Human traffickers ‘always a step ahead’

Anti-human trafficking activist Hilary Leong calls for vigilance against traffickers who are always “one step ahead”. Picture: Supplied.

Anti-human trafficking activist Hilary Leong calls for vigilance against traffickers who are always “one step ahead”. Picture: Supplied.

Published Sep 23, 2023


Durban - Children need to realise that under the Protection of Personal Information (Popi) Act, it is illegal to pass on contact details of others, even their friends, without their permission.

This is according to anti-human trafficking activist Hilary Leong, who will be a speaker at the 10th annual 5km march against human trafficking scheduled for October 7, beginning and ending at Blue Lagoon and covering areas on and near the beachfront.

Local anti-human trafficking activists meet at Blue Lagoon to prepare for the 10th Annual Stop Human Trafficking Walk for Freedom, on October 7. Picture: Duncan Guy

The founder of the Johannesburg-based NGO Awareness for Child Trafficking Africa (ACT Africa) told the Independent on Saturday that traffickers were always one step ahead.

“During Covid, trafficking increased by volumes as they used the online space to groom and lure children before setting up personal meetings,” said Leong.

“Now, with artificial intelligence, parents need to be even more aware.”

She stressed the importance of parents being actively involved in their children’s lives, ensuring that their devices have blocks, and “checking and rechecking the websites they visit”, and having healthy communication within families.

Local businesswoman and activist Bronwen Turner said young people desperate for opportunities were vulnerable to the “lover boy syndrome” that involved offers to study abroad but ended up in sex work. Particularly vulnerable were those who had been in places of shelter, where they were looked after until the age of 18 and then had nowhere to go.

The market for organs, both for transplants and for muti, was also rife, added Leong.

“Kidneys, livers, eyes – for the cornea – and skin are the organs most sought after and for which people are lured,” she said.

She added that in 2016, human trafficking was a R150 billion industry.

“Post-Covid the situation has worsened. It’s not all recorded but logic should tell you that it should be worse.”

She estimated it had increased by about 45%.

March organiser Gloria de Gee, founder of the anti-human trafficking organisation Umgeni Community Empowerment Centre (UCEC), said a highlight of this year’s march would be a puppet show for children on how they can be safe from traffickers.

“The puppet shows target children so our children get to know how to be safe. They need to be aware. They need to know exactly what’s going on.”

All participants in the march will be equipped with a whistle.

“It’s a symbol to say ‘blow the whistle on crime’. Don’t turn a blind eye. If you see something, do something about it. People must hang them up in their homes as a reminder.”

She said Durban, as a port city, was particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.

“It means there is more chance for trafficking, more of an opportunity to get people from one destination to another.

“Normally there is a language barrier at the destination, so it’s difficult to even get them back because they don’t understand what people are saying.“

Barry Hughes of Durban North Round Table, which will raise funds for UCEC at a food stand on the day, said trafficking was not a hot topic, but it should be.

“Everybody should be talking about it.”

“We love supporting sustainable initiatives that are doing work we know we can’t do. We’ve worked with UCEC for a good number of years now. The general work they do, supporting communities with food and clothing for women and children, as well as men. It’s an exemplary organisation and so it’s an easy decision to support such passionate and compassionate people.”

Registration for the 10th Annual Stop Human Trafficking Walk for Freedom begins at 6.30am, and the walk sets off at 8am. It costs R50 for students and senior citizens; R100 for adults.

The Independent on Saturday