Human trafficking and exploitation – you too can make a difference

Guest speakers at the recent Anti-Human Trafficking Conference in Port Elizabeth, from the left: Diane Wilkinson (National Freedom Network); Marcel van der Watt (UNISA); Prof. Susan Kreston (University of KZN)

“Too many of us are silent on the issue of human trafficking” said Marcel van der Watt, one of the speakers at the third annual Anti-human Trafficking Conference held at Fountain Vineyard Church in Port Elizabeth on August 30, 2014. Previously involved in the investigation of human trafficking and organised crime and now a lecturer at UNISA in the Department of Police Practise, he highlighted the complexity of this crime many South Africans deny as existing in our country. And presently laws are falling short to protect victims and prosecute offenders sufficiently.

Popular movies lately also depicted slavery and its exploitation of humans as the major form of trafficking. This indicates much of it happening by abduction. “Human trafficking is much more in terms of the law,” said Prof Susan Kreston, also a speaker at the conference and an international expert on criminal justice matters, currently a Fulbright professor and research fellow in Law and Psychology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She explained that especially vulnerable adults are lied to and often recruited through job offers or education promises. Though they initially give consent and go willingly along with the recruiter, they don’t know what they are getting into.  This makes them no less a victim than those abducted or forced into different forms of exploitation.  These could include forced labour (which is on the increase), forced prostitution, forced marriage, forced drug mules, illegal selling of body parts or illegal adoptions. 

Children are especially prone to forced labour. Examples include the child soldiers found all over the African continent or girls being forced from a very young age into prostitution or abusive marriages (also in South Africa and often under the guise of cultural tradition). Traffickers (the offenders) are often the parents of these children. 

To rescue a victim or prosecute an offender therefore takes a number of role-players, says both van der Watt and Kreston. It is not just the task of the police, but a combination of social services, human rights, law, medical, psychological and other fields. (Both speakers mentioned that education is one of the ways to prevent trafficking to an extent.)

Doing it together
Yet, everyone (you) can make a difference in combating human trafficking and exploitation.  It is however, “by doing it together, in unity, that we will make an impact,” said Diane Wilkinson, Network coordinator for the National Freedom Network. This means that NGOs, communities and social groups, places of safety, churches, academics and researchers, survivors, businesses, media, and also passionate individuals must network to be effective instead of everyone making an effort on their own. “The criminals are mostly part of organised crime, so the combatting of it will also be more effective by being organised” she said. And for the faith-based community, to be involved in combatting this increasing crime is “a responsibility and doing God’s work,” said Prof Kreston.

There are many ways to become involved. Making your skills, abilities or talents available can, in combination with the skills, abilities or talents of others, save lives.

For more information or to get involved, the following persons or organisations can be contacted:

National Freedom Network: 
Diane Wilkinson –  or Marina Reyneke

Salvation Army Anti-Human Trafficking SA:

Nelson Mandela Bay Justice Coalition:


Mission of Reconciliation (M.O.R.)

Epic Solutions (Cape Town)


  1. Congratulations to all of you for inspiring us to start off by doing what we can where we are… and then go where we never thought we will be blessed to go!! Many thanks!

  2. And you ae spot on Diane – partnering is essential – thank you for your tireless efforts in NFN which has provided endless opportunities for us to collaborate and learn and share!