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Vigilance ‘the best weapon against human trafficking’

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GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

Makwetla, who promotes, protects, and monitors the rights of children at the South African Human Rights Commission, presented the terrifying reality of “the business” of child trafficking in South Africa.

“There are about 27 million people enslaved in the world today, and approximately a third of these are children,” she said. “In Africa, more than two million people are trafficked annually. Of this number, an estimated 30 000 children as young as four-years-old are being prostituted in this country.

“In South Africa, human trafficking includes sex trafficking, child labour, domestic slavery, organ smuggling, child brides, illegal child adoptions, forced surrogacy, and many others. South Africa remains a primary source, a destination, and a transit country for human trafficking.”

 “We not only face trafficking to and from countries, but within our own provinces. Girls are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, while boys are trafficked internally for street vending, food service, and agriculture. Children are snatched – never to be seen again.

“Our country’s high levels of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, as well as low levels of education are the main forces for human trafficking,” said Makwetla. While corruption within government departments, law enforcement units, and border crossing patrols hinders initiatives to prevent trafficking, authorities are making efforts towards dealing with that.

“Part of our mandate within the commission is to monitor what government does,” Makwetla said.

“Parents, teachers, and guardians must be informed and vigilant. If children know how to identify traffickers and their antics, they’ll know what to do in situations of trouble. Tell your children to avoid sharing personal information with strangers.

“As children become teenagers, they feel they’re entitled to privacy, but it’s still up to us to protect them. Many children that fall prey are lured into trafficking by strangers they encounter on social media. Teach your children about internet safety, and not to fall for money bait or free travel as it always comes at a price. The better informed we are as parents, the easier it will be to protect our children, to identify human traffickers, and report them to the police.”

Turning to a less sinister but no more positive side of social media, clinical psychologist Ruth Ancer spoke of the nature of Facebook friendships, and how social media sites contribute to feelings of loneliness in spite of the many connections they supposedly cultivate.

“Real friendships take time and effort. Our most important friendships aren’t forged through social media gestures but through years of long-suffering emotional labour on one another’s behalf,” she said. “People can grow up to be very different, living different lives elsewhere in the world, yet they remain immutably your friend because of the love and effort you both gave and received. You cannot replicate that on Facebook, no matter how many times you click ‘like’.”

Yet, technology is here to stay. “Experts agree that social media is not intrinsically healthy or unhealthy,” said Ancer. “It depends on how we use it. Social media also doesn’t affect all people the same way, some may be more susceptible to negative aspects than others. If we use it to stalk exes or frenemies, use of the site can lead to feelings of envy and depression. On the other hand, in a world of ever-increasing financial pressure and associated increasing work demands, we have limited time and emotional energy, and Facebook is a way to make sure that we don’t lose anyone.

“Just because Facebook friendships aren’t close, it doesn’t mean they don’t have value,” said Ancer. “Even passively consuming someone’s posts has been linked to feeling closer to that person.” Sometimes our close friends don’t have the information or resources we need, so we turn to our Facebook networks, who usually come through.

“The answer to countering loneliness is not to deactivate our Facebook accounts, but to use them to do more things that increase our connection to other people,” she said. “Meet people, see them, talk to them, interact with them, and be truly present. Make a conscious choice not to let social media take you down the path of passive engagement and superficial communication.”

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