime for its victims. It affects each and every country. Children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide,’ says the deputy minister of justice, John Jeffery, according to IOL. As such, it stands to reason that most cases go unreported. According to major Margaret Stafford, accurate statistics remain difficult to attain, and record-keeping has proven to be a challenge because of the organised underworld structure behind this industry.

3. This does not only affect women

With several cases in courts across South Africa, IOL mentions that one of the latest cases involves two boys who ‘were reportedly trafficked after responding to job offers that never materialised’. According to Times Live, recruiters have been observed to target job seekers, with the promise of sending them abroad

4. Cases this year suggest that it is getting worse 

In June this year, according to EWN, there were reports of 46 missing women found in a room in Johannesburg. Some of these women had been missing since January and a human trafficking ring was suspected to be responsible. Salvation Army anti-human trafficking co-ordinator, major Margaret Stafford, communicated that ‘cases like these are on the rise’. While the lack of reliable statistical evidence makes this hard to verify and the magnitude of this problem remains unclear, reported cases suggest that it is increasing.

5. The traffickers can be as young as the victims 

In August, a teenager responded to several charges of statutory rape, rape and human trafficking. Along with four co-accused, he allegedly imprisoned several girls and women in a brothel east of Johannesburg in Springs after inviting them to a house. This included a 14-year-old. The victims were reportedly locked up and forced to use drugs.

According to Times Live, Maria Nikolovska from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had the following to say on the nature of human trafficking recruiters:

‘When traffickers operate in large criminal groups‚ they have accomplices who facilitate the transportation and exploitation of a victim. Recruiters come from diverse backgrounds and belong to every age group. They are usually good at manipulating their peers‚ using false promises of a better life such as a job‚ education opportunity‚ or even marriage.’

In a country with staggering rates of abuse against its women and children, let’s urge each other to be vigilant and knowledgeable, and let’s dismantle the misconceptions about this industry.