ACNS Africa correspondent Bellah Zulu is at the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in Johannesburg. Here is speaks to to The Very Revd Sharon Nell, Provost & Rector of the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth, about how the church is addressing human trafficking.
Q: Tell me more about how you got involved helping those affected by human trafficking?
A: I serve on the Eastern Cape Board of the national body, which deals with addressing Human Trafficking. I became involved because of my passion for the lost and also because I am an ex-Salvation Army Officer and the Salvation Army is very involved in Anti Human Trafficking. Those in Port Elizabeth, knowing of my Salvation Army background and passion and compassion to save the lost and bring them to Christ, invited me to serve on the Eastern Cape Anti Human Trafficking Board.
Q: What is the extent of human trafficking in your area and how is it affecting your community?
A: When asked about the extent of human trafficking one would assume that the South African Police Service (SAPS) or someone was actually gathering statistics on this matter. The truth is that no-one keeps these statistics except a handful of NGOs.
What we do know is that Hope South Africa did some research and discovered that the Eastern Cape ranks very high as a source area. In other words, the traffickers take a good number of girls from the Eastern Cape and sell them to other parts of South Africa and internationally.
We also know that Central (where the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin is situated) is a well-known meeting point for girls and the traffickers. We also do not have numbers of prostitutes in the area.
Q: How is the Church in South Africa helping to address the problem?
A: The Church, I believe, is the only real vehicle that will ultimately help these victims of trafficking. We have the passion and compassion to make sure they are treated as victims, not criminals. The Church is also able to be the providers of care and counseling to the victims. Churches are also going to have to be the ones providing shelter and care, as the government does not believe this is a huge problem. We recently provided the victims with Care Packs to help them start a new life.
Q: Tell me more about the Care Packs initiative?
A: The Care Packs came about because of a “throw away” comment made at the Wednesday evening Bible study at the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin. The members were so moved by the plight of those seeking to leave prostitution or escaping from their captors that they decided to put together Care Packs. Each pack consists of basic toiletries and underwear for girls (remember that if the girl manages to escape, she leaves with nothing, sometimes not even underwear).
Q: What do you do to help integrate victims back into society once rescued considering they will inevitably face stigma?
A: The prejudice already felt by the victim is huge, this is compacted by guilt and shame. A broken spirit can only be truly healed when we offer Jesus as the Healer. What we do is try to mediate the reintegration with family where possible. Sometimes the families do not accept the person back into the community – in these cases we try to assist the person in becoming independent. The initiative in is still in its infancy but we know that it will grow because, as of this year, we now have a Trafficking in Persons Act.
Q: There have been parallels made between Apartheid and human trafficking.
A: Human trafficking took place during the Apartheid era and will continue to take place. Democracy has no effect on organised crime. What did happen after 1994 was that the government opened the gateway to the prostitution problem by allowing gambling and providing licenses and legalising escort agencies. Neither of these were allowed under Apartheid.
In Apartheid people were bound and their freedom was curtailed and in some cases totally removed. In human trafficking freedom is removed completely. The level of hope in Apartheid was found in freedom fighters and international good will, but victims of human trafficking only have those who have a passion for the quality of human life to fight for them.
One young girl when rescued asked the SAPS member, “Why did you take so long to rescue me?” We, the Church, need to be the hands and feet for the victims of human trafficking.
While Apartheid stripped a people of their rights and human dignity, human trafficking strips a person of their right to exist as a “normal” person and they begin to exist as a commodity for the trafficker. They are stripped of everything that makes them an individual by means of force, cohersion, deceit or other means of entrapping them in the seedy, dark, and always scary world of human trafficking.
Girls are sold as wives to miners, young girls ? some only 10-years-old ? are kidnapped and forced to be brides for men in villages. There are also cases of girls (and boys) being tricked by being offered a job opportunity, only to end up being enslaved in brothels.
‘Freedom’ is a battle cry for some, for others, like those caught in human trafficking, it?s a prayer.