SA is hiding 100 000 slaves, report claims

2014-11-17 15:09

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I survived human trafficking in Johannesburg

2014-11-13 12:08

Grizelda Grootboom was 18 years old when a trip to Johannesburg turned into a nightmare. Trafficked in Yeoville she was tied in a room for two weeks and forced to work as a sex slave. This is her story.WATCH

Cape Town - Nearly 36 million people in the world today are living as slaves, shocking new figures have revealed.

In South Africa alone, there are 106 000 people living in conditions of slavery - more than double the number previously estimated, according to a global study by the Australian human rights charity Walk Free Foundation (WFF).

The foundation's Global Slavery Index 2014 defines modern slavery as human trafficking, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage and the sale of children.

The WFF's new report follows an investigation by News24 into human trafficking, which revealed that just two people were convicted for the crime in South Africa last year.

Read more: Don't look away - SA's dirty slavery secret in 2014

SA must 'step up'

Though the South African government passed new anti-slavery laws last year, it has been criticised for not putting the law into action yet.

Fiona David, executive director of global research for WFF, told News24: "The government of South Africa needs to step up its efforts by releasing and implementing the National Action Plan."

As News24's report found, South Africa is in a state of flux - with gaps in the existing laws which means that not all forms of trafficking are covered - leaving criminals and victims alike to slip through the net.

Though the WFF’s Global Slavery Index 2014 found South Africa to have the lowest prevalence of modern slavery in sub-Saharan Africa, it said it was "still a problem".

David said: "Children are still being trafficked from rural to urban areas for forced labour, women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, and trapped in domestic servitude."

The News24 report found that the abuse did not just stop at women and children, but affected men too - with experts claiming that slaves in South Africa are more likely to be found working on farms, for example, than in brothels.

Migrant Africans 'vulnerable'

Across sub-Saharan Africa, WFF found that only eight nations have allocated money with a "clear budget" to tackle the problem. South Africa is not one of the eight.

Those with a dedicated budget are: the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal and Zambia. Nigeria has the largest budget at $11.9m, while Mozambique has the smallest at $40 000.

According to WFF, the high levels of migration in sub-Saharan Africa leave millions of people vulnerable to slavery.

Watch: I survived human trafficking in Johannesburg

Conflicts in the region alongside the lack of job opportunities force millions of people to travel to find work and safety. But with precarious visa situations and little legal protection these migrants often find themselves trapped or taken advantage of in the most unimaginable ways.

The report said that these factors drive migrants to richer African nations, such as South Africa and Kenya.

World's worst culprits

The WFF’s Index, which analysed 167 countries, found that no country is free of slavery.

But in terms of sheer numbers, the worst offenders are India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Russia - together these nations are thought to contain 61% of the world’s 35.8 million slaves.

Meanwhile, the country with the highest prevalence of slaves is Mauritania - where an estimated 4% of the population is enslaved, or 155 600 people.

The lowest prevalence of slaves is found in Iceland, which is thought to have less than 100.

Overall, the Index claimed that the lowest estimated number of slaves exists in Europe, North America, Iceland and Ireland.

It praised the governments of the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, Australia, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, the UK, Georgia and Austria for taking the most action to end modern slavery.

However it said even countries with robust policies against slavery were falling short. "Most have the economic capacity to do significantly more to end modern slavery," the report stated.

In 2013, the WFF published its first Global Slavery Index - the first country-by-country report of its kind. Released "with a sense of urgency to raise awareness”, last year the WFF admitted their estimates were "imperfect".

But this year it claims that greater research has helped it reach a more accurate measure of the hidden crime - which is notoriously difficult to track.

Last year, it estimated that there were 28.9 million slaves in the world, including between 43 000 to 47 000 in South Africa.

Read more on:    crime  |  human trafficking

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