Christians fight against human trafficking ahead of World Cup

With the South African World Cup less than two weeks away, there is continued concern that the event will be used for human trafficking.

It has been estimated that between 40,000 to 100,000 people may be trafficked for the World Cup. In January, Time magazine reported on a three week investigation into human trafficking. Finding a lucrative trade in child sex near two stadiums, one trafficker said, "I’m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup." Children can earn $45 to $600 a night for their captors.

Although the numbers of people trafficked are hard to verify, the issue is of enough concern for South Africa’s President Zuma to warn parents to be vigilant during the World Cup to guard against a possible jump in child trafficking.

On Friday 21 May, at the launch of Child Protection Week and the Children's Act, Zuma said, "While we are excited that we'll be receiving visitors for the FIFA World Cup we must be mindful that an event of this magnitude opens opportunity for criminals with ill intentions of trafficking in women and children.”

With South African schools closed for the month-long Cup, which starts on June 11, Zuma noted, "Not all parents and care-givers will be able to align their vacation with that of the extended school vacation. We urge parents to take extra care and ensure that their children are supervised and provided with guidance at all times.

"Children wandering alone in shopping malls and football stadiums will be vulnerable to people with evil intentions."

South Africa has fast-tracked a new law against human trafficking to bring it into effect before the World Cup, which will make it easier to prosecute suspects and will give South African courts jurisdiction over acts outside the country's borders.

"We will play our part as government but parents and care-givers also have to be vigilant," he said.

A few days earlier, Bishops of Southern Africa from Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, had gathered to discuss the problem of human trafficking in their region. The Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) met in Johannesburg from 18 to 19 May.

The Director of IMBISA, Fr Richard Menatsi noted in his opening remarks that women and children are trafficked into South Africa from Mozambique at the rate of 300 persons per week.

In a statement sent to Agenzia Fides, the bishops noted, “Religious groups can play a significant role in raising awareness and acting on this issue with the support of their governments to curb this problem.”

While recognising that human trafficking is complex and fuelled by a wide range of factors, “With the coming of the FIFA World Cup to South Africa, it has been noted that this occasion has become a way of sending people to traffickers,” the statement says.

“All those people who would like to make some money during the World Cup have become vulnerable to trafficking, especially girls who are told that they will be waitresses or tour guides for the visitors.”

A New York-based socially investment firm, Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), that manages $3.8 billion for Catholic institutions worldwide has also sought to combat human trafficking and child sex tourism associated with the World Cup.

CBIS sent two letters on April 12 and April 20, detailing its initiative to CEOs and owners of eight hotel chains in South Africa, including InterContinental, Hyatt, Starwood, Accor, Carlson and Best Western. The CBIS initiative asks hotel operators to take action to prevent sexual exploitation of children and other human trafficking crimes.

“CBIS doesn't have any direct South African investments, but does own shares” of Accor and Starwood, spokeswoman Carol Graumann said. The second letter noted, “While not responsible for this tragic crime, the travel and lodging industry is well-positioned to help prevent human trafficking by collaborating and taking steps to stop the use of your hotels for these purposes.”

At the local level, South Africa’s largest church Christian Revival Church, based in Bloemfontein, is working to help drug addicts and victims of prostitution. Street Ministry, founded in 2006 by Pastor Andre Lombard, a former special forces soldier, was the case study for Time magazine’s research.

Lombard told Time, "If you drive by and just talk about it and don’t do anything, you’re actually justifying it."

The day before President Zuma launched Child Protection Week, he attended a mass prayer meeting for women to pray for a successful World Cup. To the thousands who had gathered at Zamdela Stadium in Sasolburg, in the Free State, President Zuma said, "In this time, we need good South Africans. Let them, just for four weeks, be good. Just for four weeks.

“When you are faced with a challenge, you must rise up to the occasion. This tournament calls for us to rise to the occasion as South Africans.”