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South Africans continue battle against human trafficking

South Africa remains a top source and a top destination of trafficking victims. And according to the international body, human trafficking is the world's third most profitable crime, after illicit drugs and arms trafficking.

JOHANNESBURG: The United Nations designated July 30 as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. According to the international body, human trafficking is the world's third most profitable crime, after illicit drugs and arms trafficking. It rakes in up to US$36 billion per year. About 2.5 million people are victims of the crime, 75 per cent of whom are women and girls.

South Africa remains a top source and a top destination of trafficking victims. But there are people fighting to bring trafficking victims back from the margins of society.

Ten years ago, Sister Mary opened her home in South Africa to provide a haven for trafficking victims who were lucky enough to escape.

She said: “It gives them confidence to know that (the shelter) is a place where they can be safe for a while. What I want is for people to hear that (trafficking) is a real crime and it’s really happening, and we have to stand together and do what we can to help the victims and to help people not become victims.”

Sister Mary runs one of the few "secret" shelters in South Africa, which are in undisclosed locations to ensure the safety of its residents. She is not the only one fighting trafficking on the frontline.

For the last five years, Dianne Wilkinson has committed her life to creating a network of organisations that will tighten the net on human trafficking.

She said: "The average South African doesn’t know human trafficking is a problem in their own country.”

One year ago, President Jacob Zuma signed the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking Persons Bill into law, but not everyone is convinced it is enough.

Richard Ots, chief of mission for International Organisation for Migration, South Africa, said: “Even with the new law, only three cases of trafficking were prosecuted. We’d like to see more commitment from the South African government.”

The web of trafficking is deeply weaved into South African society, and grassroots organisations and individuals are continuing to fight it from the bottom up.  

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