High-powered anti-human-trafficking conference in PE

Major Margaret Stafford, national coordinator of the Salvation Army anti human trafficking desk, and her husband, Major Jeff Stafford, who is pastor of the Salvation Army church in Central, Port Elizabeth. The Staffords moved to PE from Pretoria in January.

Frontline leaders in the intensifying war against human trafficking in South Africa will brief church leaders in Port Elizabeth at an Anti Human Trafficking Conference on September 1.

The speakers will bring delegates up to date with latest developments and strategies in the prevention of trafficking, the protection of trafficking victims, and the prosecution of traffickers.

According to conference organiser, Major Margaret Stafford, who is national coordinator of the Salvation Army’s Anti-Human Trafficking desk, the aim of the conference is to raise awareness of the fight against trafficking — especially in the sex industry — with a view to developing a  multi-disciplinary way forward in the Eastern Cape, which currently lags behind other major centres in confronting this modern form of slavery.

One of first of kind
She says the September 1 conference at Fountain Vineyard church in PE is one of the first of its kind in South Africa and that in addition to attracting a lot of local interest, she has been contacted by people from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who were keen to attend.

According to statistics published by Africa Christian Action this week two to four million people globally are victims of trafficking at any given time  (International Labour Organisation) and between 28 000 to 36 000 children are currently being prostituted in South Africa (National Centre for Justice and Rule of Law 2003).

Awareness of human trafficking has been increasing in South Africa in recent years, especially since the 2010 World Cup when Government agencies and NGOs began co-operating in the war against this evil that frequently involves international crime syndicates, says Stafford. She says that during 2010 while working with a dynamic multi disciplinary anti-trafficking team in Pretoria she began to encounter women rescued from prostitution who had been sold and resold many times. She says she is hopeful that a long-awaited law on human trafficking will be passed this year with the enactment of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill.

She says the bill covers the various forms of trafficking including trafficking for prostitution, muti-murder trafficking for body parts, domestic and farm slave labour, and the forced marriage of young girls (ukuthwala) that is prevalent in the Eastern Cape. However, the PE conference will focus on  sex trafficking because it is the easiest to police and the most “in your face”.

The conference speakers, who are all at the forefront of the war against trafficking in South Africa are:

Prevention – UNISA criminology lecturer, Marcel van der Watt, a former PE-based member of the Hawks and Organised Crime Group who has brought many traffickers to book — including members of West African syndicates who trafficked teenage and pre-teen girls.

Protection — Corrinne Sandenberg, seasoned Stellenbosch-based director of the NGO STOP (Stop Trafficking of People) who was the first person in the country to start providing shelters for victims of human trafficking.

Prosecution – Val Melis, a dynamic NPA prosecutor from Durban who had prosecuted more human traffickers than anyone else in South Africa. She will speak about the human trafficking bill.

The event is being branded as the Lost Coin conference — a reference to the  Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) in which a woman who has 10 silver coins loses one, and rejoices when she finds it after an extensive search — signifying the great value that Jesus places on each person that is “lost” and the celebration in heaven when a lost person repents.

“I think it will be good if through the conference we can change the way we look at the lost and at prostitution and prostitutes — and realise that some of them are not there by choice but have been prostituted into prostitution,” says Stafford.

She says the conference from 8am to 4.30pm on September 1 will include open microphone times when delegates can ask questions and express views.

A local initiative aimed at providing accommodation for children rescued from trafficking will be introduced at the conference, says Stafford.

“I hope that hearing about one initiative will result in  others being birthed and that the church will start working the way it should – as a body –  feeling for the lost and going out there.”

Conference registration which includes lunch and teas is R50 per person. Further information is available from Margaret Stafford at 082 455 3664 or Dave Pederson at 083 651 4955.

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